Few things compare to the warmth and glow of a wood fire. But after the flames die down, what do you do with all that leftover ash? Mother Nature has it all figured out. From unclogging stuck drains to getting your laundry whiter, here are 11 earth-friendly DIY ways to reuse wood ash from your fireplace.
1. Wood Ash to Unclog Drains
Before commercially produced lye became available, for centuries soap was made with homemade lye produced by chemicals released from wet wood ash. In the olden days, homemade lye was mixed with grease and lard to make soap. Today, lye is still used in many different kind of cleaners -- including drain cleaners!
So, the next time your drains are acting sluggish, try this DIY drain cleaner trick using leftover wood ash. Lye released from the ash will bind with all those fats, greases, and oils stuck in the pipes -- and whoosh! -- free-flowing drains in no time, without the need for toxic chemicals.
In order to use wood ashes to clear drains, follow these very easy simple steps:
- Allow ashes either from your fireplace or wood heater to fully cool.
- Scoop the finest gray or white “powdery” ashes into a metal container, avoiding any clumps of ashes. Make sure ashes have never been wet.
- Pour 1 cup of powdery ash into the clogged drain followed by 1 cup of heated rain water (rain is “soft water” that doesn’t contain extra chemicals that can interfere with lye production).
- Allow the mixture to sit for 2-3 hours to allow the lye to mix in with the oily residues, fat and grease in the drains. Afterwards, flush the drain with water and resume normal use.
Note: When using this DIY method to unclog drains, do not combine with other chemicals or acids. Demonstrate caution when working drains and hot water. Use gloves and rinse away any wood ash residue.
2. Silver Polish and Precious Metals Cleaner
Silver can be a cherished family heirloom, but keeping it looking cared for and new can be a chore. Whether it’s a solid silver coin, a silver-plated piece of jewelry, or your mother’s sterling silver tea service, any item made from silver tarnishes over time and begin to look dull. What helps bring back the sparkle? Wood ash, a traditional silver polish used around the globe before tarnish removers made from harsh chemicals came on the scene. Making wood ash polish is fast and easy:
- Mix 4 tablespoons of baking soda, 2 cups of powdery wood ash, and just enough water to make a thick paste.
- Dip a sponge or cloth in the paste and polish that tarnished silver until it shines! The mixture is also good for cleaning stainless steel, gold or chrome items.
Note: Always wear gloves when working with a mixture of wood ashes and water, and thoroughly rinse all items after you’ve polished your precious metals!
3. Enrich Compost
Wood ash is rich in potassium -- a mineral plants love. Even if you don’t have much of a green thumb, it’s easy to harness the power of wood ash by sprinkling some in the garden compost pile for a little extra nourishment. And that’s not all! Other compounds in wood ash are naturally repellent to slugs and snails, making ash a great tool for keeping your garden pest-free. Just keep in mind that wood ashes will raise the soil’s level of alkalinity, meaning you don’t want to overdo it -- and you will want to avoid using wood ash-enriched compost around acid-loving plants, including hydrangeas, potatoes, azaleas, and tulips.
Ready to go green? Here’s how:
- To enrich compost with potassium: Add 1 cup of fine powdery wood ash for every 1.5 cu. ft. of compost/organic potting mix. Ashes from hardwoods tend to have the highest potassium content.
- Pest prevention: Spread ashes evenly around the edges of garden rows.
Note: Rinse hands and gardening tools thoroughly after handling wood ashes.
Source: Bismarck Tribune
4. Pump Up Tomatoes
Growing your own tomatoes is a tastier and less expensive alternative to those fleshy white super market varieties. But to really take your backyard beauties to the next level, welcome some wood ash into your world! Wood ash contains certain nutrients essential for producing hearty, healthy tomato plants, including potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium (yes, the same ingredients found in many tomato fertilizers). Wood ash also raises the soil’s level of alkalinity. Since tomatoes love a slightly alkaline pH, you will be rewarded with some of the sweetest tomatoes ever!
