How to Make Activated Charcoal

The question of how to make activated charcoal might be preceded by “Why would you want to know how to make activated charcoal?” Perhaps, surprisingly to some people, activated charcoal is extremely useful as a filtration devise, and that’s only one of its uses. Anytime a survivalist can find multiple uses for a natural material they need to learn all they can about it. Before learning how to make activated charcoal let’s exam exactly how it works, because unless you know the mechanics of how something works, your ability to adapt it to various uses is restricted.

Activated charcoal becomes “activated” when it’s surface area is altered by a physical and chemical process, which allows the surface area to become larger and porous. Imagine it this way:

You have a billiard cue ball you want to paint pink. Taking a brush you paint the ball until its completely pink using X amount of paint. Now take another cue ball to paint pink, but before painting you drill 100s of little holes in it. After painting it pink you find you’ve used a lot more paint in order to paint the second cue ball pink. Why? By drilling the holes in the cue ball you have increased its surface size, requiring the sides of the holes to need painted.

Through a process called adsorption, activated charcoal traps and binds (unwanted) substances to its’ surface, but once the surface is covered, it can’t bind anymore, but by increasing the surface area you allow the charcoal to trap more substances and quicker.

Water filtration and acute poisoning treatment are two major uses of activated charcoal, so it stands to reason you want to trap the most poisons or other unwanted materials for removal as possible.

The Reality of How to Make Activated Charcoal

The truth be known, you can’t make activated charcoal. What? It requires a specialized manufacturing process which involves injecting oxygen into the charcoal while in an environmentally controlled oven at 1000 degrees F (538C) or introducing very dangerous chemicals in a 600 degree F (316C) environment. Obviously these special requirements precludes doing this in your backyard.

So what do you do? Buying it is the simple choice. It’s not expensive. But that’s not the reason you came here. You want to know how to make a filtration system. We can do that … and will do that … it just won’t be as effective as activated charcoal.

Warning ! !

Do not use the charcoal you use to barbecue. I know some of my readers think they are smarter than the average bear and will just grind up some Kings-ford charcoal and use that for filtration. Barbecue charcoal is injected with loads of toxins and dangerous chemicals which are intended for ignition and longer lasting fires. You don’t want to ingest these pollutants as they can cause grave illnesses.


A little research discovered regular charcoal, long before activated charcoal existed, had been used to filter water. Therefore, charcoal made from wood will serve the purpose, you’ll just need to modify certain elements of the process to compensate for the inefficiency. We must remember if we’re in a situation that requires us to filter our water it means there is no potable water available. No running down to the store to buy flavored or exotic spring water. We’re in dire straits in danger of dehydrating and dying. Now that we are in the right frame of mind, let’s find some dirty water and drink it.

Step One: We are lost in a reasonably arid wilderness where water is scarce, but we have stumbled upon a stagnant mud pool large enough to provide plenty of life saving drinking water, except … it’s not drinkable. There’s no debating if the water will make us sick … it’s a guarantee it will. What to do?

Step Two: We need build a water filtration system and charcoal is the key ingredient in order to build a successful water filtration system. Build a large fire and continue to feed it until there is a large ash and charcoal pit created from the consumed wood.

Step Three: We’re going small, but the same procedure is used for a larger quantities of water. Take two empty 2 liter soda bottles. Cut the bottom off one bottle creating a funnel. Take a piece of cloth and stuff it into the neck of the bottle to create a porous dam, trapping filtration material, but allowing water to seep through.

Step Four: Allowing the fire to go out, sift through the ash/charcoal pit and extract charcoal pieces. Crush these pieces into a powder and fill the funnel 1/3 of the way full with it.( If you had activated charcoal you could use less, but you don’t. ) Locate sand, the finer the grain the better, and pour this onto the charcoal ash, another 1/3 of the way. Finish filling the bottle with gravel, again as small as possible.

The gravel filters the big stuff, like leaves, twigs, insects.

The sand filters the remaining particulate matter, items too small for the gravel to catch and hold.

The charcoal filters out microorganisms too small for the other two to retain.

Step Five: Take the other empty soda bottle and cut the neck off the bottle, in order to create a hole for the neck of the filtration bottle to be inserted into, making it easier to maintain contact between the filtration bottle and the clean water retention bottle.

Step Six: Slowly pour the dirty water into the filtration bottle and allow it to seep through the gravel. sand and charcoal. The filtered water will drip into the retention bottle. Should you still remain cautious of the water quality, re-filter the water using new filtration material. Allow the clean water to set in the hot sun for a few hours with assist in eliminating additional pathogens. If you have a metal container, you can pour the filtered water into it and boil the water.


How to Make Activated Charcoal substitutes and its uses

As discussed charcoal created by burning wood is a substitute for activated charcoal, look at it as a poor quality activated charcoal. The generic brand of soda instead of the name brand, which tastes something like cola, but not just as good. However, it can be used for the same tasks.

  1. Charcoal can be used to clean your teeth. It works to whiten teeth, helps prevent cavities and changes a pH balance in the mouth which helps reduce gum disease.

  2. Relieves gas and bloating by binding the gas causing byproducts in the foods that create the discomfort. Simply consume 500 ml of charcoal dust an hour before a gas producing meal, chased by a glass of water to disperse the charcoal through your system.

  3. The charcoal does not adsorb the alcohol itself, but it removes other toxins from the alcohol mixers that cause alcohol poisoning.

  4. Most people, me included, never think about mold living inside their body. However, toxic mold causes depression, kidney and liver failure, decreased brain function, headaches and a list of other ill effects. The source of this mold is your environment and can be thoroughly cleaned with a charcoal/water mixture.

  5. Emergency Toxin Removal. This technique is only to be used in an emergency situation and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Most organic compounds, pesticides, fertilizer and/or bleach will bind will charcoal thus lessening the body’s ability to absorb the toxin. You can combat an accidental overdose of opium, cocaine, morphine and acetaminophen with charcoal, by binding their toxins.

  6. Again, this is a last resort emergency and temporary treatment. In order to treat bites from snakes, Brown Recluse and Black Widow spiders, you’ll want to treat an area much larger than the bite area in order to mitigate the bacteria and viruses which will travel through the body. Create a mixture of charcoal (and coconut oil if available) /water and soak a cloth. Cover the wounded area with the bandage, wrapped twice around the arm. Replace every two hours. Seek medical help immediately.

This article of How to Make Activated Charcoal was not intended to be deceitful, but rather to set the record straight to the best of my ability. In my opinion there is nothing worse than misinformation or misunderstood information. A person in good faith uses a method or technique which they believe is accurate only to do more harm than good is not acceptable. Activated charcoal is a great asset, but can not be produced by a DIY method. Wood charcoal, can be produced by DIY methods and can be used for the exact things activated charcoal is used for, just at a much lower level of efficiency.


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