a basket of charcoal

How to Use Charcoal to Remove Odours

We’re all familiar with using candles, incense sticks, air fresheners, and even bicarbonate of soda to control the smells in our homes.

But what if I told you that you could use charcoal to manage the stench in your abode? You’d probably call me crazy!

And before you say it, nope, this isn’t a wind-up. Charcoal, the activated variety more so, really can be used to neutralise odours in a home.

Keep on reading to learn more about removing smells with charcoal.


Charcoal vs Activated Charcoal

Charcoal vs. Activated Charcoal

Before you dive into eliminating odours with charcoal, it’s worth establishing what type of charcoal works best at removing smells.

The two most popular types of charcoal are ‘charcoal’ and ‘activated charcoal’.

Now, these two kinds of charcoal sound fairly similar, and to some degree, they’re made up of similar ingredients. There are, however, a few differences between the two.

Namely, the charcoal that we’re most familiar with putting on a BBQ usually comes in briquette or little square shapes, is black in colour, and is very light. It can remove some odours (but not all), and it often gets mixed results from users!

Activated charcoal, on the other hand, is primarily made from the same essential ingredients, but instead of being in block form, it’s most commonly found ground down to a fine, grainy powder or found in pellet form (it can sometimes be in block form but when it’s like this it’s not usually used for odour neutralising activities).

The key difference between the two is that activated charcoal starts off as regular charcoal, but it gets heated up to about 900°C.

This extreme heat ‘activates’ the charcoal by rearranging all of its atoms, making its surface more porous in the process. This porous surface is what makes the activated charcoal good at absorbing smells.

It’s possible to use both types of charcoal to remove aromas. But activated charcoal usually has the edge over the stuff you use on a BBQ because it has better absorption properties!

Plus, activated charcoal is usually ground down, so it’s smaller and easier to handle (you can bag it, for example).

Now onto the bit you’ve all been waiting for…


How to Use Charcoal to Remove Smells

charcoal bags in the kitchen

What type of smells can charcoal remove?

  • Musty, stale smells that you get when houses haven’t been aired for a while.
  • Old house smells (perhaps left by the previous owner or because the property has been left empty for a long time).
  • Cigarette smells. They can be in rooms, on furniture, and even on clothes!
  • Moisture-related smells, like dampness.
  • Food aromas in the fridge, like spicy aromas.
  • Burnt food smells.
  • Animal-related smells, like urine.
  • Odours in a car.
  • Smelly footwear.


Ways to use charcoal to eliminate smells

Tip: To remove odours effectively, you’ll need to leave the charcoal in tubs or hang charcoal sacks up around a room for long periods of time.

If you leave the charcoal for an hour and then remove it, it won’t have had enough time to neutralise the aromas for you. Using charcoal isn’t necessarily the quickest way to eradicate smells.

Charcoal in a dish

One of the simplest ways to use charcoal to remove smells is to pop a little activated charcoal in a shallow dish and then put the dish at the back of a refrigerator to control the odours in the space.


Charcoal-filled socks or bags

charcoal bag hanging on door knob

You can also grab some socks (preferably breathable cotton material), tie the top with a little string, then hang the socks up in wardrobes/drawers/various spots around the house to remove the smells.

Alternatively, use little pouches or drawstring bags instead – they’re usually more aesthetically pleasing!

If you don’t want to make your own, you can make ready-made bags of activated charcoal that you can hang up around your home and car! If you’re interested, have a look at Nature Fresh Air Purifier Bags from Favson. They’re made from natural materials (activated bamboo charcoal), can be used for up to two years, and each bag contains 200g of charcoal.


Plastic tub

In addition, you could fill a plastic tub with some activated charcoal and pop the tub in a smelly area or corner of a room.

For more odour-filled or larger areas, you can use more than one tub of charcoal.



put charcoal at the bottom of bin

You can also pour a generous amount of charcoal into the bottom of a bin and leave it there to neutralise odours. No more smelly rubbish bins in your home!


How to Reactivate Charcoal

After a while, the charcoal won’t be very effective at removing smells. This is completely natural and will happen after the charcoal has been used for a long period of time and exposed to lots of scents. So, can you reactivate the charcoal to get more use out of it?

In short, there’s a mixed opinion on this matter.

Some believe that you shouldn’t reactivate charcoal once it’s been used. It’s believed that once the pores (they absorb the aromas) have been filled, they won’t absorb any more odours. So, you should just get new charcoal and start afresh.

charcoal outside under the sun

However, others believe you can reactivate charcoal by placing it in direct sunlight for a few hours daily.

The sun’s rays help to widen/open up the pores so they can absorb more odours and release some aromas they’ve already collected.

You can decide what step to take!