How to Use Wood Ashes in the Home and Garden

5 Practical Uses

Jan 10, 2019
How to Use Wood Ashes


Rate this Post: 

Average: 4.1 (107 votes)

If you burn firewood, you have wood ashes. Don’t throw them out! There are many surprising ways to use ashes around the garden and home. Here are five practical ideas.

Each cord of firewood that you burn leaves you with about 20 pounds of ashes or more, depending on your fuel source, heating appliance, and wood-burning skill.

Safety First

As with all aspects of wood heating, use vigilance and common sense in handling and managing your ashes. Store them in a covered metal container set on dirt or concrete a few feet in all directions from any combustible surface.

Even though the ashes may appear cold, buried embers may remain live for days, even weeks.

How to Use Your Wood Ashes

Our ancestors learned to make lye, a caustic cleaning agent, at least 5,000 years ago by running water through wood ashes, eventually learning to combine it with animal fats and water to make soap.

Early Americans used ashes or homemade lye water for scrubbing wood floors, laundering clothes and bed linens, and soaking fresh-killed hogs to help remove the hair. For centuries, potters and ceramacists have used wood ashes to create beautiful glazes. Take a look

Instead of putting them out with the trash, put your ashes to use in and around your home. Here are a few suggestions for modern use:

  1. Amend lawn and garden soil. Wood ashes contain calcium, potassium, and a variety of trace minerals important for plant health. They also work well as a lime substitute to raise the pH of acid soils. However, unlike limestone, which can take 6 months or more to change soil pH, wood ash is water-soluble and changes the soil pH rapidly.

    Don’t apply wood ashes to your garden, lawn, or ornamental plantings without having had a soil test. Apply roughly twice as much ash by weight as the recommendation for limestone. Don’t apply ashes around acid-loving plants such as blueberries, rhododendronsazaleas, and holly. Soils already in the pH range of 6.0 to 6.5 (optimum for most lawns and garden plants) can handle 20 pounds, or one 5-gallon pail of hardwood ashes per 1,000 square feet annually without raising the pH unduly.

    Wear eye protection, gloves, and a dust mask and broadcast the ashes evenly on a dry, windless day. Mix them into the soil thoroughly before planting. Hose off any ashes that settle on actively growing plants to prevent burning the foliage.

    See our video showing how to apply wood ashes to the garden.

  2. Repel slugs. Sprinkled lightly around susceptible plants, wood ashes will irritate slugs’ moist bodies and repel them. The repellent effect will disappear after rain or irrigation dissolves the ashes. See other ways to deter slugs.

  3. Melt ice and provide winter traction. Spread on walks and driveways, wood ashes will melt ice and provide traction. They don’t work quite as well as salt, and they can be messy if you don’t take steps to prevent the ashes from getting tracked into the house. But they’re free, and they won’t damage animal paws or paved surfaces. 

  4. Clean glass and metal. Hard to believe, but hardwood ashes make fast work of grease, grime, and tarnish on glass, silverware, ovenware, grills, and glass stovetops, as well as gummy residues left by stickers and labels. 

    Dip a damp cloth in wood ashes or make a thick paste of ashes and a little water, scrub lightly with a cotton cloth, and rinse away with plain water and another cloth. Wear gloves for these scrubbing tasks to avoid caustic burns.

  5. Reduce or remove oil stains on asphalt, stone, and cement.

    Sprinkle ashes on oil or grease spills, rub in with a cloth, and sweep up. Repeat if necessary.                                              

Read more about preparing your soil for spring planting.

Do you know any other uses for wood ashes? Let us know in the comments!

About This Blog

"Living Naturally" is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that's good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, and ideas to make your home a healthy, safe haven. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it's relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Woodstove ash

I use a wet paper towel an cold wood ash from my stove to clean the glass on my woodstove.
Then take a dry one to wipe it off. Love to see the fire burning in my stove.

Wood ash

Can you use wood ash as a cleaner for a wood deck? To get rid of mold and mildew on metal patio furniture?

wood ash uses

I'm thinking about creating my own natural floor stain--do you know wood ash has ever been used as an element for white-washing an untreated, hardwood floor?

