How to Dispose of Charcoal (the right way)

Charcoal is a delicate material to dispose of, and it’s crucial to take proper measures to let it cool. Otherwise, you risk starting a fire.

Luckily, charcoal is a versatile material that you can easily reuse or throw away. Read on to learn how to do so.

The Best Options for Disposing of Charcoal

Here’s some good news: You have many options for disposing of your charcoal. However, they come down to two primary methods—permanent disposal and reuse. 

There are many more options for reusing charcoal. So, let’s look at permanently disposing of it first. Then we’ll show you the surprising ways you can repurpose your charcoal.

Permanent Disposal

Permanently disposing of your charcoal is an option regardless of where your charcoal came from. 

However, if you have charcoal that isn’t wood-based or charcoal with additives, permanent disposal is your only choice.

Below are the steps you’ll need to complete to dispose of your charcoal for good. Since you’re working with a substance that can start a fire, it’s crucial you follow these steps carefully.

Step 1: Cool the Charcoal

If you’re working with a grill, close the lid and vents. That’ll cut off the oxygen, causing the charcoal to extinguish its embers. 

Alternatively, you can extinguish the charcoal using water or sand.

Step 2: Collect the Charcoal

Once you’re sure that your charcoal is cool, it’s time to gather it up.

If your charcoal is in a grill, use a scooper to remove it. Alternatively, if your charcoal is in a fire pit, you can use a shovel.

Step 3: Choose Where to Dump Your Charcoal

You have two options for permanently getting rid of charcoal: putting it in your trash can or bringing it to a waste facility.

If you opt for using a trash can, you don’t have to use bags or put the charcoal in a disposable container; it’s okay to dump it directly into your garbage bin.

However, we don’t blame you if you don’t like the thought of mucking up your garbage can with charcoal residue. 

So, a quick search online will reveal waste facilities where you can take it.

There’s no need to choose a waste facility that is specifically for chemicals. Charcoal is a safe, non-toxic material you can dispose of. 

If you’re nervous about disposing of your charcoal despite following the safety procedures here, you have a couple of options. 

The first one is to wrap up the charcoal in aluminum foil. Alternatively, you can place the charcoal in a metal container. Coffee tins are great for this.

Reusing Charcoal

Provided that you used wood without any additives, there are several ways you can reuse charcoal. 

In all cases, you’ll need to follow the first two steps that we described in the section above. That’s because you want to avoid using hot, potentially flammable charcoal.

Reusing It for a Future Cookout

Yes, charcoal is often good for more than one use. Doing so saves money and is better for the environment since you use less wood.

To prepare your charcoal for future use, let it cool. Then, run a rake through it. That will help remove loose ash, which you’ll want to dispose of before relighting your grill.

You’ll need to add some more charcoal as a replacement. As a general rule, you’ll likely need to rake out and replace about half the charcoal.

Get Rid of Insects

Many insecticides contain toxic ingredients that you don’t want your pets or vegetables ingesting. So, you can use charcoal as an insect repellent instead.

If you don’t believe us, there’s research to back it up. A study conducted on mosquito coils showed that coils containing charcoal powder were effective at preventing mosquitos.

But we don’t expect you to make a DIY mosquito coil. Instead, consider using your charcoal as an organic way to deter insects around your garden.

To do so, we recommend mixing one ounce each of ash and hydrated lime with a gallon of water. 

Then, use a spray bottle or watering can with several small holes and sprinkle the mixture around your garden. 

Charcoal tends to repel most insects. Therefore, if you have a chicken coop or own other outdoor birds, you can put this charcoal water around the perimeter of their cages.

That may help reduce the number of mites and lice that “bug” your birds.

Keep Your Plants Healthy

Perhaps unsurprisingly to gardeners, charcoal—which is simply wood that’s burned—is an excellent fertilizer.

In fact, forest fires are a healthy part of nature. That’s, in part, because they often introduce more nutrients into the soil. 

