20 Survival Uses of Charcoal and How It Can Save Your Life

We think of ourselves today as being well educated, yet we lack most of the common knowledge that even our ancestors possessed. Sure, nowadays you can find out almost anything you want by searching on Google, but what if using the internet wasn’t an option?

In situations where that’s the reality, such as in the event of the possible EOTWAWKI, you’ll likely find yourself solely relying on the knowledge in your head. This is where general knowledge of how to properly utilize the natural resources around you can really come in handy. One of the most important natural resources you can learn about is charcoal.

While most people look at an old campfire and see nothing but a pile of ash, survivalists see a gold mine of resources that can be used for their healing properties, as well as many other uses. Not all charcoal is the same though, so you’ll need to know the differences between the different types before moving ahead.

Types of Charcoal

Here are the four main types of charcoal below.

Activated Charcoal – Activated charcoal (carbon) is regular charcoal that goes through a process of steam or chemical activation. This process causes the surface area of the charcoal to increase in porosity, thus allowing it to more efficiently adsorb impurities – whether that be in the air, water, or in your body.

Charcoal Briquettes – Most of the charcoal briquettes on the market contain fillers and other chemical additives that make it worthless for most uses except cooking. They do have all-natural bags of charcoal briquettes available that are supposedly made with nothing but charcoal and a vegetable starch binder, but since I’m no expert on how these are made I haven’t personally tried them myself.

Hardwood Charcoal – Charcoal made from hardwoods such as Oak, Maple, or Hickory, tend to burn hotter and not fall apart as easily as softwoods. Great for cooking, forging, etc.

Softwood Charcoal – Charcoal from softwood is more porous than that of from hardwood, though not as porous as activated carbon. This makes softwood charcoal the best option to use for health remedies and filtration purposes if you don’t have activated carbon available.

If you want to buy activated carbon you can either get it online or at your local health, pet, or fish store; though we still recommend that you to learn how to make charcoal yourself just in case a situation arises where you need to.

While making activated carbon is a rather extensive process, making charcoal from either hardwood or softwood is a fairly easy thing to accomplish. Simply build a fire and put it out with either dirt or wood ash before the fire is almost done. After a day or two dig up the charcoal and you should be good to go.

There are many other ways to make charcoal but we’ll save that for another day. Instead, let’s learn about the 20 different ways that charcoal can benefit anyone who lives the prepper, off-grid, or survival lifestyle.

20 Uses of Charcoal for Survival

The biggest advantage of using charcoal for survival is that it’s easy to produce. Simply build a fire and let it burn for a while and you’ll have charcoal you could ask for.

Here are twenty of the best survival uses for charcoal.

  1. Cooking

Grilling is probably the most widely known use of charcoal and for good reason too – it’s a great way to cook. The best part about charcoal, though, is the fact that it’s a renewable resource, so it will always be readily available. Having to solely rely on using an oven or microwave will leave you crippled if one day you were forced to live without them.

While you could cook by setting up a grill over a regular campfire, it won’t be as efficient or tasty. This is due to the inconsistency of heat that comes from a fire, as well as the sheer amount of smoke. Because charcoal smolders instead of actually catching in flames, it’s more consistent in terms of emitting heat.

Also, while charcoal is known to not give off any smoke on its own, it does let off smoke when juices from meat fall and sizzle onto its hot surface. This gives the meat a nice smoky taste that’s just right, and not overbearing. When you mix that pleasant smoky taste with the way it sears the outside of meat while still keeping the inside juicy, it’s no wonder why charcoal is the preferred way to cook by many.

  1. Food Poisoning

Getting food from a grocery store and going out to eat is a common luxury that many people enjoy, but one day those luxuries may no longer be an option, at least temporarily. If disaster strikes and that’s ever the case, you might find yourself eating some questionable food that you normally wouldn’t even consider.

To help subside some of the pain of the inevitable food poisoning, take charcoal at the first signs of symptoms. The large porous surface area of charcoal will then go to work absorbing the toxins that are making you sick.

When deciding on the proper dosage of charcoal to consume, first take in account the size and age of the person who’s consuming it. As an adult you’ll want to mix a ½ teaspoon to a teaspoon of powdered activated charcoal with water and drink it as soon as you can manage to stomach it down.

For children though, you’ll want to take much less – about half of the normal dosage is fine. By drinking a charcoal slurry 2-3 times a day the symptoms of food poisoning should slowly start to settle down. You can even mix the charcoal with juice to make it easier to drink, this especially helps with kids.

