Carbon By Any Other Name Would Smell As Neutral

Ultrahouse: Say, it’s a bit stuffy in here…and I know a certain someone who really fancies lilac.
Marge: Oooh, that really covers the cat crap!

– The Simpsons

The Kev and I both noticed a bit of online buzz around the idea of fancy, Asian-themed charcoal air fresheners.

I’m not a chemist, but I’m pretty sure the important thing about these is the “activated charcoal” part, and not that the charcoal originally came from bamboo. The bamboo part just makes it seem fancy. And exotic, if you aren’t from a place with bamboo. Anyhoo, if I understand it right, activated charcoal is just charcoal carbon processed so that it has an enormous number of tiny holes. The bigger resulting surface area helps trap pollutants.

Say hello to my little friend.

My getting goat (via).

So if you just need activated carbon and a fabric pouch … why are these sold for as much as $20? Even with shipping and other overhead, that seems kind of excessive. Basically, you’re paying a premium for a simple thing tarted up.

If there’s anything that gets my goat, takes it on a date and gets fresh with it before ditching it at the diner (the goat, I’m still talking about), it’s pretentious marketing. I decided to see how cheap I could make the same thing.

I picked up a big ole box (over half a kilo) of activated carbon from the aquarium section of the pet shop. EIGHT BUCKS.

api Then I grabbed some fabric scraps I had on hand. (I was meant to be working on bedroom curtains, so the sewing machine was already out. Curtains still not done, by the way. This was far quicker and easier.) Let’s say this 1/8 of a yard piece was worth $2, including the thread and bits of ribbon I used. I ran up three quick baggies of various sizes. (If you don’t have a sewing machine, a spare sock would do the same job! Also, it’s something to do with spare socks.)

Both from the same fabric -- used the reverse side on one.

Both from the same fabric — used the reverse side.

Just in case I wasn’t having enough fun stalling on curtain-making, I broke out the gold acrylic paint to amuse myself further.


That’s the kanji for “marketing” (according to one source, at least). Marketers know: put random kanji on anything in the west, and it looks cooooool. (Apologies if you read Japanese, because my illiterate rendering probably looks pretty awful!)

Once I had the bags done and imprinted with silliness, they were easy to fill — the huge box of activated charcoal has a built in funnel! After filling, I tied or sewed them up.

Here’s my whole nascent (or should that be “no-scent”??) fake product range:

bags done

I deployed my bags of silliness in the house (product testing!).

bag on door

By the time I got to this point, it was all for the sake of my continued internal joke. (I won’t even say it was an “inside” joke, because the Kev observed all this with some perplexity — curtains, remember?) BUT GUESS WHAT?

They totally work!

I reckon I could make five to seven bags from that container of charcoal and a little more fabric, so something like $2/bag to make these. Less if you use a mismatched sock! And if you are feeling silly, you can look up your own kanji to make them all zen. I wonder what the kanji is for “goat.”

Update! Over a year later, this concept still works well, BUT if you are going to hang one like I did on the doorknob, please check out this post about how to avoid charcoal dust marks.

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65 Responses to Carbon By Any Other Name Would Smell As Neutral

  1. The stitching reminds me of my chicken scratches back in elementary (6 years of saturday Chinese language school here). What a thrifty idea!

  2. Stacey says:

    Thanks! Wow, six years of school on Saturday — I bet your Chinese is PERFECT!

  3. Joyce says:

    totally making this! thanks for figuring this out and posting your tutorial!

  4. Jolene says:

    How long do these last? Do you need to switch out the charcoal periodically?

    • Stacey says:

      Hi, Jolene — I started to notice that they were not as good after about six or seven months, but they still had some effect. The aquarium charcoal comes in a big container, so I need to refill them, but I haven’t got around to it yet (crazy around here with the remodel). I read somewhere that you could put this sort of thing in strong sun for a few hours and that would refresh them, but I haven’t tried it. Thanks for asking!

