Photo by Randy Fath/Unsplash
Our home fires and wood stoves produce a lot of ash. Have you ever felt that there could be something useful you could do with the wood ashes from your fire?
When wood ash has been burnt at low temperatures like in a fireplace or stove, it produces an alkali called calcium carbonate. This is the main compound in many naturally occurring things such as limestone, chalk, eggshells and seashells. It is often used in food supplements and many household cleaning products.
Wood ash has a ton of uses around the home. Why not see if you can put it to good use?
Small oil or grease spills
Place a thick layer of ash over any oil spills to effectively soak up the oil. When all the oil is soaked up, it can be easily swept up and disposed of. You can also use a thin layer of ash to disguise any oil that may have soaked into the concrete, and help draw out any additional oil left behind.
This is more suited to the garage or yard rather than the home, as ash will likely stain surfaces or be difficult to clean out.
Wood ash mixed with a small amount of water will create a naturally abrasive paste that can be used to polish tarnished surfaces. This works well on aged metals such as silver and brass, and can even be used on glass to clean heavily stained surfaces.
Odor and moisture absorber
You can use wood ash to absorb odor and moisture in a similar way to bicarbonate of soda. If you have a damp cupboard, try placing a small cup of ash in there to draw out the moisture and remove damp smells. You can also use this in outhouses or rooms with poor airflow by placing a larger amount in a small bucket or plastic bag.
Replace the ash when it becomes damp to assure the odor absorbing properties remain effective.
Ash has been used for centuries to add essential nutrients to soil. Ash contains trace elements of potash and phosphate, and can be useful for balancing acidic soils. When adding it to bare soil, it is best to do this in winter so as to avoid scorching the plants.
Try to avoid areas that will be used to grow potatoes, as this can cause them to scab.
Try adding it to your compost heap in small amounts to give it a little nutrient boost. Ash is also a natural odor eliminator, so it may help reduce the attraction of local wildlife to your compost pile. A little at a time is better. If you add too much, you risk changing the pH of the soil as ash is quite alkaline. A more alkaline compost is useful for ornamental plants and some fruit bushes.
If you keep chickens, you know that they love nothing better than a good dust bath to keep their feathers and skin healthy and clean. A little wood ash can be mixed into their regular dust bath or placed in a dry spot where they can access. It is a good way to prevent and kill lice and other parasites.
Additionally, spreading a little ash on the floor of the chicken coop can help neutralize the odor of their droppings. This is good for deterring flies and keeping your neighbors happy.
It is important to remember that only clean wood ash from untreated solid timber should be used around chickens. Ash from treated timbers or pellet wood may contain chemicals or additives that could harm the chickens.
Because wood ash is made of primarily calcium carbonate, it can be a good supplement to the chicken’s diet, replacing the calcium lost during egg production.
Protect plants from slugs and snails
A line of ash sprinkled around the base of ornamental plants and vegetables is usually enough to deter slugs and snails from eating them. The ash will not harm the slugs, but it soaks up their slime and makes it difficult and uncomfortable for them to cross.
Try not to add too much though as ash is alkaline and may scorch your plants.
Put out fires
If you have a firepit or bonfire, you can store a bucket of ashes to douse the flames when you need to. Ash works the same way as sand when putting out fires. It smothers the flames and removes oxygen.
To de-ice your driveway
Putting down a layer of ashes on an icy driveway can help with traction for driving and make the surface less slippery for pedestrians. Wood ash also contains low levels of potassium salts which help to melt ice.
Ash is better for the plants in your garden than using rock salt, which can poison them and build up in the soil overtime, making it unsuitable for plants. This is most effective in moderately cold conditions.
Lye water is a caustic solution made by soaking hardwood ashes in rainwater. The result is a strong alkaline liquid that has many uses around the home and in the kitchen. It can be used to make soap and is an ingredient traditionally found in ramen noodles, bagels and pretzels.
It is not advised to use homemade lye in food products unless you are confident that it is safe and you know what you’re doing.
Lye can burn the skin and is corrosive and poisonous if ingested neat. Though it’s from a natural source, it should be handled with care. Make sure to use protective clothing and eyewear when handling at all times.
The oldest method of soap making used a mixture of concentrated lye water and animal fat to produce a type of soft soap. The ingredients, when added together, react in a process called saponification and are often cooked slowly until they reduce and thicken.
This can be a fun experiment for those who enjoy crafts, but the end product will not be like store-bought soap. There are many different kinds of fats that can be used other than animal fats, but this is traditionally what was used.