Studies tell us that the average air freshener has hundreds of chemical compounds that are emitted into a home’s air when used. These chemicals, called volatile active compounds, or VOCs, can be very dangerous. They’ve been linked as a possible cause of allergic reactions, eye and skin irritations, nervous system problems, cancer, among many others. The study found that out of those VOCs, each air freshener on average contains 24 compounds that are toxic.
But what’s really alarming is that most consumers don’t even know what’s inside their air fresheners because it isn’t mandated by law for manufacturers to list what’s inside their products. These air fresheners only act as perfumes in our homes. It doesn’t matter whether your choice of “home perfume” are scented candles, wall plugins, aerosols, diffusers, or anything else that’s readily available. One thing is certain – they constantly need to be bought over and over again, creating a large and lucrative industry.
Air fresheners just cover a bad smell without actually removing the odor-causing bacteria. This tricks many homeowners into thinking that their home is clean, safe and healthy. But in reality, this masking of odors just allows more and more of these dangerous bacteria to grow over time, while at the same exacerbating the problem with the toxic compounds an air freshener emits.
Rather than just masking the odors, the odors need to be neutralized. One way to achieve this is by using charcoal. Instead of just masking the odor, charcoal actually removes the smell by adsorbing the harmful particles from the air, not by covering the bad smell.
(Adsorption means that the odor-causing particles are attracted by charcoal and sit on its surface. Don’t confuse this with absorption, where a particle actually diffuses into and becomes a part of the material that it touches. You’ll see later in the post why this is important.)
But exactly how does charcoal eliminate the odors in a safe way?
It’s because it’s made into activated charcoal. Let’s dive into some detail.
How Does Activated Charcoal Work?
Activated charcoal (or activated carbon) is charcoal that underwent an additional heating step in the manufacturing process. This essentially cleans the charcoal of its impurities. It increases its surface area and creates more micropores, making the charcoal even more effective at trapping odors. The pores provide no nutrients or moisture, so the trapped bacteria are left to die.
This is something to be mindful of, though. As you keep using charcoal in your home, eventually the pores will become full. The charcoal becomes inactive. In other words, it stops working and needs to be cleaned out again.
To reactivate it (and make it activated charcoal with empty pores again), it needs to be set outside every once in a while. Typically, one hour outside once a month will clear up the pores and make the charcoal ready to be used again, but it depends on the charcoal product that you’re using. Direct sunlight isn’t necessary as the charcoal only needs UV light to recharge.
Is Charcoal Safe to Use in Your Home?
As long as you’re obviously not eating activated charcoal on excessive amounts or misusing it in any other way, activated charcoal is safe.
It’s commonly used in soaps, face masks, teeth whitening pastes and other beauty products. If you have a fish tank, know that the water is kept clean and clear because of a carbon filter. In emergency rooms, carbon is used to treat drug overdoses and adsorbs the toxins to prevent death. Even the EPA mandated that activated carbon be added to water systems in its 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act in order to remove toxins from our water supplies.
In short, charcoal is mostly safe in your home.
How Exactly Do You Use Activated Charcoal in Your Home?
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to ditch those air fresheners and to try using activated charcoals to purify the air in your home instead. There are a few ways to go about it. You can certainly go with regular charcoal, but activated charcoal will be safer and more effective.
Here are a few suggestions:
Use Charcoal Briquettes
The DIY way to create your own charcoal is to just take some charcoal briquettes and leave them anywhere in your home where you’d like a bad smell to be absorbed. You want the charcoal to be pure, without any chemical additives.
And since this is charcoal, after all, make sure you place it on a sturdy metal tray. You can also put the charcoal in breathable bags like burlap bags, although it will obviously be less effective than just laying it out freely.
One note on this – it might be tempting to just use your barbecue charcoal, but don’t do it. This type of charcoal is loaded with toxins, binders, and nitrates that help it burn better.
Use Aquarium Filters
Another great source for charcoal is aquarium filters. Simply take them apart and use the charcoal pellets that are found inside. These filters contain activated charcoal and you know they’ll be safe since they’re made for sensitive pets.
Use Bamboo Charcoal Products
If you want to spare yourself the hassle of having to create your own charcoal bags, luckily there are products available (that actually work even better). The most popular air purifying bag is made by Moso.
What Is Bamboo Charcoal?
But you’re probably first wondering, what is bamboo charcoal and where does it come from?
The bamboo charcoal that’s marketed in air purifying bags comes from the bamboo tree. Bamboo charcoal has a long history of benefits. Being called the “black diamond” during the times of the Chinese Ming Dynasty, it was used to purify water, air and remove toxins in the body and on the skin. Although bamboo charcoal has been used in the Far East for a long time, it only has been introduced to the West in recent history.
As far the air purifying bags are concerned, the moso bamboo of Southeast Asia is most popularly used because it only takes five years to fully grow. It too undergoes an extra process to make into activated charcoal. The method involves running the bamboo through steam at high temperatures, which effectively maximizes its surface area and adsorption ability.
If used properly, bamboo charcoal bags can be used for two years. They’re sustainable – after two years, simply cut the bags open and use the “old” bamboo to fertilize your soil.
Where Can You Use Charcoal Purifying Bags?
There’s a lot of hype about this bag thanks to the thousands of reviews available online, and rightfully so. People have found all sorts of uses for their bamboo charcoal bags. I use mine mostly in the kitchen – our family does a lot of cooking, so this is a must for us.
There are many uses for air purifying bags, but the general rule is that they can be used almost anywhere. Here are some uses around the home:
- Inside cat litter boxes or near dog beds.
- Inside steel toe shoes, workout shoes, or any other shoes.
- Inside your gym bag.
- When moving or buying a used car to eliminate odors left by prior owner.
- After a home remodeling project to clear up the odors of paint thinners, sawdust, or any other toxins that have accumulated. Use it on shelves in the garage, shed, or workshop where paints and chemicals are stored.
- Near a kitchen hood or chopping board when cooking.
- Anywhere you suspect moisture might cause mold or mildew to grow like your bathroom or pantry – bamboo charcoal will also dehumidify.
- To counteract a spill that left a persistent odor like on a carpet or inside your car.
- Inside refrigerators to alleviate the odors of rancid food.
Where an activated charcoal bag can be used:
I prefer this bag because it comes in an attractive linen bag. Linen is another natural, sustainable resource, and it has enough breath-ability to make the bamboo charcoal effective. Plus, it comes in various colors, so the bag can blend into the rest of the décor without sticking out like a sore.
Each bag will cover about 90 square feet, which translates to about the size of a small bedroom, or an average-sized kitchen. Keep in mind that this bag doesn’t need to be everywhere in your home. Use it in a few strategic places where your family spends the most time, or those places where you think odors might cause an adverse effect on your and your family’s health. These bags are perfectly safe with pets, so make sure to use it around the areas where your pets are causing odors in your home.
Charcoal is a natural alternative to air purifiers that only mask odors and release harmful chemicals into the air of your home. You may wish to use charcoal briquettes or carbon filters and create DIY air purifying bags to use around the home, but an air purifying bag made with activated bamboo charcoal like the Moso bag will be most effective.
Whichever option you choose, make sure the charcoal has been purified of harmful toxins. Choose activated charcoal if you can. Activated charcoal has a larger surface area and more pores, allowing it to take up more toxins and last longer. To get the most out of your activated charcoal, set it out in the sun every once in a while to clear its pores. And after it has served its purpose, make use of its sustainable benefit by using it in your soil.