In order to pump up your tomatoes with leftover wood ashes you must:
- Make sure ashes from your fireplace or wood heater are fully cooled, and that you have stored them in a metal container. Do not use any wood ash that has previously been exposed to water.
- Before planting, pour ¼ cup of wood ashes in the hole where you will plant the tomatoes.
- If you have already planted the tomatoes (without adding ash first), sprinkle ¼ cup of ashes around the base of each plant and gently work into the soil with a garden rake.
Note: Avoid using wood ash around acid-loving plants, including potatoes, rhododendrons, azaleas, tulips, and junipers. Wash hands and garden implements thoroughly after handling ashes.
Skunked again? If your pet -- or you -- has the misfortune of coming in contact with a skunk, it’s wood ash to the rescue! The traditional folk remedy for removing the foul rank of skunk odor works because fine ash particles both absorb the skunk spray off skin/fur and help to neutralize its odor. This is a recipe that my monther taught me and it works.
Here’s how it works:
- Use only ashes from your fireplace, wood stove, or camp fire that have fully cooled down, or ashes that are cooled and stored in a metal container.
- Wear gloves when handling ashes.
- Rub a handful of wood ashes into the affected part of your pet’s coat (or the part of you the skunk sprayed). Leave on for a few minutes.
- Rinse your skin or your pet’s coat thoroughly. Dry skin and repeat, if necessary.
6. Algae Control
You installed a lovely little ornamental pond in your backyard and even filled it with koi fish. It’s a scene worthy of a spread in a home magazine -- until algae growth ruins the picture. It’s common for warm water + fish + food to equal algae. But your choices for getting rid of algae blooms aren’t limited to using chemical algaecides or getting rid of the fish. There’s now a savvy third choice in the form of leftover wood ashes from your fireplace! Wood ash contains enough potassium to strengthen other aquatic plants living in your water feature and can successfully compete with the algae by slowing its growth, and thus, keeping it under control.
How to use:
- Sprinkle approximately 1 tablespoon of wood ashes per 1,000 gallons of water.
Source: Bismarck Tribune
7. Ash as a Bleaching Agent or Laundry Detergent
Looking for an organic and all-natural way to bleach your clothes? Try wood ash! When wood ash is mixed with water, it produces a “lye water” that can either be mixed with fats to create a soapy substance, or used all by itself as a bleach. We even know that during the Middle Ages, people figured out that wood ash from apple and pear trees produces the strongest bleaching action. Folks back then even devised a way to filter and purify the lye water by allowing wet ashes to drip through a straw and into a bucket. Pretty clever!
Here’s how to get your clothes brighter:
- Use only the finest powdery gray or white ash leftover in your fireplace or wood heater; if needed, pass ashes through a metal sieve to remove large charcoal chunks.
- Pour the ashes in a barrel or bucket and fill with heated/very hot rain water. Rain water is “soft water” without added minerals that can disrupt the lye making process. Use a ratio of one part wood ashes to 4 parts rain water.
- Stir ashes and water to mix and then allow ash to settle to the bottom.
- What looks like clear water after the ash has settled is actually the wood ash lye water. To use as a bleaching agent, add approximately one cupful per wash load. Use hot wash water to accentuate the bleaching action of the lye.
Safety Note: Wear gloves when handling wood ash or your clothes after using the lye water and be sure to rinse clothes thoroughly before hanging out to dry.
8. Clean Fireplace Doors
You may not do windows, but leftover fireplace ash does! If you have a fireplace with glass doors, you don’t need to look very far for the perfect cleaner. A damp sponge dipped in powdery ash can scrub away sooty residue and leave your fireplace looking sparkly clean.
9. A Dust Bath for Chickens
If you own chickens, then you already know how important a dust bath is for them. If you don’t, here’s the scoop: dust baths are essential for a chicken’s good health; it’s how they remove lice, parasites, scales and dirt from their skin. Can wood ashes from your fireplace or wood heater make up part of the “dust” part of a chickens dust bath? Of course!
