Activated Charcoal: An Awesome and Cheap Prep
Activated charcoal is just like regular charcoal, only because of the “oxygen fusion” there are many more microscopic holes on it that make it a great way to absorb pollutants and poisons from the air, the water, and your gastrointestinal tract. Best of all, you can make it on your own – or not, but then it’s not so cheap anymore.
The term “activated charcoal” is interchangeable with the term “activated carbon”. EMT techs give it to poison victims to absorb the poison before it does damage, and you can also use it to filter water and air.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I am not a physician or even medically trained, so this information is for informational purposes only. People who have overdosed or poisoned will probably be given activated charcoal by a physician or medic, but administration of activated charcoal should be done under medical supervision. I do not recommend home treatment of overdoses and poisoning by non-physicians. The United States poison control center can be reached at 1-800-222-1222; if you can’t get to an emergency room call 911 and then those folks. Similarly, brown recluse spider bites should also be treated by a professional if at all possible. Finally, don’t use battery acid as described in this article or linked posts if you’re not going to learn how to do it safely on your own first.
How to Make Activated Charcoal: 3 Approaches
The proper way of making activated charcoal is to soak the wood with CaC12 (calcium chloride) or ZnC12 (zinc chloride, I presume) 25% chemical solution. I don’t know anything about zinc chloride, but you can get calcium chloride at brewing stores and as a supply for making curds from milk – I wouldn’t recommend using the calcium chloride they sell for melting ice, that’s probably not food-grade stuff. Also coconut husks are supposed to be superior to wood for the making of activated charcoal, if you’re going all out. Per this other eHow article:
- Burn the wood for 4 hours or so (575 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit) in a “burning sink”. I imagine a cooker’ll be fine too.
- Soak them in your chemical of choice (CaC12 or ZnC12 25% chemical solution) for a full day.
- Rinse the wood thoroughly, allowing the water to drain away for an hour or so afterward. Multiple rinses are a good idea.
- Bake the wood for 3 hours at 215 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Grind or crush it to a fine powder.
A version that sounds much more dangerous, but is easier to accomplish since you can get battery acid at your local automotive parts store, is on survivalistboards.com. Essentially:
- Burn the wood in a pot with a tiny vent (so, a cooker) for 4 to 5 hours.
- Let it cool completely.
- Soak each piece of wood in battery acid for 4 to 5 minutes, then let drain. For godsakes, use common sense, gloves, a facemask, glassware, tongs, and more to be safe with battery acid. In fact, don’t even do it. Informational purposes only, remember.
- Cook the wood for another 4 hours or so.
- Grind or crush it to a fine powder.
Finally, a simple step-by-step process for making activated charcoal from wood without any chemicals is also on eHow. Here’s a summary of steps there given:
- Clean our your fire pit and build a fire pyramid of hardwood.
- Light all four corners and wait until the wood becomes glowing embers.
- Cover the pile with a steel grid lid, opening the smoke valve so that the oxygen is drawn in under more pressure. This is what makes the charcoal “activated” – you need to get the fire as intense as possible with as little oxygen as possible.
- Check every 10 minutes (take off the lid then replacing it), waiting for the edges of the coals to turn white.
- Spread out the coals with a shovel and cover them with the lid again, this time closing the smoke valve to smother the fire.
- After about 30 minutes (when the fire is out), process the coals with a food processor or by crushing them.
I don’t claim to be an expert in this, but my opinion is that:
- The calcium chloride approach will have the best result. Rinse the wood very well, especially if you’re going to stockpile for consumption.
- The battery acid approach’s result should not be eaten. I don’t know much about sulfuric acid, but it sounds extremely unsafe.
- The simple chemical-less approach will have a result closer to basic charcoal than true activated charcoal, but I’d still think that it would be better for consumption than the battery-acid one.
Also, note that you don’t want a lot of ash in your activated charcoal since ash reduces the activity of activated charcoal.
So that’s it, pretty simple. Of course, to do this you need hardwood – you can find a list of hardwoods on Wikipedia, so the thing to do is ensure you have such trees available to you after TEOTWAWKI and, of course, practice the making of activated charcoal as you stockpile it. Some of the articles and YouTube videos say you can use plain old pallet wood, but per my usual better-safe-than-sorry approach I wouldn’t recommend using that sort of thing for activated charcoal you plan to save for poisoning emergencies. For any of the uses, you shouldn’t use treated wood.
The activated charcoal you make on your own will naturally not be as high a quality as the expensive, commercial version available, so you may wish to stockpile some of the premium stuff while you experiment with ways of improving your product. In fact, I recommend you keep cleanly segregated activated charcoal in different grades depending on how you source it.
