Updated: Aug 30
If you’re like many homesteaders and off-grid dwellers then you probably heat your home with a fireplace or woodstove. And if you do then you know that the chore of emptying ash is a continuous task. One cord of wood produces between 20 and 40 pounds of ash, and the average home utilizing wood as a primary heat source burns three cords of wood each year. That adds up to a lot of ash but it’s by no means a waste product.
Historically, speaking wood ash was seen as a valuable free commodity. Long before baking soda was discovered wood ash helped to leaven cookies and breads. It was also used for gardening, food preservation, pest control, and even soap. While I’m not sure I’m confident enough to make soap the old fashion way with wood ash lye, there are quite a few creative uses for wood ash on the modern homestead.
Collecting and Handling Wood Ash Safely
First and foremost, never collect ashes while they are warm. Always wait until your fire has been out and cooled for several hours and even then double-check before handling them. Wearing gloves, use a small metal shovel or scoop to remove the ashes and transfer them to a metal bucket. Never use plastic, wood, or cardboard containers to move ash since there’s always the chance that they still have live embers or sparks that can ignite when the air hits them. Once your ashes are collected, immediately remove them from the house. Store outdoors in a lidded container preferably 10 or more feet away from the home. Wood ash can remain hot for hours, days even weeks. Never store them inside of your home, or close to combustible items.
Creative Uses for Wood Ash on the Homestead
Now that we have the safety basics out of the way it’s time to get to the good stuff.
In The Coop
Chicken Dust Bath Dust baths help to keep your chickens clean and free of mites. Mix equal parts fine soil, sand, wood ash, and Diatomaceous Earth, to create a quick and inexpensive dust bath for your feathered friends.
Chicken Feed Supplement Wood ash contains calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, aluminum, and sodium as well as trace amounts of iron, manganese, zinc, and copper making it a good food supplement for chickens in small amounts. Adding a small amount of wood ash to your chicken feed (less than 1% ratio) may help:
Extend a hen’s laying period
Treat intestinal parasites
Treat eggbound birds
When using ash as a feed supplement, be careful that you didn’t burn anything but clean untreated wood in the stove or fireplace.
Non-Toxic Pest Control
Mice and Moles Wood ash can be used as a non-toxic way to deter mice and moles from invading your lawn, garden, barns, or outbuildings. Simply fill the vermins holes with wood ash and stamp it down. It’s possible that you may have to repeat the process a couple of times, but eventually, they will get the idea and move on.
Ants and Fire Ants To keep ants especially fire ants from your lawn and gardens, just like with the mice and moles, fill in ant hills with ash and you’ve got a free non-toxic solution to ant-free picnics and play spaces.
Slugs and Snails Wood ash sprinkled around your garden is a natural deterrent for both slugs and snails. You will need to replace it after it rains, but an ash perimeter will keep these harmful pests from your precious crops.
As a Cleaning Agent
Clean Fireplace Doors You read that right. One of the best ways to clean the ash and soot from your fireplace glass is with ash. Simply dip a damp sponge in wood ash and use it to remove the sooty residue.
Polish Metal Mix one cup of wood ash with enough water to form a thick paste. Apply the mixture to tarnished silver, allow to sit for a few minutes then wipe clean, buff, and shine.
Remove Wood Furniture Stains Make a paste of wood ash and water and scrub stains off of that coffee table or dining set.
Clean Up Oil Stains Wood ash is useful as a way to clean grease and oil spills from driveways and garages made of stone, cement, or asphalt. Simply sprinkle ashes directly onto the stain, allowing them to settle for a few minutes and absorb the grease then sweep away with a broom.
To Control Odor
General Odor Absorber As an alkaline, wood ash absorbs and neutralizes bad smells. Place a small bowl of wood ash in your fridge or any area you wish to reduce the smell from. Replace regularly and enjoy a fresh clean space.
Neutralize Skunk Spray If your furry best friend wound up on the wrong end of a skunk and you can’t get the smell out rub-down Fido with a handful of wood ash to neutralize the smell.
In The Garden
Raise Soil PH Wood ash has up to 70 percent calcium carbonate and is a quick-acting substitute for lime in your garden. But, before you add wood ash to your soil be sure to test the soil PH. Also, never apply wood ash to plants that need acids such as blueberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons or potatoes will be planted.
Strengthen Plants Calcium-loving plants such as tomatoes, carrots, beans, spinach, broccoli, peas, celery, avocados, and garlic will thrive with the application of wood ash but remember never to use ash on seedlings as it may damage young plants.
Compost Booster Potassium helps promote flowering and fruiting in plants and wood ash can help to increase the potassium levels in your compost pile. However, always use wood ash in moderation, and remember that it may damage your young plants.
Even More Creative Uses
Make Soap Wood ash has been used for centuries as an ingredient in the making of soap. Soak wood ash in water to make lye (potassium hydroxide), which you can then mix with animal fat and boil to produce soap. Adding salt helps the soap harden as it cools. Read all about it here.
Ice Melt Since wood ash won’t corrode concrete or metal surfaces, hurt your pet’s paws or damage your plants, it’s a safer alternative to rock salt for melting winter ice and snow.
Winter Traction Just as wood ash makes a great ice melt, due to its consistency it also comes in really handy if your car gets stuck in the ice. Simply lay down a path with ash and you’ll be able to gain enough traction to get you out of trouble.
Control Pond Algae If your pond plants are competing with algae for growing space and losing, add one tablespoon of wood ash per 1,000 gallons to slow the growth of algae and strengthen other aquatic plants.
Kick the Tires and Light the Fires
Now that you’ve been through our list of creative uses for wood ash on your homestead we hope that you can look at cleaning up the fireplace as less of a chore and more of an opportunity to grow better produce, reduce household pests, keep things clean and improve the lives of your chickens. Are there uses for wood ash that we’ve missed on our list? Let us know in the comments below and until next time,