  5. Tiffany Kwan says:

    I don’t know if there is a Daiso near you, but I’ve seen them selling the charcoal air fresheners just in thin paper filter bags (not in a nice cloth bag) for like $1.50 (pack of two 100g). I think the paper filter bags help keep in the charcoal dust. But you can also easily make a pretty bag to put the filter bag in. The instructions for the charcoal air freshener I have says to put in the sun every 90 days for up to 2 years.

  6. Tracy says:

    It isn’t possible for me to be more pleased than I am right now to have found your website and this DIY (GAWD, I love Pinterest!)…I felt the same as you after seeing these pop up all over the place and the exorbitant prices they were selling for. So…I bought my own lil’ bag of charcoal with a credit I have left over from a return on Amazon – (unfortunately, I thought “bamboo charcoal” was the answer, so I spent $9 on a 4 oz. bag…) and I am about to embark on making my own car deodorizer pouch (I’m a gross cigarette smoker), and am so happy to hear that yours turned out so well, and if these do the trick, I may just go for the regular fish supply stuff and make more! Thank you SO much for sharing your experience here! 🙂

    • Stacey says:

      Tracy, thanks for the fun comment! Stop back and let me know how it works out for you. (And smoke ’em if you feel like smoking — no judgment here!)

  7. Sijia Zhang says:

    What fabric did you use for this, and what kind of fabric would you recommend fabric pouches to be made of if I buy one online? If you use old socks, how would you seal it? And if possible, could you add a picture of what it looks like when you put it in old socks instead? Please help, I’m really confused.

  8. Robert Weinstein says:

    Instead of fabric

    Suggest to use a 1 gallon nylon paint filter bag Home Depot

    Fill with RINSED first and dried aquarium charcoal (cuts the dust )

    Place inside of bag and zip tie it.

    Place bag hanging in the room of of choice or for HVAC attach to the back
    of the Air filter on the inside of the duct.

    Bazinga! easy cheesy


    • Stacey says:

      Brilliant! Rinsing = great idea. Filter bag = great idea. Thanks, Robert!

      • roberthweinstein says:

        Taking this to another step you could use a smaller nylon paint filter bag or cut it down and fill it with the activated charcoal for aquarium filters and add it to your pet’s water dish AZ activated charcoal is totally non toxic

        Activated charcoal is actually made by carbonizing coconut fiber

        I use it in my pet’s water fountain my cat

        , it absorbs fluoride and chlorine and bad taste just saying

  9. AMY CHAUNG says:

    Can I use organza bags for this project?

    • Stacey says:

      You mean like the jewelry bags? I think those would let a lot of coal dust through, but if you bagged it and then placed the bag on a saucer or something, that might work!

  10. NormaJean says:

    I need these pouches for a home my son just purchased. I had a terrible reaction to the chemicals in the house- flu like symptoms. Miserable!

    • Stacey says:

      Wow! Hope he is able to air out the place. I don’t know if these would stop any allergic reaction to chemicals in the house, but they wouldn’t hurt. (I’d probably take an air cleaner with me every time I went to visit! I’m not subtle, ha!)

    • Jaime says:

      Norma Jean, check out the book by Dr Edward Close and his wife Jacquelyn. It’s called “Nature’s Mold Rx: the Non-Toxic Solution to Toxic Mold”…

      I just learned so much about all of this. Sounds like mold or off-gassing that is giving you those symptoms!

      Best of luck!

  11. Dave says:

    Definitely need to try this; I’ve got plenty of extra socks. Thanks for the idea!

  12. LJay says:

    Can I use the (crushed) charcoal used for grilling? Has anyone tried it?

  13. K says:

    Just want to say this was one of the most helpful diy/blog posts yet. No crap; just how to do what you want to do. Very straightforward and very accessible/helpful with suggestions (use an old sock). Not tryna be trendy and fun and personal – I don’t need that. Just tell me how to make my house not stink. Thank you.

  14. Dan says:

    Love the thought of lending this idea to the car! Will have to give it a go and be the envy of my friends.

  15. Sherri says:

    Can I add essential oils for a fragrant bag?TIA

  16. John Engler says:

    I read that you thought that “activated’ charcoal worked because of air holes on the surface of the charcoal.. Correct?

    My thought is why can’t I take charcoal i use for grilling, smash it up into small bits, and place it in bags. Any Comments Snyone?

