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26 Survival Uses for Wood Ash

If you’ve had any experience with outdoor campfires, wildfires, or a fireplace, you are familiar with wood ash. Wood ash is the fine powdery material that is produced when any type of wood is completely burned up. Wood ash contains potassium, phosphorus, and calcium.

Most people never think twice about the ash that is left behind after a wood fire, but in truth there are many uses for wood ash. Hardwood 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, and for various uses around the yard and farm.

In the garden

Keep your Garden Pest Free—slugs and snails that devour your plants in the cover of darkness, wood ash can be spread around plants one by one or around the outside edge of the entire garden. Avoid direct contact with plants, reapply after it rains. Wood ash acts like a desiccant and absorbs moisture which is a major deterrent to slugs and snails. It is also known to repel aphids and cabbage worms.

Boost Compost – boost potassium in your compost pile. Too much will damage your pile because wood ash is alkaline so use in moderation

Substitute for Lime to neutralize acidic soil with a pH below 6. No more than 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet of soil.

Substitute for Eggshells to add calcium to your garden—sprinkle lightly around your plants that need more calcium. Potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, beans, lettuce, celery, peas, and cabbage and garlic. Even apple trees as long as they aren’t still saplings.

Protect plants from frost-adding a layer of ash over your plants can help protect them from frost damage.

Preserve Seeds—you can layer ash over seeds in clay pots to store them and prevent insects from feasting on the seeds.

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 fruits 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.

Grinding Corn-create lye from wood ash and use it for nixtamalization of corn, a process that not only makes corn easier to grind but also increases flavor and nutrition.

Around the Yard and Farm

Aquaponics fertilizer-just 1 tablespoon per 1,000 gallons will promote plant growth and improve health of plants. Use in ponds to control algae growth.

Use for Chicken Bathing-Mix wood ash with sand to create a great place for chicken bathing. Backyard chickens love to bathe in dust to keep themselves clean. It’s a behavior that cleans a chicken’s feathers and removes lice, mites, and other parasites.

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 fumes as well.

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 amount of hide scraping needed.

Melt Ice-Use wood ash to melt ice instead of rock salt. Wood ash contains potassium carbonate or potash. Potash 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.

Green Your Lawn-sprinkle on your lawn or pasture and then water thoroughly to prevent the wood ash from being blow away by the wind. Promotes lusher green pastures and lawns.

Smother Fire—you can quickly smother a fire by covering it with wood ash.

Use for Traction—If you get a vehicle stuck on ice or in the snow, sprinkle ash heavily around the tires. You should be able to drive right out.

Pest Control

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. To keep other insects such as cockroaches, other insects, 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.

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.

Moth Repellant-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.

Clean-Up

Make soap-wood ashes can be mixed with animal fat and water and used to make your own homemade soap. Use caution as the lye created from wood ash can be very caustic.

Absorb Stains-Use to clean up wet paint and grease spills. 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—moisten a piece of newspaper and dip in wood ash and then use to clean windows, soot from glass fireplace doors, or polish silver.

Eliminate Odors- De-skunk pets, sprinkle in with cat litter, use as a covering layer in an outhouse to reduce smell, put ash on a plate in the fridge replace frequently until odor is gone.

Remove Stains from clothes—immediately after staining your clothes, sprinkle a little ash on it, wait 4-5 minutes and then rub the stain with the soft white part of the bread.

For Healing—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 and aspen ash has successfully treat swelling in limbs and the colon.

Cautions When Using Wood Ash

  • Lye and lye water made from wood ash is very toxic. Never add lye or lye water to food or put 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.
  • Store ash in 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 and travel easily through the air. When working with wood ash, always wear protective eye googles, 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.

So before you clean out the fireplace or campfire ring and simply dispose 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.

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About Megan Stewart

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 for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of six grandsons, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.

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