20 Surprising Ways You Can Use Ashes From Your Fire Pit or Fireplace
Don’t let the remnants from last night’s fire go to waste! Repurposing ashes in these surprising ways can help you save money and lead a more sustainable lifestyle.
Beyond their conventional use, the remnants of a wood-burning fireplace hold surprising potential. In fact, in the 1700s through the early 1900s, wood ash was used to produce potash (an alkaline potassium compound) for fertilizer and alkali before its value as a raw material declined. From enhancing soil quality to crafting natural cleaning solutions, we’re rediscovering just how versatile ashes can be around the house.
Not all wood ash should be repurposed, however: Avoid using wood ashes from painted, chemically treated, or stained wood as they can contain harmful substances that can harm plants and soil if they’re used in the garden. The safest wood ashes for repurposing come from untreated, natural wood that has not been processed or chemically treated.
1. Compost Them
There’s a reason gardeners call compost “black gold”: It’s a gold mine of nutrition for your plants. Adding wood ash to your compost both recycles waste and boosts the potassium level of your compost. Add a thin sprinkle of untreated wood ash over the organic matter in your compost pile, and you can look forward to hearty plant growth when you spread that compost in your garden.
2. Use Them as Ice Melt
It’s not a bad idea to keep a container of recycled fireplace ashes in your trunk in the winter. They can give your car traction on an icy patch of road, and the potassium salts in ashes can help melt snow in moderately cold conditions.
3. Raise Soil pH
If you have acidic soil, you can amend garden bed soil with wood ash to raise its pH. Because wood ash is about 70 percent calcium carbonate, it will do the same thing lime does, but it will work even more quickly because its particle size is so much smaller. Use the ash in moderation, of course, to avoid raising the pH too much—and be sure to test your soil regularly to check its levels.
4. Absorb Odors
Like baking soda, wood ash is alkaline, which means it will absorb moisture and odors from the air. Put a small bowl of remnants from last night’s firepit in your fridge or in a musty room, and it will freshen the space in a jif.
5. Clean Stains on the Driveway
You can remove oil stains from your asphalt or concrete driveway using ashes from your fireplace. Sprinkle the ashes on top of a stain, let them sit for several hours to absorb the oil, then sweep the mess away with a broom.
6. Control Slugs and Snails
Gardeners have long used ashes to deter slugs and snails from their veggie beds. Because wood ash is a natural desiccant, and the bodies of slugs and snails have such a high water content, the critters are loath to cross it. Ringing plants with a sprinkle of wood ash can keep these pests at bay.
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7. Make Soap
When you mix wood ash with water, you get lye, which is a common ingredient in traditional soap-making. Mix in some fat and add a lot of boiling and stirring, and you’ve got homemade soap.
8. Polish Metal
Wood ash is a mild abrasive. Mixing it with a little water forms a paste you can use to polish silver and other metals. Dip a soft sponge or cloth into the ash and water mixture, then rub the paste on the silver item. Wipe off with a clean cloth.
9. Slow Algae Growth
While wood ash won’t actually kill algae, ashes can help control it. Because wood ash is so high in potassium, sprinkling it into a pond will encourage the other plants to grow and compete with the algae, keeping it in check.
10. Remove Skunk Stink
If your pet has ever had a run-in with a skunk, you know how hard it is to get rid of the stench. Because fireplace ashes absorb odors, you can use them to get your pet smelling better, faster. Just rub ashes into your pet’s fur to absorb the smell.
11. Clean Up Soot
In the same way that a wood-ash paste can remove tarnish, it can be used to remove soot from fireplace doors. When you are cleaning your fireplace, simply mix ashes and a little water into a paste. Use the paste as a mild abrasive to get that glass shiny and clean again.
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12. Make Natural Bleach
When wood ash is mixed with water, the resulting substance is called lye water. Lye water is often used in soap, but it can also be used by itself as a bleaching agent. A cupful added to a load of wash should do the trick.
13. Control Humidity
Wood ash is a desiccant that you can use to dry out humid spaces, like damp basements and poorly ventilated bathrooms. A small tray of wood ash in the corner can help draw the humidity out of a room.
14. Deter Ants
Have ants taken over in your lawn? Sprinkle a layer of wood ash over those ant hills to force them to relocate.
15. Put Out Fires
Like sand, fine wood ash can smother a small fire. Keep a bucket of cooled ash close to the fire pit or fireplace in case you need to extinguish any wayward embers.
16. Fertilize Your Lawn
When applied appropriately, untreated wood ash has been shown to increase soil fertility and significantly improve crop growth. And what’s good for crops is good for turf. The potassium content of ash promotes root growth, while its alkalinity helps balance pH levels. Many lawn fertilizers contain high levels of nitrogen, which can eventually lower soil pH. Sprinkle cooled ash evenly over the lawn and water. However, don’t apply too much wood ash in the garden, or apply it too often. Excessive application can lead to an imbalance in the soil.
17. Create Pottery Glaze
Wood ash can also be used as a pottery glaze due to its high mineral content. Use rubber gloves and a mesh sieve to remove larger particles. Gradually add water to create a slurry and then use a brush or spray to apply the slurry onto your pottery pieces before firing them in a kiln.
18. Make a Dust Bath
Dust bathing is an important cleaning ritual for chickens since it helps keep their feathers clean by killing critters like lice, mites, and fleas. Fill a low container (a shallow bin or sandbox will work) with soil and wood ash, and let your chickens dust off their tail feathers.
19. Repel Mice
Like snails and slugs, mice don’t like the abrasive texture of wood ash. Sprinkle a thin layer around the perimeter of your space—especially near entry points like doors and windows—to keep mice at bay.
20. Store Seeds
If you’ve got seeds laying around but aren’t ready to plant them yet, wood ash is an effective method for storing seeds. Place a thin layer of ash at the bottom of an airtight container. Place the seeds on the ash and then apply another layer of wood ash on top. Seal the container tightly and store it in a cool, dry place.