Every fall and winter, we end up with copious amounts of wood ash from our fireplace. We feel guilty throwing it out, so we looked into the best ways to repurpose ash around the house. Here’s what we found.
The best ways to repurpose fireplace ash are soap-making, cleaning, gardening, melting ice, and absorbing spills and smells. Ideally, use ash from cardboard, paper, and seasoned hardwood. Avoid using ash from treated, infested, and painted wood. It’s difficult to use too much ash unless you’re using it in your garden.
Let’s take a closer look at which ash is good to use and more creative ways to use it around the house.
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Which Ash Is Good To Use?
|Good Ash||Bad Ash|
|Cardboard||Treated or Painted Wood|
|Oak Wood||Greenwood (not yet dry)|
Not all ash is good to use around the house. It largely comes down to which materials are burned and if they’re treated with any chemicals or other contaminants.
I put together the above table as a list of the ash you can (and can’t) use.
The reason why some fireplace ash should not be used is if they’ve been treated with chemicals or have residues left over in the ash. In this case, it’s better to store the hot ash and coals in a metal bucket, and then dispose of properly once cool.
Now, let’s see the top 10 ways to creatively reuse ash around the home!
Soap is an easy DIY project you do at home with just three simple ingredients. Ash, soft water, and fat create a softer and less sudsy soap due to the lack of additives you would find in store-bought soap.
The first step is to create lye by boiling ashes and soft water (such as distilled water or rainwater) in a pot for about half an hour or until the ashes settle at the bottom of the pot. From here, heat fat in a pan with oil until all the liquid evaporates, leaving the solid scraps behind. The fat can come from any animal lard you may have in your kitchen.
While your oil mixture is still hot, slowly mix it with the lye to create a thick mush. Pour your final product into molds and let it sit until it’s hardened and ready to be used as a soap bar.
Ash contains high levels of potash or potassium carbonate making it a versatile cleaning agent, able to clean many surfaces including glass and metal.
If used as a soap, it can clean anything from your dishes to your hands depending on the soap’s form. Bar soaps are great for dishes and body washing, but you can leave it in a liquid form to be used on a variety of other objects and surfaces.
A few ways to use liquid ash soap are washing your clothes, removing paint stains, and polishing silverware. Making liquid soap is an easy project requiring a large bowl, cooled ashes, water, and a cool place to store it.
All you need is to collect ash in a large bowl, mix with a few cups of water, and let it steep for 24 hours. Then, filter the water into a plastic container. You’ll be left with a soapy ash-liquid that stays good for months in the fridge.
3. Amending Garden Soil
Fireplace ash holds high levels of nutrients like phosphorous and potassium, which are two of the primary nutrients to help plants bloom (the other is nitrogen and can be found in materials such as coffee grounds, manure, and green leaves).
Generally, younger wood and hardwoods hold higher levels of nutrients while older woods and softwoods contain less.
Fireplace ash helps manage your soil’s acidic level to help plants and soil reach their full potential. If the pH level of your soil is below 6.0, sprinkle wood ash on top and use a rake to spread it through the soil to help balance it and reach the recommended levels of 6.0-7.0.
Note that some plants such as blueberries prefer a more acidic soil pH (4.5 to 5.5).
4. Compost Piles
Fireplace ash also has plenty of carbon (as wood is primarily made of carbon) making it useful in compost piles and managing its pH levels and the worms that call the pile home. The decomposing material can cause a higher range of acidity in compost piles but ashes’ alkaline nature helps offset its acidic levels.
Generally, many “green” materials (nitrogen) such as grass clippings, manure, and coffee grounds need to be balanced with “brown” materials (carbon) such as ash, brown leaves, and hay. Famous farmer Joel Salatin recommends a compost pile having a carbon-nitrogen ratio of 30:1.
Ash creates better living conditions for worms in the compost piles and aids in repelling harmful insects such as slugs and snails. A little goes a long way with ash in the compost pile and you will only need to add one shovelful for every six inches of compost.
