Wood Ash – What do you do with yours?
If you burn wood, you’ll produce some ash. But what is ash and what can we use it for?
Generally, the more efficiently (hotter) you burn your wood, the less ash there will be. The main elements in ash depend on the temperature the wood was burned, but typically it comprises Carbon (char) along with Calcium compounds – usually Calcium Carbonate. There is some Potassium Carbonate and then trace amounts of Magnesium, Manganese and Phosphorous.
10 uses for wood ash. Are you throwing your wood ash in the bin? Here are some top tips for using it. If you don’t use your ash, someone you know may be very pleased to have it.
- Cleaning woodburner glass: If you are burning correctly (hot enough) the stove glass should stay clear (dark glass is a symptom of inefficient burning – speak to a professional sweep about how to avoid dark glass). But even the most efficient burners need the glass cleaned from time to time. Use some wood ash on a moist cloth or kitchen towel to remove light deposits.
- Leave some behind for the next fire: Ash is a good insulator. A new fire starts faster, gets hotter more quickly and produces less start up smoke if you light it on a bed of wood ash.
- Add ash to your compost heaps: Ash contains valuable plant minerals. Left in the rain or spread around the garden, ash will quickly lose most of these water-soluble plant friendly minerals. You can get a much greater benefit for your plants by adding thin layers of ash to compost heaps. The composting process locks up the valuable minerals making them much more useful for plants. If there’s a little charcoal present, that will help too.
- As a chicken bath: Adding some ash under the straw or shavings in your chickens egg laying boxes really helps discourage mites. Also, chickens naturally dust bathe to control pests. Adding wood ash to their dust bath area helps reduce mite problems and keeps their feathers in good condition.
- Pest control: Are your broccoli and sprouts plagued by caterpillars? Try a good dusting of fine wood ash to control caterpillars on all brassicas. Totally non-toxic and the plants will benefit from the additional nutrition when it washes away in the rain.
- Give your aquatic plants a boost: Feeding them potassium-rich wood ash should help them thrive, eating up the nitrogen and leaving the algae without the nutrients it needs. Cheerio algal bloom! When it comes to using ashes in a pond. You don’t need much though, apparently one tablespoon per 4500 litres of water is enough. If you aren’t sure of your water volume, proceed with caution; start small and give it a few days before adding more ash.
- As a pottery glaze: For over 2000 years wood ash has been used as a glaze when firing pottery. Depending upon the type of wood or plants used, the ash can help create attractive glazes.
- Put it on the garden: You can put wood ash straight onto the garden and many of your plants will get some short-lived benefit. However, ash is slightly alkaline, so don’t use it on ericaceous (acid loving) plants and not too much on most fruit trees.
- Soap making: Wood ash was commonly used in ancient and medieval soap making. Ancient soap makers leached chemicals from wood ash and mixed it with oils or fats to produce a soap like product. Later, medieval manufacturers discovered that leaching ash with slaked lime could provide the ingredients for a soap that lathered.
- As a general cleaner: Wood ash is a very fine powder. We’ve found many suggestions for using ash as a cleaning product – everything from polishing silver to brushing your teeth! It’s probably best to do your own research for any specific cleaning purpose, especially for your teeth!
If you have another use for wood ash, we’d love to hear from you: Send your tip to firstname.lastname@example.org and we can add it to the list.
Since first publishing this article we have had more suggestions / stories from sweeps customers. A lady from the North East recalled her mother saying that as a schoolgirl just after WWII, she used wood ash for toothpaste. Her mum even recalled winning a small tube of actual toothpaste as an in class prize for doing well in a test!
An elderly gentleman in Cambridgeshire recalled travelling in India 60 years ago and watching women wash in the river (they did this fully clothed). He said they always carried a small pot of ash which they worked this into their hair, and left for a while before rinsing it out.