Burning wood for heat means we end up with quite a bit of wood ash. I have a few go-to’s for using it around the homestead but I recently decided to research what else I could use it for. Turns out wood ash is amazingly useful! So, weather it comes from a bonfire or a wood stove, save that ash and put it to use!
But first… a talk about Safety!
Many fires are caused each year by wood ash being improperly collected and stored. Wood ash should always be collected into an empty metal container, after being allowed to cool fully. Only use ash from fires burned from wood without chemicals (like many pallets). Also, don’t use black walnut ash as it will kill plants it is spread over. Gloves should always be worn when making or using lye water, and goggles should also be worn for making lye.
Lye and Lye water are NOT the same product. Never use lye in place of lye water as you could endanger your health.
Now that we’ve had the safety talk, some of the uses I’ve discovered or used wood ash for include:
1. Outhouse Deodorizer
We don’t have indoor plumbing, so I’m well acquainted with this use for wood ash. Just scoop your ash into a metal can and stash it in the outhouse. As for when to use, I find that one scoop per poop works well to limit smells 😉
2. Chicken Dust Bath
Add wood ash to sand for super cleaning power in chicken dust baths. Wood ash acts as a desiccant on lice and mites, killing them and keeping your chickens healthy and happy.
3. Enrich Compost
Wood ash is high in calcium, and contains phosphorous, potassium, and boron. This makes it a great addition to any compost pile. Just be sure not to use too much as wood ash contains salt. A sprinkle now and again will keep the compost from becoming to alkaline.
4. Deter Garden Pests
Sprinkle wood ash around the edges of garden beds with young plants. Slugs and snails dislike the salt in wood ash and will be deterred from snacking on newly planted beds. Angi at Schneider Peeps has more information on using wood ash in the garden here.
5. Melt Ice And Snow
Because of the salt in wood ash it makes a great ice and snow melt. It won’t stain concrete or asphalt like some commercial snow melts do.
6. Shine Silver (And Other Metals)
A paste of ash and water makes a wonderful silver cleaner. It can also be used on gold and other metals. Be sure to test this on an inconspicuous area as wood ash may scratch some surfaces.
7. Amend Acidic Soil
Add ash to amend acidic soil. Ash will change soil PH quickly so be sure to do regular soil tests.
8. Perk Up Plants
Calcium loving plants like tomatoes will perk right up if wood ash is sprinkled directly in the hole while transplanting.
9. Clean Fireplace Glass
Dip a damp sponge in ash and use it to scrub fireplace glace. Alternatively, you can use charcoal for this as well (read how here).
10. Use As Lawn Fertilizer
Sprinkle over browned lawns to turn them green quickly!
11. Use It To Kill Moss
Sprinkle around areas with unsightly moss. This can be used on lawns, or pavement as it will not stain.
12. Use As A Dehumidifier
Place ash in an open meal container and leave in rooms that are too humid.
13. Use As A Fire Extinguisher
While it won’t replace a store bought fire extinguisher, wood ash can be used in a pinch. Keep a bucket near the wood stove, compost pile, or in the barn to stomp out small fires quickly.
14. Control Pond Algae
Use 1 tablespoon wood ash per 1000 gallons of pond water will help keep algae under control. It’s also safe for use in aquaponics systems.
15. Homemade Tooth Powder
Wood ash is an abrasive material, as such it can be used to clean and whiten teeth. Only ash from soft woods should be used. Tooth powder made from ash should not be used every day, as it could damage tooth enamel.
16. Ash Tea For The Garden
For this you need 1 lb of ash and 10 gallons of water. The ash should be placed in a pillow case or similar and steeped for several days. The resulting tea can be poured around plants for a nutrient boost.
17. Deodorize Pet Bedding
Wood ash makes a great deodorizer. Sprinkle it on dog blankets and beds to cut down on their natural smell.
18. Create Lye Water For Cleaning
Lye water is great for cleaning glass, silver, certain dishes and removing rust. It can be made by boiling 3 tablespoons of ash per 1 cup of water. Always use gloves when working with lye water!
19. Use In Natural First Aid
Wood ash has been used for centuries to kill bacteria and cleanse wounds. Mix equal parts lye water and soap to clean the wound.
20. Use As A Pest Deterrent
Place ash in an open container and stash in moist or dark areas of basements and cellars. It will help deter mice, rats and cockroaches.
21. Use As A Livestock Pest Remover
Rub a paste of vinegar and ash into the fur of pets or livestock to get rid of lice, mites and fleas. This will be messy but it works!
22. Remove Ant Colonies
Pour fine ash around ant colonies and watch them pack up and leave!
23. Clothing Stain Remover
Create a past with ash and water, rub on stained clothes and let sit for 5 minutes. Clean off with a damp rag then wash the clothes.
24. Seed Preservation
Pioneers used to store seeds in wood ash to prevent mold from damaging the seeds. More proof of its great moisture absorbing qualities!
25. Fruit And Vegetable Storage
Pioneers also used wood ash to store fruits and vegetables in. After digging a hole in the ground the walls and bottom were coated in ash. Food products would be layered with ash coating each items so they did not touch each other. Food could be preserved for several months this way.
26. Hair Treatment
Use lye water to wash hair, then follow with an apple cider vinegar rinse. This is especially useful for oily hair.
27. Ice Preventative
Sprinkle wood as on walkways, windshields and satellite dishes to prevent ice build up.
28. Prevent Frost Damage To Plants
If there is an unexpected early or late frost cover plants with a healthy spread of wood ash. This will help prevent damage to the plants.
