Nothing says cozy, romantic, or warm quite like a roaring fire. But, as with so many things, at the end of all the fun, there is a mess left to clean up: ash. Wood ash can be really dirty, no doubt, and most folks put off shoveling it out of the fireplace as long as possible. That, perhaps, is because we just aren’t sure what to do with a heap of ashes.
The relieving truth is that wood ash from the fireplace is extraordinarily useful, so there is no need to get rid of it at all. In fact, it’s worth saving. That said, it’s also important to note that this is true wood ash, not ash created from compressed fire logs, which can be full of chemical glues and certain things we might not want to otherwise use. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what we can do with ash.
1. Pest Deterrent
Wood ash can work as a great natural pest deterrent for lots of common garden critters. It can be sprinkled around the base of plants ever few days, and slugs and snails will steer clear. Ants aren’t fans of ash, either, so it can be distributed over ant mounds to encourage them to leave the lawn. Additionally, an open container of ash near the door will often deter unwanted houseguests like mice and roaches. They don’t like the smell.
Source: cobaltfish/Creative Commons
While wood ash lacks nitrogen, generally the most prevalent nutrient in fertilizers, it is actually a great source of micronutrients, as well as potassium, another component of NPK. Lots of people use it with nightshade plants, the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes, because they’ll do well from the boost in calcium. So, while deterring pests, wood ash is also helping the plants!
With its buffet of minerals on offer, wood ash is also a worthy component for compost piles. In fact, this makes for a great addition to home piles largely based on kitchen scraps. Wood ash is a carbon element that will help to balance the pH levels in the compost pile, which will both make the compost more well-rounded as well as eliminate odors composts get when they are too rich in nitrogen.
4. Algae Removal
Wood ash is commonly used when there is a need to remove algae. This could be in a backyard pond, swimming pool, or artesian well. It is often used in aquaponics operations to keep the environment clean and healthy: one tablespoon of wood ash to 250 gallons of water. In natural environments, the fertility in the ash might actually help other aquatic plants grow.
5. Ice Grip/Melt
Ash from the fireplace can help with slippery situations in the winter. It can be sprinkled onto icy or snowy surface to add some traction. As a useful secondary effect, the ash makes the surface darker, which in turn absorbs more heat and ultimately helps to melt the ice or snow. That said, using ash to melt snow isn’t as effective as other options, but it’s also not a damaging.
6. Abrasive Cleaner
For those with inserts or fireplaces that have glass windows, the ashes remaining after a roaring fire can be instrumental in removing the sooty, black coating that covers the window. Contrary to what seems logical (don’t use ashes to clean something!), the abrasiveness of the ashes helps to scrape the soot away.
7. Make Lye/Soap
In the days of yore, people used to collect hardwood ash (think oak, hickory, and the like) for making soap. It’s alkaline in nature, so it can be converted into lye, one of the key ingredients in soaping making. The lye is made by boiling the ash in soft water, like rainwater. Soap is then made by combining it with fat. While animal fats are the norm, vegetable oils are what we use in castile soaps, like Dr. Bronner’s.
In short, there are many productive ways to incorporate fireplace ash into waste cycle management. Instead causing a mess, it can help us avoid slipping, grow better tomatoes, clean ourselves, clean the fireplace window, balance our compost, and keep pests at bay. That seems like the type of do-it-all product many of us would willing buy!
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