A Word of Warning
Anytime you handle ashes, hot or cold, always wear safety gloves.
Ashes mixed with water produces lye, which is alkaline and can be very painful when in contact with your skin. Always wear gloves and safety glasses when handling ashes mixed with water, and keep vinegar close by to neutralize the burn if it does come 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 in your fireplace; it could damage it. If need be, 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 in a metal bucket, then pour water in the bucket to thoroughly saturate the ashes. 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 it. Check with your municipality first.
Clean Fireplace Doors
Before throwing your 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.
Melt Ice and Snow
Do you usually use rock salt to melt ice on your driveway and walkways? While rock salt is a quick solution to get rid of ice, it’s harmful to the environment. Excess salt can harm and eventually kill plants, and it irritates your pets’ paws. When the salt washes away in waterways, it can put fish and other aquatic life forms at risk. The good news is, you have the solution right there in your fireplace. Sprinkle some wood ash on the ice or snow, and it will melt.
Before chemical cleaning agents existed, wood ash was used to polish silver. Mix two cups of powdery ash with four tablespoons of baking soda, and add just enough water so that it makes 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.
Use as Bleach
Pass the ashes through a metal sieve so that only the finest white or powdery grey ash is left. Using a ratio of one-part ash, four parts water, mix the ashes in a bucket of very hot soft water. Soft water, like rainwater, does not have added minerals that could disrupt the lye-making process. Mix well, then let the ash settle. The clear water is wood ash lye water and can be used as a bleach. Use about one cup per wash load. Use hot water in your wash if you want to accentuate the bleaching effect, wear gloves while handling your clothes and make sure to rinse your clothes before drying thoroughly.
Use the finest white or powdery gray ash, and make sure they’ve never been wet. Pour one cup of ash in 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.
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 increases the soil’s alkalinity, so avoid using it around plants that strive in acid soil, like potatoes, tulips and hydrangeas, to name but a few.
Wood ash naturally repels slugs and snails. Sprinkle the ash on the edges of each garden row. Avoid direct contact with your plants and redo the process after each rainfall.
Absorb Bad Odours
Wood ash, like baking soda, absorbs and neutralizes bad odours. Leave a small bowl filled with wood ash in the fridge or in a room to neutralize bad smells. Change the ash after a few days.
Did you or your pet come in contact with a skunk? Use ash that has completely cooled down. 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 if need be.
If your ornamental pond is taken over by algae, 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 contained in the ash strengthens other aquatic plants, which will, in turn, compete with the algae and keep it under control by slowing its growth.
Save money and recycle wood ash by making your 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.
Once the ash has settled on the bottom, transfer the liquid lye in another pot. 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 the 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″—with waxed paper and pour your mixture in it. Let it cool, then take the soap out of the mould.
Clean Out That Fireplace!
With this list, you’ll never run out of ideas about what to do with your ashes. Ashes can be recycled and used in countless ways, and it’s ecological. So, clean out that fireplace, and make good use of those ashes!