If you have capsules, on the other hand, then just read the dosage on the back of the bottle. When using regular charcoal instead of activated carbon then you’ll need to take a little more. Make sure to drink lots of water and try to eat something high in fiber, such as fruit, to avoid constipation as this is common when taking charcoal.

To help with any convulsing you can rub a mixture of charcoal and water on the stomach to help alleviate some of the pain and discomfort. A more effective way of doing this is by mixing equal parts charcoal and ground up flaxseed oil with twice as much hot water to make a poultice with either a paper towel or a piece of cloth. Simply fold the paper towel or cloth around the charcoal and flaxseed mixture and then apply it to the stomach. Make sure the side with the most mixture seeping through is facing your skin.

  1. Drug Overdose or Poisoning

Charcoal has been known to save many lives over the years because of its ability to adsorb toxins that have been ingested in the body. In fact, it’s commonly used in ER rooms all over the world today. By administrating a dose of 50-100 grams within an hour of ingesting a lethal amount of drugs or poison, you can actually manage to save someone’s life. Now, I’m in no way implying that you should take manners into your own hands instead of going to a hospital in the event of an overdose, but if you’re ever in a situation where you can’t make it to a hospital, then taking activated carbon may just be the best option available.

If you can, you should always contact the poison control center to make sure charcoal will work for what has been ingested, as well as what the effective dosage should be. If you don’t manage to have a phone or signal available, or it’s the EOTWAWKI, then you will have to take matters into your own hands and make the best decision possible. Just be wary though, because there are many toxic substances that charcoal doesn’t adsorb such as alcohol, alkali metals, mineral acids, and petroleum products.

In addition, don’t forget to take into account any prescription drugs that have been taken recently before administrating charcoal. In the same way that charcoal adsorbs harmful toxins, it can just as easily adsorb the prescription drugs. To learn more about the proper dosing amount for both adults and children check here.

  1. Heat source

Unlike wood, charcoal produces no smoke or flame, making it a great option to be used as a heat source while inside. You can even carry a piece of charcoal in something like an Altoids can so you can easily get a fire started at any time. Whenever you go camping or practice bugging out, a ferro rod and charcoal is always something you should have on hand.

  1. Forging

Being able to forge metal can prove to be a great benefit in a post-collapse economy, or for anyone who lives off-grid. Having the ability to make weapons, tools, and many other useful items will surely come in handy as well as increase your worth as an individual if we ever face the EOTWAWKI. Being a blacksmith is a common profession for many who choose our lifestyle as it gives you another way to be self-sustaining.

  1. Natural Deodorant

One of the rather fascinating uses of charcoal is the fact it acts as a natural deodorant. It’s extremely effective at reducing odor which can be helpful for a variety of different reasons. If you have a son who’s at that weird age where he doesn’t like to take showers, hide some charcoal off in the corner of his room and it will start soaking up the odor in the air in no time.

Another great way I’ve used charcoal as a deodorant was by making a mask with charcoal inside so I could enter an attic where an animal had crawled into and died. I simply put activated charcoal in-between two doctor masks and taped them together and it worked perfect. So if you ever find yourself in a smelly situation, charcoal might just be the answer.

  1. Filtering Water

Because of its ability to adsorb, charcoal makes for a great way to filter water. The tiny pores not only absorb some of the harmful impurities but also the taste and odor as well. By learning how to properly make a water filter you can have clean drinking water in no time. Just make sure to either boil the water or leave it out in the sun for 6 hours to kill off any deadly pathogens that are still left over after filtering.

  1. Gardening

When you ground up charcoal to be used for the enrichment of soil, it is then referred to as Biochar. Instead of being made with only wood though, biochar can be made out of any form of biomass, including plant matter and manure. The reason biochar works so effectively in soil is because of its ability to adsorb both nutrients and water, as well as remain in soil indefinitely.

Because carbon doesn’t break down over time like other fertilizers, it keeps the soil enriched with moisture and nutrients year after year. This makes biochar a great solution for areas that constantly suffer from drought or have nutrient-depleted soils.

While the whole process is fairly simple, it’s a little more complicated than just mixing charcoal into your soil. To make the biochar more effective, you first want to inoculate it with either compost or some form of organic fertilizer like worm castings. Once the biochar has effectively soaked up a vast amount of the nutrients, mix it into your soil as you see fit. Common levels of biochar in soil is usually around 5-20%.

