We’ve all had to deal with getting rid of the wood ash after outdoor campfires, or from a fireplace. You know, that fine powdery material produced when any type of wood is completely burned up…
Here we show you a huge number of uses for hardwood ash around the house and garden so it doesn’t go to waste. Potassium, phosphorus, and calcium are just some of the elements of wood ash, and these all play their part in the many applications for this so-called waste.
Ash residue, left from burning hardwood, can be used in the garden for soil enrichment and protection, in the home for odor management and for cleaning, as well as for various uses around the yard and farm.
But you need to know how to use it to best advantage, so we start with the precautions you need to take when using wood ash.
Table of Contents
Cautions When Using Wood Ash
- Lye and lye water made from wood ash is very alkaline. Add lye water to food with caution, using a proper recipe, and do not put lye water directly on your skin.
- Use only ash that comes from chemical-free wood. Do not burn stained or painted wood, commercial “logs”, or pressure-treated boards.
- Hardwood ash is five times higher in nutrients than softwood, so it is preferable to use hardwood ash, also it has less resin.
- Store ash in a metal container on a concrete surface to prevent fires as embers that are buried can still be hot after days or weeks.
- Wood ash particles are extremely light and fine, traveling easily through the air. When working with wood ash, wear protective eye goggles, heavy gloves, and for extended work, a dust mask.
- There is salt in wood ash which will damage younger plants such as seedlings.
- Take care when using wood ash in the garden, it should not be mixed with urea or other nitrogen fertilizers as it can result in ammonia gas production.
In the Garden
Wood ash is an alkaline substance and as such should be handled with care – use gloves. Secondly, make sure the hot ash is nowhere where children can get hold of it as it can stay hot for days and you don’t want anyone getting burnt. Always test to make sure it is completely cool before handling it yourself.
Because it is alkaline, wood ash will raise the pH of your soil so should only be used on acid soils, otherwise too much may raise soil alkalinity excessively, resulting in stunted growth.
1. Keep your Garden Pest-Free
Slugs and snails usually devour your plants under cover of darkness, but by spreading wood ash around plants one by one, or around the outside edge of the entire garden, you can repel them. Avoid direct contact with plants and reapply after it rains. If the particles are very fine, wear a dust mask to keep them from entering your lungs.
Wood ash acts like a desiccant, absorbing moisture from slugs and snails and they avoid it, because if their bodies dry out they die. It is also known to repel aphids and cabbage worms. Don’t add if your soil is already very alkaline though.
#2. Boost Compost
Boost potassium in your compost pile. Too much will damage your pile because wood ash is alkaline, so use it in moderation. You can put wood ash on top to stop bears if they seem to think your compost heap is an invitation to a smorgasbord.
#3. Substitute for Lime…
…to neutralize acidic soil with a pH of below 6. No more than 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet of soil should be applied.
#4. Substitute for Eggshells
…to add calcium to your garden—sprinkle lightly around plants that need more calcium, like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beans, lettuce, celery, peas, cabbage and garlic.
Even apple trees can benefit, as long as they aren’t still saplings, also redcurrants and gooseberries as well as pears, raspberries, and blackberries.
Avoid using around potatoes as it can increase the risk of potato scab, a fungus that enjoys alkaline soil.
#5. Tomato Plants…
…respond well to a handful of wood ash. The potassium content encourages flowering and enhances the flavor of the tomatoes. The calcium helps avoid blossom end rot.
Only when the plants start to flower should you apply the wood ash.
#6. Preserve Seeds
You can layer ash over seeds in clay pots to store them, keeping them dry and preventing insects from feasting on the seeds.
#7. Frost Protection
Some people dust plants with wood ash before an early or light frost to help prevent damage. This is due to the chemicals in wood ash lowering the freezing point of water.
Around the Yard and Farm
#8. Aquaponics fertilizer
Just 1 tablespoon per 1,000 gallons will promote plant growth and improve plant health. Use it in ponds to control algae growth.
#9. Use for Chicken Bathing
Mix wood ash with sand to create a great place for chicken bathing. Backyard chickens love to bathe in dust, a behavior that cleans a chicken’s feathers and removes lice, mites, and other parasites.
#10. Chicken Feed Supplement
Wood ash is high in calcium so adding wood ash in very small amounts to your chicken feed (1% or less ratio) means your chickens will lay eggs more frequently for a longer period of time.
And it also can help absorb ammonia in their droppings, which reduces odors as well.
#11. Remove Hair from Hides
Mix wood ash with hot water and soak animal hides from freshly killed deer, hogs, or other animals to remove the majority of hair from the hide and reduce the amount of hide scraping needed.
#12. Melt Ice
Use wood ash to melt ice instead of rock salt. Wood ash contains potassium carbonate which is better for plants and the planet than more chloride-based salts like rock salt.
Rock salt can be toxic to underground water sources, plants, your pets, and can damage concrete or metal surfaces, so using wood ash makes sense.
#13. Green Your Lawn
Sprinkle wood ash on your lawn or pasture and then water thoroughly to prevent it from being blown away by the wind. Promotes lusher green pastures and lawns.
#14. Smother Fire
You can quickly smother a fire by covering it with wood ash.
15. Use for Traction
If your vehicle gets stuck on ice, or in the snow, sprinkle ash heavily around the tires. You should be able to drive right out.
