Charcoal the Lean Mean Cleaning Machine
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Charcoal: The Lean, Mean, the Cleaning Machine

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It’s startling to think that charcoal, one of the most basic elements on earth, can be such a powerful cleaning force. Here's how it works.

Carbon is the sixth-most abundant element in the universe – a fact that should be pretty pleasing to you, given that we humans are, after all, carbon-based life forms. So while you’re patting yourself on the back, don’t forget that apart from being a basic building block of your body, carbon is also a fantastic cleaning agent.

The science of clean

How does this work? Well, the process starts when carbon takes the form of charcoal, a material mankind has worked with ever since we discovered fire. This lightweight black material is highly porous – and that’s one of its super-weapons in the fight against dirt.

Hence why the cleaning experts of the hit UK show How Clean Is Your House have this tip to share: if you’ve got a stinky fridge, fill a baking tin with several charcoal briquettes. Place them in the fridge, and within a few hours they will have absorbed all the nasty odours.

A super-powered black sponge

Activated carbon, which has been treated with oxygen to increase the pore structure, has cleaned up even bigger messes than that. This is thanks to its fantastic property of adsorption. Adsorption is not quite the same as absorption. A paper towel, for example, will soak up or absorb water into its material body.

An adsorbent material, meanwhile, such as activated charcoal, attracts liquids or gases only onto its surface. That’s why the charcoal is often used in the latter stages of oil spills, which are notoriously difficult to clean up. Activated charcoal is also a popular tool in pesticide spills, thanks to its mindboggling ability to adsorb 100 to 200 times its own weight in toxins and grime.

Total cleaning

As such, it’s no wonder that some toothpastes use the best properties of activated charcoal. There are toothpastes with micro-charcoal particles that clean deep in between the teeth.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.