One of the most important things about prepping and survivalism is learning to use available resources.
In a total SHTF situation, you aren’t going to be able to go to the store to get supplies. If you are homesteading, then driving 100 miles to get supplies isn’t a good option (and kind of defeats the point of homesteading).
Even if you don’t care about survival or off-grid living, resource utilization is still important. I mean, who wants to shell out hard-earned cash when you don’t have to?
I’ve talked about utilizing everyday items for survival before, such as survival uses for plastic bags and how to make a garden out of recycled pallets.
Today, I want to talk about uses for fire ash.
What Types of Ash Can You Use?
Let’s first start by clarifying that there are multiple types of ash.
If you’ve tried burning different things in your stove, then you’re probably already aware of how different the ash can be.
For example, I used to burn coal in a coal-burning stove (actually more like a big furnace) which was outside of the house in a shed. The ash leftover from coal is nasty. No matter how careful you are when emptying the ash, it sprays up everywhere.
You’ll need to wear a mask when dumping it or you’ll have particles up in your nose (note that you’ve got to be careful when heating with wood or coal as it could make you sick – proper ventilation is key!).
While the coal from your stove isn’t as bad as the fly ash which comes out of smoke stacks, it still isn’t ideal to use. As far as gardens are concerned, coal ash is way too acidic and could destroy the pH of your crops.
Wood Pellet Ash
A lot of people use wood pellets to heat their homes because you don’t have to chop wood or need as much storage space. But, when it comes for uses for ash, there may be some issues with wood pellets.
The issue has to do with the glue which is used to hold the wood pellets together. Many are bound with a type of glue called lignin, which is naturally-occurring in trees.
If this is the case, then you can use the wood pellet ash. Check the pellet bag or call the manufacturer to see what type of glue they use.
If the wood pellets are made with chemical glues, then you don’t want those chemicals in your garden, compost, etc.
Why not switch brands of pellets?
Or why not switch to real wood? Chopping is actually kind of fun and it will help with your prepper fitness.
This is the stuff we are talking about! Wood ash consists of many nutrients, has a low acidity level, and is slightly abrasive.
These properties are what make wood ash so useful.
Uses for Wood Ash
This is the number one use for wood ash. Because wood ash contains nutrients including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium, it is great as a fertilizer for your garden or yard.
Never combine wood ash with nitrogen fertilizers! It will produce toxic ammonia gas.
Note that wood ash will quickly change the pH of your soil. So you’ve got to be careful about how much you add at once.
How much wood ash to use as fertilizer? You can use about 5 pounds (about 1.25 gallon bucket) per 100 square feet per year.
Apply the ash in the spring. Do it when the soil is dry and then water it so the wood ash doesn’t blow away. Remember not to add limestone if you are going to be using wood ash on your garden or yard!
2. Compost Addition
If you haven’t started composting yet, now is the time.
Once you’ve got your compost going, you can add wood ash to it. It boosts the potassium levels in the compost and makes it even better for your garden. Just remember that wood ash is very alkaline so you can’t add too much at once.
A good rule to go by is add a layer of ash for every 6 inches of compost.
3. pH Correction of Soil
If you have acidic soil, you can use wood ash to reduce the acidity. It acts in the same way as lime, so save yourself the trouble and expense of lime.
Just note that wood ash will change the pH of your soil quickly (whereas lime is slow-acting). Don’t put on more than 5lbs of wood ash per 100 feet at once. Retest your soil using a PH tester after putting on the wood ash. Reapply if necessary to get a good soil pH of between 6 to 7.5 in your garden.
As a general rule, never exceed 25 pounds of wood ash per 1,000 square feet of soil and always re-test your soil after applying wood ash.
4. Pest Control
One good use for wood ash is to control pests like slugs and certain bugs that will eat your garden. To use the ash, just sprinkle it around your garden bed or even around individual plants.
5. Controlling Algae Levels in Ponds
Got a pond which is full of algae? The wood ash won’t kill the algae, but its potassium does help boost other pond plants which compete with the algae, thus getting the algae levels under control. Add 1tbsp of wood ash for each 1,000 gallons of water in the pond.
6. Making Soap
This is one of the most traditional uses for wood ash. You just need to mix the wood ash with water to turn it into lye. The lye is then mixed with animal fat and can be boiled to make a soap. You add salt to the mix as it cools to make it set. Here’s a good guide on how to make ash soap.
7. Chicken Bath
Got backyard chickens? Mix some wood ash with sand to make a dust bath for your chickens. They dust bathe to keep themselves clean and get mites out from their feathers.
8. Melting Ice and Snow
It doesn’t look pretty, but you can sprinkle wood ash on snow or ice to help de-ice it. It also provides some traction on ice (but will make your boots dirty). It is the potassium carbonate in the ash which helps with the melting.
9. Shining Silverware
Mix wood ash with a bit of water to make a paste. Then you can use it for shining silverware.
What other uses for wood ash can you think of? Let us know in the comments below.
By Kapilbutani (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsBy Laurentius (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsLynda Poulter [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons“
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Your link is broken: Here’s a good guide on how to make ash soap. It simply points to another index site.
Thanks Tony – have fixed that.
Another unconventional use for wood ash is as a cover material in a composting toilet. My favorite use is as fertilizer for our asparagus patch! Thanks for sharing my soap post!
Hi Kathryn, great tips thanks!
Another use for wood ash when cleaning paint brushes. First clean with paint thinner or water then give the brush a dust bath in a can of sifted wood ashes. The ash absorbs the extra paint/water/thinner that still clings to the deep insides of the bristles. Knock off the ash and wire brush it to have a very clean brush!
Good stuff, keep them coming!
I clean the glass door of my fireplace with ashes just wet a non scratch scourer and dip in the ashes then firmly clean it, then wipe the glass with clean paper or cloth to remove dirt.
Also in Spain where I am from, granny’s used the ashes and water after filtering to clean bedding sheets. But not sure of the exact method.
My grandaddy used to clean his teeth with ashes as well.
I will try the soap thanks for the tip!!!
Hi Ana, love hearing about the “old ways” nice tips there. Thanks.
I used to sprinkle it in my outhouse at camp and it pretty much eliminated any odor and flies.
Anyone thinking of #8 Melting ice may want to be sure you are not doing this on a walk way since ash, like charcoal will be prone to leaving black on the carpet. If you apply it past the edge of the walk, the melt water will help to thaw the ice on the walk. Cheers!
My grandma used the ash from wood cooking stove to clean dishes
Can we use ash to make ink ?
I believe it is used to make homemade tattoo ink in some places. Not something I am really familiar with though. Would love to hear more if any readers have experience of this.
+1 for using it to clean the glass on the stove.. just dampen some kitchen paper, dip into some fine ash and rub the glass lightly, then clean off. works wonders on even blackened marks.
If you want really soft hair use water that has been softened with ashes.
We have barrels to collect rainwater and ashes keep them free of algae.
my mom had lots of antiques in her home and if there ever became a water ring from a glass which should not have been put down on it!, We would make a paste out of wood ash and gently rub the furniture with the grain and the white ring would disappear.
For cleaning the glass doors on a fire place when they get sooty. dip your cleaning item (i use wadded up newspaper) into some water then into the ash, start rubbing it onto the glass. Works like a dream.
That’s a new one for me (thanks!). I generally just use vinegar.