Activated Charcoal for Poisoning
Per the eHow article above, mix 1/3rd of a cup of activated charcoal with a cup of water to make a solution a poisoning or overdose victim can drink to counter the crap in his or her system. This should be done within 30 minutes of ingestion – don’t waste any time. WebMD gives much more exact information for dosing:
For drug overdose or poisoning: 50 to 100 grams of activated charcoal is given at first, followed by charcoal every 2 to 4 hours at a dose equal to 12.5 grams per hour. For children, lower doses (10 to 25 grams) are used.
This can eliminate up to 60% of the poison from the victim. The eHow article also says it’s good for alcohol poisoning, but the more trustworthy emedicinehealth.com says activated charcoal doesn’t bind so well with alcohol. Still, it’s good to note.
Some other important notes:
- The finer the activated charcoal power, the better it works.
- This binding action works with many drugs as well, so that if you’re on life-sustaining oral medication activated charcoal could very well remove that from your system. Similarly, food will be bound and eliminated from your system.
- Unconscious patients could conceivably be intubated to administer activated charcoal, but that’s obviously a serious step and should not be attempted by someone who isn’t familiar with intubation.
- Strong acids and alkali, and blockages of the intestinal tract, should not be treated with activated charcoal.
Per another eHow article, activated charcoal can also assist with digestive ailments and body detoxification, among other things.
Activated Charcoal for Brown Recluse Bites
Per buyactivatedcharcoal.com, activated charcoal can be put into a poultice and used effectively for brown recluse spider, fire ant, and scorpion bites. However, SugarMomma on americanpreppersnetwork.net, it’s better to debride the bites with the activated charcoal and apply a broad-spectrum antibiotic.
Two versions of activated charcoal poultices are broken down step-by-step on that same website, buyactivatedcharcoal.com. The first also calls for flax seeds or cornstarch, while the second has no such thickening agent and so would need to be changed more often.
Activated Charcoal for Wound Dressing
An article on livestrong.com says that patients with a dressing of activated charcoal with silver on their ulcers healed faster than those with standard dressings. The PubMed article they referenced is here.
In the previous section, I linked to a page on buyactivatedcharcoal.com that has two step-by-step procedures for making an effective poultice, neither of which mentions silver, however.
Activated Charcoal for Water Filtration
Yet another eHow article gives steps for making a water filtration unit with activated charcoal. Also, an article on survivalscoop.blogspot.com proposes a more elaborate method. This is a combination of both.
- Put a clean coffee filter or cotton cloth at the bottom (over the output) of a sterilized water container with a spout or opening at the bottom.
- Soak enough activated charcoal to fill up 3/4 of the pitcher in water for 15 minutes, then put that soaked activated charcoal in the pitcher. You could also alternate the charcoal with layers of fine-grained gravel or sand.
- Feed in water at the top, never exceeding the halfway point in the unfilled part of the pitcher. Filtered water comes out of the bottom, of course.
Note that this is a way to filter your water, but not to purify it. Purification is still needed through boiling, etc. On top of that, filtration doesn’t remove all impurities in water by any stretch of the imagination. For example, Pedro Wyoming on americanpreppersnetwork.com notes that activated charcoal will get rid of pesticides and herbicides, but not dissolved fertilizers (which would require distillation).
It’s also worth nothing that this is a contested point – you probably won’t get first-world quality water out of this. On survivalistboards.com, stephpd said that stocking up on a lifetime of commercial filters is a better way to prep.
Scientific information on what exactly activated charcoal is capable of filtering out can be found on lenntech.com.
Activated Charcoal in a Homemade Gas Mask
I saw some crazy-ass prepper on Doomsday Preppers doing a double-mask with activated charcoal and regular dust/paint masks to be ready for gas attacks. Well, he might’ve been crazy-ass, but the underlying concept is solid and from a 1946 Popular Science article. It’s old science, but that doesn’t mean it’s not solid. Hey, that won’t work for smoke, carbon dioxide, and so forth, by the way. I still recommend you get or keep your commercial gas mask as a more robust and viable option, but following that old article is at least a fun project for you and me – and you can never tell if perhaps you’ll need to make your own down the line.
Also, that ’46 article notes that you can test activated charcoal for efficiency by pouring five drops of carbon tetrachloride onto a tenth of a gram of the charcoal in your hand. If the mix becomes warm, then you’ve got good activated charcoal. That’d be a handy tip if carbon tetrachloride weren’t toxic and restricted by the EPA. As it stands, I believe the only way of validating your activated charcoal is to filter water with it per the previous section, and add something you can visibly see in the water to see if it works.
Even More Uses For Activated Charcoal
- You can improve your soil quality with activated charcoal. Read about it on survivalscoop.blogspot.com.
- You can “polish” home-distilled alcohol to remove “off” flavors. Read about it on homedistiller.org.
I’m not going to get into the more spurious uses, but supposedly there’s other health benefits, it can be a good face mask (for skin quality, not gas), can whiten your teeth, and more.
and you must link back if you use it elsewhere.