There are two options for incorporating wood ashes into a dust bath:
- You can either make a dust powder, containing diatomaceous earth, sand and fireplace ash (1 part each if you are going for the dust powder mixture), or
- If you want to keep it simple, just use the good old fireplace wood ash, mixed with loose dirt, and sand!
Either one will work just fine; they’re both inexpensive and effective at keeping those birds of yours healthy and mite-free! Once mixed, pour the mixture onto the space you have created for your chickens to dust bathe.
Note: Rinse hands thoroughly after handling the ashes; avoid breathing in dust bath mixture when pouring.
Source: Grit.com/Ogden Publications, Inc
10. Melting Ice
Sure, rock salt is a quick fix for melting ice on driveways, walkways, and roads during the winter. But in the long run, rock salt can be more of a problem than a solution.
Millions of tons of rock salt are poured on roads each year across the country, and all this excess salt can build up in the soil over time. In turn, rock salt harms -- and can kill -- plants because it prevents them from absorbing needed moisture and nutrients. Our pets’ paws are sensitive to salts, which can cause irritation. Excess rock salt even puts fish and other wildlife at risk when salt-contaminated run-off enters fresh waterways from storm drains and other sources.
Some good news? Wood ash produced from the fire you lit in your fireplace to stay cozy warm on a winter’s evening can be put to work outside as a natural alternative to spreading rock salt on slippery surfaces.
How does it work? As wood turns to ash during the burning process, some of it converts into salts. Wood ash salts thankfully do not carry the same environmental risks as rock salt. Simply sprinkle some wood ash on the snow or ice, watch it melt, and feel rest assured that the soil or concrete underneath remains unharmed.
Note: If you want to keep a little dry wood ash handy for the next storm, be sure to store ashes in a metal container with a lid.
11. DIY Pioneer Soap
Trying to save a ton of money -- or just want to do your part to save the earth by reusing every last leftover scrap possible? Then scoop up those wood ashes and get ready to make soap just like they in did in the pioneer days!
What you need:
- 1 cup fine powdery wood ash
- 5 cups rain water or “soft” water
- Enough fat to render 1 cup of grease (about one pound)
- 2 tbsp salt
- Wooden box measuring approximately 2”x3”x6”
- Waxed paper
- Stainless steel pots and long-handled dipping spoon
The basic recipe:
- In a stainless steel pot, boil 1 cup powdery wood ash in 5 cups ofrain water. Do not use pots and pans made from aluminum because the lye will eat right through them.
- When the ashes settle at the bottom of the pan, skim the liquid lye off the top and transfer to a new pot.
- Boil the liquid down to further concentrate the lye. Pioneer trick? You know it’s ready when an egg can float on top.
- For the fat: Gather a pound of meat fat, leftover cooking lard and vegetable oil into a pot and heat until solid fat is rendered (turns to liquid fat/grease). This should produce about one cup of grease. If needed, continue adding fat until you reach one cup. Tallow is especially useful for rendering.
- While grease is still hot, add to the boiling lye. Stir until it reaches the consistency of thick cornmeal mush. Turn off heat.
- Stir in 2 tablespoons of salt to help the mixture harden as it cools.
- While the soap is still liquid, pour into the wooden box lined with waxed paper.
- After soap cools, turn out of the mold. Voila! You have firm soap perfect for you every need. .
As you become more and more adept at this recipe, you may want to add essential oil or chopped herbs in step 6 to give the soap a terrific scent. Who knows, you may be able to start your own soap making business with very little overhead, thanks to what gets leftover in your fireplace!
Note: Make sure you rinse thoroughly after handling ashes and the lye made from it. Wear protective gloves and glasses throughout the soap making procedure. Avoid splashing any liquid lye on skin or near eyes.