Charcoal vs Activated Charcoal

Charcoal in a wooden scoop.
What You'll Need
Activated charcoal

We often think that charcoal is just charcoal, but there's a difference between charcoal and activated charcoal. Both are derived from carbon, but activated charcoal is much more porous than charcoal. Because of its larger surface area, activated carbon can filter more than charcoal; making it a wiser choice in many more applications.


Charcoal is commonly used in the home. It's used in water treatment systems, in vacuum cleaners, for creating works of art, and for cooking barbecues. Most of us are familiar with charcoal, and have used it at some time. Charcoal is versatile and is used to remove chlorine from water, to remove odors, to draw with, and for cooking.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal, also called activated carbon, has oxygen added to it to increase its porosity, thereby, adding to its surface area, and making it highly adsorbent. It's normally used to remove chemicals, toxins, and gases. Due its impressive adsorbent ability, activated charcoal has replaced charcoal in water purification systems and fish tank filtering systems. Where toxins are to be removed, activated carbon has proven to be more successful.

Why Choose One Over the Other?

If you're filtering water for consumption, or you have pet fish, choose activated carbon. It will clean water more effectively, and can remove more than traditional charcoal can. Regular charcoal is best left for art, odor removal, and cooking.

Choosing between charcoal and activated charcoal is easy once you know their differences. It all comes down to the project.