29. Use In Clothes Storage
I don’t know about you, but I really dislike the smell of moth balls. Instead, sprinkle ash on and between clothes to be stored for long periods of time.
30. Additive To Kitty Litter
Add wood ash to kitty litter, or other animal waste bedding to help prevent smells.
31. Preserve Eggs
In many middle eastern countries eggs are preserved without refrigeration with ash. Wood ash is mixed with clay, salt, lime and rice. Eggs are rolled in the mixture for storage.
32. Fridge Deodorizer
Use wood ash placed in an open container to deodorize a refrigeration.
33. Compost Citrus
I’ve always been told that things like citrus should not be composted for various reasons. Adding wood ash to the compost will help break down citrus peels.
34. De-Skunk Pets
If you’ve ever had a dog sprayed by a skunk you know how long the smell takes to fade. Using wood ash rubbed through the fur will make the smell fade faster.
35. Clean White Boards
Ash and water can be used to create a paste for cleaning white board. This will even remove permanent marker that has accidentally been used!
36. Make A Survival Water Filter
There will probably be chunks of charcoal hanging out in the ash you’ve collected. Use the charcoal and ash to create a small water filter in emergencies.
37. Use In Place Of Lime For Gardening
Ash has smaller particles than lime and is more water soluble. This means a little goes a long way, so don’t over do it.
38. Clean The Bathroom
Due to it’s abrasiveness, ash is great for cleaning the tub. Just sprinkle like Comet and scrub with a damp sponge.
39. Use To Lighten Clothes
Use 1 part ash to 4 parts heated soft (rain) water. Stir together, then let settle. Use the clear water on top as a bleach replacer in laundry. Roughly 1 cup per load.
40. Make Homemade Corn Nuts
Simply add ash to water and soak dried corn kernels in it. Once they’ve re-hydrated, pat dry, add spices and fry them up!
41. Clean Oil Stains From The Garage
Much like cat litter, ashes can be spread on freshly spilled oil to clean it up. Let the ash soak up the oil, then sweep it up and dispose of it.
42. Create Natural Pottery Glaze
Mix wood ash with a clay slurry, then dip or paint pottery. Because ash contains high amounts of calcium carbonate it creates a glaze over pottery when fired at the right temperature. Glaze coloring will depend on what is mixed with the ash and the type of wood burned, as well as the elements in the soil where the tree grew
43. Clean Furniture Stains
Create a paste of ash and water and spread over the stained area. Allow it to set for roughly 5 minutes, then wipe off with a damp sponge. In case this method damages the furniture, it should be tried in a hidden area first .
44. Add To Chicken Feed
Wood ash makes a great addition to chicken feed as a calcium supplement. Chickens with supplemented feed have been shown to have improved laying rates. Also, it helps make chicken manure less odorous, which is a huge plus.
45. Remove Hair From Hides
Mix ash and hot (soft) water to soak hides in. Afterward the hair should be softer so less scraping is needed. Here is a step by step guide for using ashes to tan hides from Live The Old Way.
46. Use As A Hardwood Tree Fertilizer
Apple trees especially love wood ash. It helps the roots by adding calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous and manganese to the soil. Also, these nutrients make for some delicious fruit too! Just be careful not to over do it!
47. Create A Wood Insect Repellent
Mix ash and water in a jar and let it set for a week. Use the mixture to paint raw wood as an insect repellent.
48. Clear Clogged Drains
Pour 1 cup of dry powdery ash into a clogged or slowed drain. Follow this with 1 cup of heated soft (rain) water. Flush the drain with fresh water after allowing it to set for several hours. After this treatment the drain will work much better.
49. Clean Paint Drips
Rub wood ash onto wet paint drips on pavement or concrete, then sweep up. This will also help conceal any tint the paint would have left behind as well.
50. Use As A Traction Agent
Keep a small bag of wood ash in vehicles for when the roads or icy or snowy. Spread it behind tires when you need a little extra traction.
51. Make Traditional German Pretzels
Ever wonder where pretzels get their amazing crusts from? Turns out the answer is lye, and lye comes from wood ash! This is a great explanation of using lye to make pretzels, along with a recipe.
52. Clean Cast Iron
A piece of cast iron cook ware can be soaked in a solution of soft water and ash for a day or two. This will clean the pan as well as remove the rust. Then the skillet can then be washed with vinegar and water to remove the lye. Afterwords the cast iron can be reseasoned and is ready for use.
53. Make Lye Water For Use In Recipes
Certain Chinese dishes call for the use of lye water, such as mooncakes. Likewise, it is traditionally used in ramen noodles and is what gives them their springy texture and yellow coloring. Because lye water can cause mouth, esophageal and stomach burns if used incorrectly caution should be used. Always follow the recipe instructions exactly!
54. Use To Improve Pasture
Wood ash provides substantial amounts of potassium and calcium, and lower amounts of phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and manganese. In addition, it also has trace amounts of boron and copper. All of these make it a great pasture fertilizer, as animals will ingest these through plants eaten.
55. Use Ashes To Make Lye
Lye can be used for soap making or stripping animal hides. Here is a great write up by Live The Old Way on how to properly make lye, and a homemade soap guide from Kathryn at Farming My Backyard. Warning: Lye can be dangerous and precautions should be taken when making it.
Now I will say I haven’t tried all of these, or even most of them! But I have used wood ash often enough to believe it is this versatile. I plan on testing these out as the homestead grows, so keep an eye out for updates!