We have been cautioned by

We have been cautioned by gardener advisor Ed Lawrence to keep wood ash off vegetable gardens because they may contain heavy metals, like lead and cadmium that will accumulate in the soil.

heavy metals in wood ash

applying five tons of ash adds less than two pounds of these elements. hope you have a lot of 5 gallon buckets

Website Dead

"Some hardy folks still do." was a link to click on, in the first paragraph, under "How To Use Your Wood Ashes" title. That link took me to a page that is gone, dead, Please fix?

Dead Link

Thanks for catching that! Unfortunately, it seems that the linked website has been taken offline.

Wood ashes

I add them to my chickens’ dust bath and coop area. They are great for combatting mites!

Margaret, Could you cite a

Could you cite a source that I could look into more fully for the following comment:
"Soils already in the pH 6.0 to 6.5 (optimum for most lawns and garden plants) can handle 20 pounds, or one 5-gallon pail of hardwood ashes per 1000 square feet annually without raising the pH unduly."
Thank you!

I've seen numerous references

I've seen numerous references to this rule of thumb by horticultural experts over the years, Tim.

Here's one from the University of New Hampshire extension.

In Asia wood ash is used for

In Asia wood ash is used for cleaning.It shines copper, brass and tin pots, pans and dishes. Dab some ash in a handful of straw or piece of rag and scrub the dirty containers.

We use the fine ash powder in the finger tips so it would make the threads roll smoothly and not be sticky when hand spinning threads from cotton balls.

Ongoing argument about

Ongoing argument about fireplaces in our historical past. When I talk to re-creators at historical sites they all say the same thing. Fireplaces wre NOT used primarily as a heat source. Most fireplaces were used for cooking and the heat they gave off was a bonus but wood was way more important to cooking than heating. Was this true of the average home as well. Tks in advance JErry

The traditional fireplace is

The traditional fireplace is a notorious heat sink, Jerry, sending more heat up the chimney that it radiates out into the room. 

It can also spew smoke and spit sparks into the living space. 

But folks who love fireplaces have found modern materials and technologies that avoid these problems. Here's a "tehnical rant" from a fireplace afficianado.

Living in a state that's 85 percent forested, I'm a huge fan of wood heat. I live in a house heated exclusively by wood. In the winter, we cook with wood (kitchen cookstove) and dry our clothes on racks set up by the woodstoves. In spring, we spread the ashes in the gardens to raise the pH of our soil.

For the sake of efficiency, safety, and versatility, I much prefer an EPA-certified stove that's sized, located, and installed by a professional. Mos of them are sleek and attractive, and many have glass doors that allow fire-viewing.

Can charcoal ash from my BBQ

Can charcoal ash from my BBQ be used in the same way?

Experts recommend using only

Experts recommend using only hardwood ashes from wood-fired heating or cooking appliances in horticiultural setting. 

I wouldn't risk using your charcoal ashes in and around lawns or gardens, Alisa. Don't use them to make soap, either. You don't really know what chemical additives or other materials might have gone into the production of your BBQ briquettes. 


ash solution is a good

ash solution is a good conductor of electricity it can also store electric charges and be used in batteries

Interesting! New information

Interesting! New information for me.

I found this short YouTube link describing the process of making a small battery with  wood ashes and charcoal:

Here's a longer video, which describes making homemade batteries using lye (from ashes) as the alkaline electrolyte:


Good to know, Margaret! I am using my fireplace more now to save on heating oil cost. I will definitely try some of these!
The description of your life sounds really interesting!

Thank you!

Wonderful article. My grandmother recently shared stories with me about her family using their wood ashes for many of the same things you describe. I have been adding mine to our garden this year (after I did a soil test) and plan to have a little fun trying to make some soap while it's still too cold to go outside & play. Thanks again!


+ a 4-season guide to raising chickens!

You will also be subscribed to our Almanac Companion Newsletter

The Almanac Webcam

Chosen for You from The Old Farmer's Store