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Activated carbon vs. charcoal.

48735 Views 9 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  Diana
Just wondering, what is the difference between the activated carbon we buy at the fish store compared to regular BBQ charcoal?

Does regular charcoal contain more impurities, which is why it can't be used as a filter media?

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Activated carbon is actually oxidized charcoal. In addition to not being as pure or oxidized as activated carbon, charcoal briquettes generally have other chemicals added to them to bind and make them combust better- e.g. borax, lime, nitrate, etc.

First the charcoal isn't oxidized to have the pores and binding sites for use in aquaria, and second is all the other "stuff"
Activated carbon has pores. Charcoal doesn't.

The pores give activated carbon a massive surface area that allows it to adsorb organic chemicals and some other stuff. Charcoal will also adsorb organics, but it has way less surface area to do so. Don't bother with charcoal, it's totally worthless for our purposes.
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I would also recommend you stick with aquarium specific activated carbon. But if you wanted to do some kind of experiment with normal charcoal, at least buy chunk charcoal, not briquettes. But it wouldn't be a very productive experiment. Charcoal is better for searing tuna steaks.

I was just wondering. Not going to bother with experimenting.

Activated might be very good for barbequing though, right? Albeit very expensive charcoal.
Remember that you don't want to be using carbon if you're dosing ferts. It will suck the ferts out of the water. Renew or Purigen are alternatives that people have used in planted tanks.

Bulk activated carbon can be found a variety of places online... it is used in drinking water filters a lot.... coal based acid washed is what is typically boxed as "activated carbon" for aquariums... there are a few other varieties, but I haven't used them.

Mostly I don't use the activated carbon in my filter so it doesn't matter to me, but I did use quite a bit once to build a stink-stack for my septic system... i.e. septic tank vent was stinky, so built a vent stack from PVC pipe, screen mesh, and activated carbon... no more stink....
Thanks again,

I only use carbon to clear medication if I have any (none so far) and to remove tannins along with water changes.
Another wondering

Ok, so I make loaded carcoal. I take organic charcoal add worm tea and blood meal and so many other wonderful items one doesn't want splashing in their mouth. It soaks it up making a time release plant food. I was wondering why I couldn't use it in my tanks. It's pure and has nothing added, just good clean charcoal that pulls nutrients out of liquids at a fraction of the price as what's sold at the lfs. So from what I have gathered, it's not that it wouldn't work. It's just that it wouldn't work as well. Right? Oh, give you spent activated charcoal to your plants, they will love you for it. :bounce:
Activated carbon does not remove most plant fertilizers from the aquarium.
It has some affinity for chelated minerals, so it can remove some chelated iron.

Activated carbon hangs onto most of the things that it adsorbs so well that there is no way in a home setting to get it to give up what it has taken in. It is not a good vehicle to carry fertilizers into the tank.
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