Keep a metal container with a tight-fitting lid in your vehicle for such eventualities – or to help out another motorist.
#16. Get Rid of Ants and Other Insects
Dump ash directly into the ant colony. Although ants can lift bigger items, they cannot move ash and will be forced to relocate.
The wood ash also works when placed onto the top of the ant hill – indicating to the ants they should move but does not kill them. It can also be used to stop ants from invading a beehive by placing across the ant trails.
#17. Keeping Rodents Away
Keep rodents and insects such as cockroaches, and even mice and rats, layer ash in the dark areas of your basement or corners of your house. As long as the ash is there, insects and rodents will steer clear.
#18. Remove Fleas, Ticks, and Lice from Pets and Livestock
Mix ash and vinegar into a thick paste and work into the fur of the animal. The tiny particles in the wood ash reportedly leave micro-cuts on the bodies of fleas, which
causes them to dry out and die
#19. Moth Repellent
Sprinkle ash onto clothing before you put them into storage. Clothes will be moth free and when you are ready to use them again, simply shake off the ash.
#20. Soap Making
Wood ash can be mixed with animal fat and water and used to make your own homemade soap. Use caution by wearing gloves and goggles as the lye created from wood ash can be very caustic.
#21. Quick Cleaning at Camp
When you’re camping and you are left with a greasy pan with animal fat in it throw some ash from the fire into it and mix – it will create a very basic “soap” that will help you clean up.
#22. Absorb Stains
Wood ash absorbs liquids and can be used to clean up wet paint or grease spills. It can also be used to remove stains from cement, asphalt, and other porous surfaces. Sprinkle lightly on the stain, allow to sit, sweep up later with a broom.
Clean and Polish
23. As a Homemade Cleaner
Hardwood ash gets rid of grease, and grime on glass, ovenware and grills, as well as glass stovetops.
24. To Remove Tarnish from Silverware
25. To Remove Sticky Labels
If that gummy residue from stickers and labels on glass jars drives you crazy, then take a damp cloth and dip it into a paste made of wood ash and water, scrub off and then rinse for a sparkling finish.
26. To Clean Your Windows
For windows moisten a piece of newspaper and dip it in wood ash and then use to clean windows , and soot from glass fireplace guards.
27. To Absorb Cat Litter Smells
A little wood ash can be sprinkled in with cat litter to absorb odors.
28. As a Toilet Deodoriser
Have a container filled with wood ash with a scoop next to the outhouse toilet. Use it as a covering layer in the outhouse to reduce smell.
29. To Remove Fridge Odors
Put ash in a small container in the fridge and replace frequently until the odor is gone.
30. Skunk Deo
If a dog accidentally gets sprayed by a skunk and you don’t have any commercially made alternative sprays then rub wood ash into the fur and leave the dog outside for a few hours – wood ash makes a mean mess in the house! Afterwards give the dog a good bath to remove the ash – and the worst of the smell.
31. Remove Stains from Clothes
Immediately after getting a stain on clothing, sprinkle a little ash on it, wait 4-5 minutes and then rub the stain with the soft white part of a slice of bread. Wash as usual.
31. To Kill Batcteria
Though we are not doctors, we do want to let you know that wood ash has been used throughout history in a variety of ways:
- The Egyptians used wood ash for cleansing wounds to kill bacteria and promote faster healing.
- Birch ash diluted in milk has been used to treat diseased livers.
- Rowan ash in water has treated anemia, helped with depression and weakness.
- Oak ash diluted in boiled water and strained has been used to treat ocular pressure
- Aspen ash has successfully treated swelling in limbs and the colon.
32. Grinding Corn
To make lye boil up the ashes from a hardwood fire in a little soft water for around 30 minutes – rainwater is the best. Don’t try use softwood ash as these ashes have too much resin.
Allow the ash to settle down to the bottom of the pot and then skim the liquid lye off the top. Use it for the nixtamalization of corn, a process that not only makes corn easier to grind but also increases flavor and nutrition.
Mixed in with the corn the alkaline water from wood ash interacts with the corn, releasing essential amino acids and niacin that would otherwise remain locked in the grain. Learn how to do it safely here:
33. For Pickling Olives
Use wood ash solution with Sicilian olives to pickle them. Leave the olives in the solution for around 10 to 12 days until the stones feel loose inside the olives before proceeding further with the pickling.
#34. Preserve Fruits and Vegetables
If you are somewhere without the use of a refrigerator, you can dig a hole in the ground and fill it with wood ash.
Layer your fruit and vegetables into the hole, taking care to leave enough space between each piece so it doesn’t touch other pieces or the dirt on the sides.
Cover the top of the hole with a piece of wood and you can store produce this way for days and even weeks. Wash thoroughly before using.
35. To Preserve Cheese
Planning on making your own cheese? Save the ashes. Certain cheese rinds are prepared with ashes as protection for the cheese as it matures as well as enhancing the flavor due to its alkaline properties.
Watch how it was done in the 19th Century here:
Before cleaning out the fireplace or campfire ring and simply disposing of that wood ash, consider the uses we’ve listed above. Always do your own research and clarify exact procedures before proceeding for safety reasons.
In a grid-down or post-SHTF scenario, wood ash may just come to your rescue for a variety of tasks you need to complete.
Do you have your own uses for wood ash? Did we forget something that should be on the list? Let us know in the comments below.
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of ten is learning everything she can about preparedness, survival, and homesteading.