If you’d like to read more about exactly how much ash to add to your compost pile or garden, check out my other post below:
5. Absorbing Oil Spills
If you’ve ever spilled oil on your driveway or in your garage when changing your car oil or working on a project then you know how much of a hassle it is to clean. People often stray toward kitty litter to soak it up, but ash is more effective and free.
Simply spread a layer of ashes over the spill and allow it to sit and absorb for a few hours. Cleaning up the ashes is just as easy as sweeping it up and having a fresh floor again. Dry ashes work best, but a soapy ash cleaner works to remove any residue left.
6. Smothering a Fire
Although it’s created from fire, ash is one of the most effective methods to put a fire out.
Spreading ash over a fire eliminates its oxygen intake and creates an air-tight barrier that kills the fire. This method works well for campfires and wood fires, but not for electric or chemical due to their higher-powered burn source and lack of a controlled barrier such as a fire ring or fireplace.
Always check your fire is out before leaving the area. Although ashes are great to put the fire out, cooling the spread ashes with water helps ensure the fire stays put out.
7. Chicken Dustbath
Chickens use dust baths as parasite and mite prevention and shake and roll around to clean their feathers in the dirt.
Fireplace ash is a great resource for chickens to roll in because it’s free and light—spreading deep in their feathers. Use ash on its own for the dust bath, but adding a little sand can help keep things cleaner if the ash gets wet from water.
Also, ash is full of calcium and magnesium and aids in soaking up excess oil from the chickens’ skin. It doubles as a flea and tick repellent and can be used on household pets by dusting on their fur.
8. Melting Ice and Snow
Fireplace ash is a cheap and eco-friendly way to melt ice and snow and make your drive or walk outside much easier. This is because ash sticks to snow like glue, providing a good amount of traction.
It also instantly darkens the snow and ice—attracting the sun’s heat and speeding up the melting process.
Salt is a common method to melt ice, but it’s known to be highly corrosive to cars and harmful to plants.
Comparatively, ash doesn’t affect your car and is non-harmful to the plant life surrounding your melting area, and even enhances the plants’ nutrients. It may melt snow slower than salt, but ash is a free and guilt-free option.
9. Absorbing Smells
The high pH levels of fireplace ash (pH of 10-12) make it a great room deodorizer, similar to baking soda. It naturally enhances dehydration and will absorb moisture and odor in the air and freshen your living space.
You can also add a small amount to a bowl and put it in your fridge to keep the air crisp. It’s important to note that ash can be a messy clean-up if spilled in your home, so handle it with care.
Ash provides a delicious smoky flavoring that has been used for cooking for hundreds of years. It is naturally salty with a powerful kick, so a small amount of ash will provide a great hint of flavor to your meals. Its high levels of calcium and potassium also pose some benefits.
The smokiness pairs great strong flavors such as red meat, cheese, and certain vegetables like butternut squash and onions. Rubbing ash into vegetables or boiling the veggies with a pinch of ash is a common way to cook with it.
Also, if you haven’t tried maple ash as a seasoning, you’re missing out!
Of all the possible ways to reuse our fireplace ash, we’re now saving it for composting, deodorizing, and soap-making.
While it can seem complicated at first, we found an amazing video to help us make soap from our fireplace’s ash. Check out the video below by Cooking with Dr. Chill.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Fireplace Tips, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Chimney Safety Institute of North America (CSIA): The CSIA is your BEST resource for fireplace and chimney safety at home. They’re a non-profit governed by a volunteer board of directors dedicated to the education, training, and certification of chimney and industry related professionals.
- Self-Sufficiency and Off-Grid: If you’re like me and passionate about off-grid and self-sufficiency, see my number 1 resource—Abundance Plus. Check out their Frugal Homesteading Course on growing 90% of your own food. Get 7-days free and 10% off with the code: TYLER10