Top 9 Survival Uses for Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is an incredible substance because it binds to toxins and pathogens.  This ability means activated charcoal has numerous uses, including for emergencies and survival.  It’s one of those versatile items you definitely want to have in your emergency kit.

But let’s be clear here: a lot of the benefits and uses of activated charcoal are completely hyped up. It’s not a miracle supplement and you shouldn’t expect miraculous results.  In some cases, using activated charcoal could actually have adverse results, such as ruining teeth enamel when used as toothpaste or causing nutrient deficiencies when it’s added to food.  (1)

However, when it comes to emergency uses, activated charcoal is definitely something you want to have in your survival kit.

Read: How to make activated charcoal at home

1. Poisoning and Overdoses

The main use for activated charcoal is for treating poisoning.  The charcoal will bind to toxins in the digestive tract.  Because the charcoal isn’t absorbed by the body, it and the toxins pass through the body.  Activated charcoal is so effective in treating poisoning that it’s what hospitals most-commonly use for poison cases.

Just note that activated charcoal will NOT work for all types of poisoning or overdoses, such as:

  • Alcohol hangover: Once the alcohol is in your bloodstream, the activated charcoal won’t help
  • Caustic substances: This includes things which cause burns when touched
  • Methane, propane, or other gases made of hydrogen and carbon
  • Cyanide
  • Substances containing metal, such as iron or lithium
  • Opioids

(1 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

2. Stomach Bugs, Vomiting and Diarrhea

Stomach bugs might not seem serious but they are actually the second leading cause of death in children under five (7). In the developed world, this generally isn’t a problem because we have access to clean drinking water.  However, GI infections are common after disasters like hurricanes and flooding where conditions become grossly unsanitary.

Activated charcoal is one of the best home remedies for stomach bugs from bacteria, viruses, or parasites.  Make sure you have some in your first aid kit, as well as oral rehydration salts for treating dehydration.

Read: How to use activated charcoal for stomach bugs   

3. DIY Gas mask

Activated charcoal can absorb chemicals in the air, which makes it effective as a gas mask filter.  Obviously this isn’t going to be as good as a professional gas mask, but it would be good to have in a SHTF situation.  This video shows you how to make one.

4. Skin Infections

activated charcoal poultice
When used as a poultice, activated charcoal can draw out infections on or under the skin.  This makes it effective for treating:
  • Abscesses and cysts
  • Infected wounds
  • Athlete’s foot
  • Yeast infections

Read: How to make an activated charcoal poultice 

5. Bites, Stings and Plant Poisons

Just like how activated charcoal can draw infections out of skin, it can also be used to draw toxins from stings, bites, and plant rashes (such as from poison ivy or poison oak).

There are plenty of anecdotal cases of people using activated charcoal to treat venomous snake bites, and even some scientific research shows that activated charcoal could draw out cobra venom.

Obviously, I wouldn’t want to rely on activated charcoal alone for snake bites but it could help buy valuable time while you get yourself to a hospital for antivenom.

6. Tooth Infection

activated charcoal spread on a cotton ball

In a disaster situation, you might not be able to get to the dentist to treat an infected tooth.  In this case, activated charcoal can be used to draw the infection out.  You’ll still want to have other emergency dental items though, like temporary fillings and pain-numbing agents.


7. Water Filtration and Purification

You know those fancy, expensive filters which remove chemicals from water?  They contain activated charcoal.  It’s possible to make your own charcoal water filter for much cheaper.

Likewise, if your drinking water became contaminated after a natural disaster, you could use activated charcoal to remove chemicals.
layered DIY charcoal water filter
Please note that activated charcoal does NOT treat all bacteria, parasites, or viruses.  It only takes a little bit of these pathogens to make you very sick, so you’ll need to use other treatment methods like boiling, filtering, bleach, or purification tablets.  However, activated carbon is one of the only ways to remove chemicals in water.


8. Deodorant

Because it absorbs moisture and odor-causing bacteria, activated charcoal makes a great body deodorant.  This might not seem like a survival use for activated charcoal but, have you ever tried hiking with chaffed skin?  In a bug out situation, you’ll be thankful that you can walk without the pain of chaffed skin.

*While on the subject of bugging out, you could also put activated charcoal on your face for camouflage.  It would be messy but better for your skin than mud!

9. Gardening

One little-known use for activated charcoal is for agriculture.  Specifically, it is used to remove pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides from the ground so food can be safely grown.

Let’s say a SHTF disaster occurred and tainted your soil.  You could make activated charcoal or biochar and mix it in with your dirt so you could still safely grow your own food. By one estimate, you would need 2-9lbs of activated charcoal to clean up 1,000 square feet of contaminated land. (10)

What other survival uses for activated charcoal can you think of? Let us know in the comments

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