    • Stacey says:

      John — no idea! Did you try it?

    • Laurie says:

      Charcoal briquettes for cooking are made by burning wood in a low-oxygen atmosphere, mixing in chemicals that make it easier to burn, and compressing the result into small blocks. Activated charcoal is made from heating wood or similar material to a high temperature and then purifying it.

  17. s blackburn says:

    thanks for all the hints, I am making these for Christmas presents – all the family has pets, babies and love cooking with all the strong smells……and easy to ship


    susan .

  18. Mandy says:

    I freakn knew it! I just came across a fancy pack of this for 26 bucks! And I thought to myself “looks like the same charcoal in a fish filter” and they’re upselling it and making it sound better with the word “bamboo” in it. Thanks for posting. I guess buyer beware.

  19. Michelle Diljak says:

    Wow I will be making these for my house and my camper. So glad you posted before I bought ……. I’m all about, do it your self to save a bunch…. look forward to more of your posts …. thank you : )

  20. Angel says:

    I was looking for a way to remove the noxious new car smell from my car and happened across your post. I just love it! I’ve never bought activated charcoal in a bag, but I was actually considering it for reverse engineering purposes. As a marketing person myself, I got a good chuckle out of your observations. I’m off to the pet store for charcoal…

  21. john says:

    Hi Stacey,
    Do they work good for removing humidity or do I have any other cheap option?
    Also ,are the cheap activated charcoal we buy at aquariums contain any harmful chemicals as opposed to “premium” air freshner activated charcoals?

    • Stacey says:

      John, hi — I don’t think they remove humidity. I have used some tubs of crystals to pull water out of the air — I think they are called DampRid, and they are pretty cheap. I don’t know if there are other chemicals in the aquarium charcoal, but the box I used said that was all that was in there.

  22. Alue says:

    Can you use the activated carbon for aquarium as a charcoal poultice. I use activated charcoal mixed with ground flaxseed as a poultice for my knees. The poultice is made up as a paste and spread on gauze for placement.

  23. Clare says:

    An ad for one of these fancy activated charcoal pouches popped up on my Facebook feed. I have about 6 boxes of fish tank charcoal stored (a bulk purchase years ago and I’ve still barely made a dent!) So decided to Google whether it could be used to DIY some bags of my own. Thanks for trying and testing it! I’ll defi Italy be giving it a go!

  24. Gregg says:

    So, I have been growing bamboo in my yard for several years now, and have been wanting to use it for something other than gardening. Thanks for this great idea. I’m wondering if I need to crush it into a dust, or could I leave the bamboo in chunks. Seems you’d have a much greater square surface area if it was smaller.

    • Stacey says:

      Do you mean, make charcoal from the bamboo? I saw a program once that talked about making charcoal, and it was a pretty intense process. But it might be a great way to avoid overgrowth!

  25. Grace du Prie says:

    Thank you! I saw the ad for these things and thought: I’ll ask Mr Google if I can make my own. I am a cheapskate! And yes, there came your post. Thank you!!!

  26. Barbara says:

    glad I stumbled upon your post — Im off to the fish store !! 🙂

  27. Leslie Cook says:

    Love this idea and can’t wait to try it! Could someone explain how to go about rinsing and drying the fish tank carbon (to reduce dust)? I’ve never used this product before!

    • Stacey says:

      Leslie, I didn’t rinse the carbon first, but I was careful to pour it slowly to avoid dust. Not sure if the dust is 100% avoidable, though!

  28. Susan Rivera says:

    Thank you Stacey, you have no idea of how you’ve just saved my hubby’s life! I thought if he sprayed that febreeze one more time, he was gonna not gonna be around long! This is such a perfect life saver, not to mention money saver as I’m such a cheapskate and will always look for ways to save money! So even though he doesn’t know it, you’ve saved my hubbys life and my sanity! Thank you again!

  29. Beverly Zalar says:

    I just purchased a 20# bucket of this charcoal from EnviroSupply. Going to make 40 bigger bags. Was thinking cheesecloth might help hold dust in then put that into a nicer linen or burlap fabric. Good for basements too.

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