Photo of hello activated charcoal toothpaste on sink with toothbrush

We tried it: Does charcoal toothpaste whiten teeth?

Last Updated: June 28, 2021

“They” say activated charcoal toothpaste whitens teeth. What is activated charcoal, anyway? Is it safe to brush with? Does it really whiten your teeth? Grove writer, Kristen Bailey, tackled these and other questions, then tried it out for herself. Here’s how that turned out.

You’ve probably heard that activated charcoal whitens teeth — or maybe this is the first time it’s been brought to your attention. Maybe you’re as curious about this claim as I am, and you’d like to know whether it works before you go out and buy a tube of charcoal toothpaste and give it a shot. Well, you’ve come to the right place, because I’m gonna test it out and share the results right here.

Now, I’m kind of oldish, and a few months ago, I ditched a 30-odd year smoking habit. I also drink a bottomless cup of black coffee from morning until mid-afternoon, when I switch to iced or hot green tea, depending on the season. So my teeth aren’t the whitest, and I’m interested to see if brushing with charcoal toothpaste makes them whiter — or at least a little less dingy, which is all I can ask for, given my rampant abuse of my choppers.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options.

First, what is activated charcoal?

Photo of pile of charcoal and sawdust with pieces of wood

Activated charcoal is the latest darling in the beauty and wellness world. This fine, black powder is made from carbon-rich materials like wood, coconut shells, bone char, peat, and sawdust, which are processed at extreme temperatures. The high heat strips away atoms, ions, and molecules like hydrogen and methane from these materials, leaving behind a black, powdery charcoal that’s mostly carbon.

The high temperature also changes the internal structure of the charcoal, dramatically increasing the number of pores while reducing their size, which increases the surface area of the charcoal — a single teaspoon of activated charcoal has the same surface area as a football field!

What is activated charcoal used for?

Activated charcoal is used for a lot of different purposes. It filters toxins out of water, and it’s an increasingly common ingredient in a range of beauty products. It can treat skin infections and diarrhea, and it reduces abdominal gas. It’s used in medical settings to adsorb drugs from the stomach in the event of an overdose or to filter out undigested toxins from the kidneys.

Note: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Activated charcoal is also a popular ingredient in oral health products — and that’s why we’re here today.

How does activated charcoal work?

Activated charcoal has a negative electrical charge that attracts positively-charged particles, including toxins, bacteria, viruses, and chemicals. While people often say that activated charcoal “absorbs” these substances, or soaks them up, it actually adsorbs them. This means that particles stick to the surface of the activated charcoal — a football field’s worth of surface area! — and when the charcoal is discarded, the toxins and particles go with it.

The claim: Charcoal toothpaste whitens teeth

Photo of teeth with black charcoal toothpaste on them

There’s no hard scientific evidence that shows charcoal toothpaste — or even straight-up activated charcoal — removes stains beneath the tooth enamel. But it’s purported to adsorb surface stains on teeth — and since it’s also mildly abrasive, it’s said to help loosen and scrub away dingy stains left by coffee, tea, or smoking.

Is it safe to brush your teeth with charcoal?

I’m so glad you asked. In terms of your mortal wellbeing, yes, it’s safe — you won’t die from using charcoal toothpaste. But is charcoal toothpaste good for your teeth? Well, yes and no. Let’s break it down.

The good

On the bright side, charcoal toothpaste helps remove surface stains on your teeth. It has also been shown to improve bad breath, and when you use it on occasion after professional cleaning, it can help your teeth stay whiter longer.

Illustration of blue thumbs down

The bad

On the other hand, some charcoal toothpaste brands may be abrasive, so daily use could wear down tooth enamel and make your teeth appear yellower. And if that’s all you brush with, and there’s no fluoride in it, the risk of tooth decay goes up.

Skull and crossbones illustration

The ugly

Worst case scenario, charcoal toothpaste has the capacity to stain older teeth or restorations like bridges, veneers, and crowns. As in, stain them black, which obviously defeats the purpose of a whitening toothpaste.

The product: hello Activated Charcoal Toothpaste

Photo of Hello activated charcoal toothpaste next to coconut

While most activated charcoal toothpastes don’t contain fluoride — which is one reason why dentists worry about their patients using it exclusively — hello has a version that does, and that’s the one I picked. hello charcoal toothpaste also contains coconut oil, which is rife with acids that attack harmful mouth bacteria. hello charcoal toothpaste is Leaping Bunny certified, which means it’s totally vegan and never tested on animals. It’s cruelty-free and free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and dyes.

I love hello products, and they have a whole range of charcoal products for teeth, including charcoal toothpaste tablets, which I tried and reported on a while back.

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The experience: Using charcoal toothpaste

Originally, the challenge was to brush my teeth with charcoal toothpaste for a month to see if it really whitens teeth. But having researched charcoal toothpaste before using it, I knew that daily brushing with abrasive charcoal isn’t good for tooth enamel. I also knew that since charcoal only removes surface stains, daily brushing with it wouldn’t do much for stains beneath the enamel, anyway.

But then, after my month-long experience was finished and I dug in for a deeper understanding of how charcoal toothpaste works and looked more closely at the product, I learned that hello charcoal toothpaste is formulated with extremely finely ground activated charcoal, making it safe for tooth enamel even with daily use. Now we know!

Photo of toothbrush with Hello activated charcoal toothpaste on it

Brushing with charcoal toothpaste

I knew the toothpaste would be black but I was surprised by the lovely, minty scent. I love the mild mint flavor of this toothpaste. It doesn’t beat your teeth over the head with spicy, candy-tasting flavoring — it tastes clean and honest.

My teeth felt squeaky clean and smooth after brushing, and my mouth felt so fresh I had to swear a little. “Hot damn,” I think I said.

The verdict: Charcoal toothpaste whitens teeth

You can see for yourself the difference charcoal toothpaste made on my teeth when I brushed with it a couple of times a week for two months. I also used an interdental brush like this one after brushing with my toothbrush — I dipped it in charcoal toothpaste and went after the stains between my teeth.

I’m honestly very surprised that it worked so well. Suffice it to say I’m going to keep using this charcoal toothpaste forever more to keep my pearlies white — or as white as can be expected.

Before charcoal toothpaste

During the month of using charcoal toothpaste

After a month of charcoal toothpaste

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