By mixing charcoal in with your soil, you can help boost your soil’s macronutrients. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (potash) are among the nutrients a plant needs most to survive.

Charcoal is an especially excellent source of potash.

Before you go overboard, though, it might serve you well to test your soil’s pH. It would also help to research the types of plants that thrive in a higher pH environment. 

Charcoal is alkaline (pH over seven). Therefore, if you have plants that prefer acidic soil (pH below seven), the presence of charcoal could negatively affect them. 

Examples of alkaline-loving plants that will do well with a charcoal fertilizer include:

  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Forsythias
  • Lilacs
  • Turnips

Manage Algae

Believe it or not, you can use charcoal to control algae in ponds or other outdoor bodies of water. In fact, some companies even sell buckets of activated charcoal for this purpose.

Charcoal helps reduce algae because it reduces organic pollutants. It can even lower the amount of chlorine, pesticides, and insecticides in water.

It doesn’t take much charcoal to manage an algae bloom. We recommend a single tablespoon for every thousand gallons of water.

It’s crucial not to overdo it. Otherwise, you could end up contaminating your water with too much charcoal. 

Make Lye Soap

Yes, you really can turn your charcoal into a cleaning product! 

Lye soap with used charcoal isn’t the prettiest-looking soap around, but it gets the job done. In fact, charcoal can help clear up your skin and reduce your pore size.

A quick Google search will review many recipes for making charcoal soap, like this one

Admittedly, making soap isn’t the most effective way to dispose of charcoal since it only uses a couple of tablespoons per recipe. 

However, you could make the soap to give away around the holidays or even turn it into a business. 

Disposing of Unused Charcoal

Up to this point, we’ve assumed that you have used charcoal you want to get rid of. 

So, if you have lots of unused charcoal lying around, rest easy. You have several disposal methods to choose from too.

Add It to Your Compost

A couple of pieces of charcoal go a long way for boosting your compost’s carbon content. 

Carbon helps plants grow, so it’s especially useful when you add the compost to seedlings.

Remove the Smell from Household Items

Most of us know that baking soda helps remove smells from refrigerators. So, if you need your trusted baking soda box for cooking, stick some charcoal in your fridge instead.

Charcoal also does a great job at removing unwanted odors from smelly shoes. You can also get creative about other smelly places to use it.

Since charcoal can make a mess, wrap it in plastic with small holes or wrap a cloth around it.

Keep Rust Away from Your Tools

Charcoal naturally absorbs moisture. Therefore, it can help reduce the risk of rusting if you place some pieces in your toolbox.

It’s best to put the charcoal in areas prone to rust and a small, enclosed space. 

For example, lining charcoal beneath tools you have hanging up in your garage will likely do little good.

Reduce Weeds

Adding a generous layer of charcoal around your garden can prevent weeds from growing.

Make sure not to get the charcoal too close to your plants, though. As the saying goes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Therefore, if you want to use charcoal as a fertilizer, you should mix it in with your compost to ensure your plants don’t get an overdose of nutrients and alkalinity. 

Safety Tips When Disposing of Charcoal

Disposing of or reusing charcoal is nothing to fool around with. It’s easy enough to do, but it requires time. So, below are some safety tips:

  • Let the charcoal cool completely before handling it
  • Smoldering charcoal can cause a fire
  • If you’re hesitant about your charcoal’s condition before moving it, slowly add water or sand

As a general rule, you should let 48 hours pass from when your charcoal was hot before you dispose of it. 

Once you begin collecting the charcoal, proceed with caution. Moving it reintroduces oxygen, which can cause the fire to start up again if there are still smothering coals underneath it.

Wrap Up

We hope that we’ve inspired you to get creative with disposing of your charcoal. 

Provided that your charcoal is from wood without added ingredients, there are many ways you can reuse it.

Otherwise, you can safely dispose of it in your trash can.

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