Living more sustainably and finding additional uses for products we would have once considered trash is now part of many daily lives. If you’re heating with wood, there’s always plenty of wood ash to go around. While you may be hard-pressed to think of uses for wood ash in a modern daily life, historically it was used in many different creative ways. Wood ash was a precious asset, used for food preservation, gardening, pottery, pest control, and even cosmetics.
Long before baking soda was discovered, wood ash was being used in baking. Our ancestors wouldn’t have invented soap without wood ash and mascara.
While some of these uses are merely a historical curiosity, many are still incredibly useful in our modern world. Looking for free garden fertilizer? Natural pest control? An odor remover? Wood ash can do that! Don’t throw away the wood ash from your fireplace—read on to discover over 10 daily uses for wood ash in your home and garden that you probably didn’t know!
- GARDEN FERTILIZER
Wood ash contains all the trace minerals from inside a trees wood, which are the building blocks needed for plant health. While it doesn’t contain carbon or nitrogen, those are in ready supply from compost. The University of Vermont recommends about 5 gallons of wood ash per 1,000 square feet of garden. Since wood ash will raise the pH of soils, it’s not good for acid-loving crops like blueberries or potatoes.
2. BOOST COMPOST
A small amount of wood ash can help give compost piles a boost. Compost is naturally acidic so wood ash is a great addition, plus it adds calcium. Lightly sprinkle a layer of ash as you build up green and brown layers. Be careful to just sprinkle it though – too much will ruin it.
3. FEED YOUR TOMATOES
Tomatoes love calcium. US organic gardening author and grower Mike McGrath places a quarter of a cup in the hole before he plants a tomato.
4. PREVENT FROST DAMAGE
When the temperatures start to dip in early autumn, nothing can strike fear in a gardener quicker than the threat of a frost. Well fear not, simply dust your plants with some powdery wood ash to prevent frost damage.
5. PEST CONTROL
Wood ashes can be used to deter pests like slugs and snails, and even to repel ants. Sprinkle a small amount or ring around susceptible plants and reapply after the rain washes the ash away.
6. FIGHT POND ALGAE
One tablespoon of wood ash for every 4000 litres of water in a pond full of algae can help aquatic plants compete with it.
Looking for a cost-free cleaner for glass and metal? Is the glass front on your fireplace sooty? Dip a damp cloth into the ashes, then wipe the glass to get off stubborn soot.
Wood ashes, mixed with a bit of water to form a paste, can be used as a mild abrasive to buff up tarnished metals such as cutlery, clean dirty glass, and even remove adhesives and sticky residue. Apply the paste with a cotton cloth while wearing gloves to protect your skin. Try in a small spot at first to test the results.
Before you pop the cloth with the ash on it in the washing machine, use it to clean up tarnished silver jewelry as well. For necklaces, pinch the chain lightly with the ash-coated flannel piece between your fingers, and then pull the chain through your fingers. A few passes will restore that beautiful white, gleam to your jewelry. Rub and polish other pieces with the cloth adding more ashes as needed. For larger or more complex pieces, use the paste method as mentioned above.
Be sure to wash and dry all items after you polish it.
8. HOMEMADE SOAP
Wood ash was traditionally used to make lye (a necessary component of soap) by combining it with boiled water, then mixed with animal fat and boiled to make soap. Ashes from burned hardwoods (such as ash, hickory, or beech) are used for this purpose since they contain enough potassium to produce lye.
Careful production can yield homemade soap from what you’d otherwise throw away, though with a bit more effort than it takes to buy a bottle or bar. (If going the homemade route, follow instructions from a reputable source and make sure to wear protective gear to avoid burns.)
Like gravel on snow-covered streets, wood ash can be applied to provide traction underfoot. Wood ash contains potash – potassium salts which can be used to de-ice pathways in cold weather, although watch the run-off, you don’t want to tread this through the house! You can even keep some in a closed metal container in your car to use in an emergency to get out of a slippery spot
10. SOAK UP DRIVEWAY SPILLS
Changing the oil on your car? Or just spilled something that might stain? Use wood ash to absorb the spill. Most driveways are dark coloured, hard surfaces which will mask the ash’s colour, and the ash’s absorbing properties should allow you to sweep up the spill afterwards.
11. ABSORB ODOURS
Wood ash is alkaline, just like baking soda, which means it will absorb moisture and odours from the air. Put a small bowl of it in your fridge or in a musty room, and it will absorb the odors, making things fresh again.