A wood fireplace is a great addition to any home. Who doesn’t enjoy sitting next to a warm, crackling fire on a chilly winter night? One of the regular maintenance items of burning wood is the need to regularly clean out the ashes. What do you do with the ashes? How do you go about disposing of them? Did you know there are many uses for fireplace ashes?
A Word of Warning
Anytime you handle ashes, hot or cold, always wear safety gloves. Ashes mixed with water produce lye, which is alkaline and can be very painful when in contact with your skin. Therefore, always wear gloves and safety glasses when handling ashes mixed with water. Keep vinegar close by to neutralize the burn if it comes in contact with your skin.
Dispose of the Ashes
If you don’t have the time or opportunity to recycle wood ash, or if you have too much and can’t reuse it all, here’s how you can dispose of it safely.
Let the wood and ashes cool down completely. Don’t pour water into your fireplace; it could damage it. If necessary, smother the fire with sand or flour. And then, let the embers cool down for several hours.
Use a metal shovel to transfer the ashes to a metal bucket. Then pour water into the bucket to saturate the ashes thoroughly. Put the bucket outside, away from the house and any flammable material, and wait at least seven days. On garbage day, pour off any extra water and empty your bucket in the garbage bin. If there are compost bins in your area, you can usually put the ash in them. Check with your municipality first.
1. Clean Fireplace Doors
Before throwing the ash away, use it to clean your glass fireplace doors. Dip a damp sponge in powdery ash and use it to scrub off soot residue from the doors. Check out our article about cleaning fireplace doors for more tips on how to get those doors squeaky clean.
2. Melt Ice and Snow
Do you usually use rock salt to melt ice on your driveway and walkways? While rock salt solves getting rid of ice, it can harm the environment, kill plants, and irritate your pets’ paws. Eventually, the salt washes away in waterways and can pose a risk to fish and other aquatic life forms.
The good news is that you have the solution in your fireplace. Sprinkle some wood ash on the ice or snow, and it will melt.
3. Polish Silver
Before chemical cleaning agents existed, people used wood ash to polish silver.
Recipe: Mix two cups of powdery ash with four tablespoons of baking soda, and add just enough water to make a thick paste. Use a cloth or sponge dipped in the paste to polish the silver. You can also use the mixture to clean gold, chrome, and stainless steel!
4. Use as Bleach
- Pass the ashes through a metal sieve, leaving you only the finest white or powdery grey ash.
- Mix the ashes in a bucket of boiling soft water using a ratio of one-part ash to four parts of water. Soft water, like rainwater, does not have added minerals that could disrupt the lye-making process.
- Mix well, then let the ash settle. You can then use this wood ash lye water as a bleach.
Use about one cup per wash load. Use hot water in your wash to enhance the bleaching effect. Wear gloves while handling your clothes, and rinse your clothes thoroughly before drying.
5. Unclog Drains
Use the finest white or powdery gray ash and make sure that it’s never been wet. Pour one cup of ash into the clogged drain, followed by one cup of heated soft water. Let sit for two to three hours. Flush with water. Your drain should be in perfect working order. Do not combine this method with other chemicals.
6. Enrich Your Compost
Plants love potassium, and wood ash happens to have a lot of it. Add a cup of powdery ash to every 1.5 CU. Ft. of compost. Remember that wood ash will increase alkalinity of your garden soil, so avoid using it around plants that strive in acid soil, like potatoes, tulips, hydrangeas, and others.
7. Repel Pests
Wood ash is a great method of natural pest control and repels slugs and snails. Sprinkle ash on the edges of each garden row. Avoid direct contact with your plants. Re-apply after each rainfall.
8. Absorb Bad Odors
Wood ash, like baking soda, absorbs and neutralizes foul odors. Leave a small bowl filled with wood ash in the fridge or in a room to neutralize unpleasant smells. Change the ash every few days.
Did you or your pet come in contact with a skunk? Use cooled ash and rub a handful on the affected part of your skin or your pet’s coat. Let sit for a few minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Dry and repeat as necessary.
10. Algae Control
Is algae overtaking your ornamental pond? In that case, you don’t have to resort to chemical algaecides to resolve the problem. Just sprinkle about one tablespoon of wood ash for 1000 gallons of water. The potassium in the ash strengthens other aquatic plants, which will compete with the algae and keep it under control by slowing its growth.
11. Make Soap
Save money and recycle wood ash by making your own soap.
- Boil one cup of powdery ash in five cups of soft water.
- Use a stainless-steel pot, as the lye will eat right through an aluminum pot.
- Transfer the liquid lye to another pot once the ash has settled on the bottom.
- Boil it down to have a higher concentration of lye. When an egg can float on top, it means it’s ready.
- In another pot, heat about one pound of fat. It can be anything from cooking lard to vegetable oil or meat fat. Heat it until it turns to liquid fat. Add some more until you get one cup of liquid.
- Add this hot grease to the boiling lye, and stir until it gets to the consistency of thick cornmeal mush, then turn off the heat.
- Stir in two tablespoons of salt with chopped herbs or essential oils.
- Line a small wooden box, approximately 2″ × 3″ × 6″, lined with waxed paper, and pour your mixture in it. Let it cool, then take the soap out of the mold.
This recipe only gives an overview of the process. For more details about how to make larger quantities, read this article from PrimalSurvivor.net explaining how to make wood ash soap.
Clean Out That Fireplace!
With this list, you’ll never run out of ideas about what to do with your ashes! You can recycle ash in many ways, and it’s ecological to boot! So, clean out that fireplace and make good use of those ashes!