  1. Reducing Glare

If it’s a bright day outside and you don’t have a pair of sunglasses to wear, try rubbing some charcoal underneath your eye to help reduce the glare of the sun. Not a groundbreaking way to use charcoal or anything, but surely comes in handy on a sunny day!

  1. Camouflage

By rubbing the charcoal on your visible skin you can help camouflage yourself in times of need. When hunting, this can be a great way to help avoid being seen, and since it acts as a deodorant it can soak up some of your odor as well. Some hunters even wash their hunting clothes outside with activated carbon or use a spray-on mixture of carbon and water to help adsorb any foreign odor that may reside on their clothing.

  1. Infections

While a small cut or scrape may be fine with a bandage and some Neosporin, a bigger cut or wound may require the help of some activated charcoal. When applied as a poultice, charcoal can effectively adsorb many of the pathogens that cause infections, as well as slow down some of the bleeding. Don’t forget to change the poultice frequently as it will lose its power to adsorb over time.

You can use charcoal poultice for an ear infection as well. Just tape the poultice to the outside of the ear to draw out some of the bacteria and help soothe the pain. If it worked, you’ll eventually find a yellowish pus on the poultice.

  1. Bites and Stings

Anyone that spends a good amount of time outdoors eventually becomes quite familiar to the sharp pain that is felt after being bitten or stung. While most bites and stings are harmless and can only be felt for a second, some such as that from a spider or a bee can be extraordinarily painful, and in some cases even deadly.

In order to help relieve the pain and draw out some of the toxins, use charcoal in a poultice and apply it to the bite or sting. This can effectively save your life if you’re bit by something poisonous such as a Brown Recluse, or stung by a bee if you’re allergic.

Make sure to change the poultice frequently at first in intervals of every 15-20 minutes if you’re worried about extracting poison. This is because carbon can only soak up a certain amount of toxins before reaching its capacity. How long you should keep a poultice on is completely up to you, though you should feel the pain and swelling return if you take it off when it wasn’t ready.

Tip: A poultice can last up to a few weeks in the fridge when made properly and is great for soothing bites and stings on children.

  1. Natural Tooth Paste

While the idea of brushing your teeth with charcoal might seem to be funny, it actually works. The charcoal not only adsorbs the odor in your mouth, but any bacteria it comes in contact with as well. Carbon can even help whiten your smile by removing any stains or plaque that currently reside on your teeth.

  1. Homemade Gas Mask

Being able to make a homemade gas mask is great knowledge for anyone in general, but even more so if you live in a heavily populated city or near an active volcano. In riots, chemicals like tear gas are commonly used even though being globally banned from use in war since 1993. Having the ability to properly breathe in the face of chemicals such as nerve gas or even when surrounded by volcano ash can surely be a life saver. Activated carbon is also known to adsorb small levels of volatile radioactive compounds as well.

  1. Joint Pain

Using a charcoal poultice is a great way to reduce inflammation, making it a perfect solution for anyone who suffers from joint pain. If you have trouble sleeping due to inflammation in your joints, try leaving a poultice on overnight and see how that helps. With so many people suffering from joint pain I wanted to make sure to include this benefit of charcoal, despite not being directly related to survival.

  1. Pets and Livestock

In the same way that charcoal adsorbs toxins in our bodies, it also adsorbs those toxins in animals as well. If your pet eats or licks something that they shouldn’t have, or is overcome with food poisoning, a bit of activated charcoal might just be the best solution.

In addition, a charcoal poultice can also be used on animals to help with any kind of cut or infection they may have. How you administer giving the charcoal depends on the animal; with a pet like a dog or a cat, I’m sure you could just mix a little in with their food. Charcoal is often used for controlling animal odor as well.

  1. Preventing Rust

If you’re tired of all your tools rusting away year after year, try storing some charcoal around them to help adsorb some of the moisture in the air. This may not stop the rusting completely, but if you value your money like most do, this is a great way to protect your investment.

  1. Writing or Leaving Signals

Hardwood charcoal makes a great substance to be used for writing purposes. If you ever go off-trail hiking make sure to bring some along and leave markings of where you’ve been. If you ever somehow managed to get lost you’ll be glad you did!

  1. Radiation

In the case you’re worried about being exposed to a low level of radiation, activated carbon can be taken to help reduce some of the negative effects. It’s not 100% effective by any means, but it’s a better solution than doing nothing at all.

  1. Lighting

If you’re ever in need of light, charcoal makes for a great alternative to starting a fire. It may not produce the most light in the world, but in certain situation it might just be enough.