To survive emergency scenarios, you must embrace the motto “waste not, want not.” Almost anything you get tempted to throw away could help your survival efforts.
Wood ashes are a byproduct of heating and cooking with firewood. Never throw wood ashes out, as they are surprisingly useful.
Read on to discover invaluable uses for wood ashes in survival situations.
What Are Wood Ashes?
Wood ash is the powdery residue left behind after burning wood.
The exact composition of wood ashes depends on factors like wood type and combustion temperature. Still, all wood ashes have similar molecular makeups.
Here is a look at the average elemental composition of wood ashes:
- Carbon: 5-30%.
- Calcium: 7-33%
- Potassium: 3-4%
- Magnesium: 1-2%
- Manganese: 0.3-1.3%
- Phosphorus: 0.3-1.4%
- Sodium: 0.2-0.5%.
Wood ashes are composed chiefly of carbon and calcium components. Generally, wood ashes are around 25% calcium carbonate by weight.
Survival uses for wood ashes stem from calcium carbonate and trace minerals. Keep reading to learn about the best uses for wood ashes.
1. Turn Wood Ashes Into Lye
Our ancestors had many uses for wood ashes, like cleaning, cooking, and more. Calcium carbonate is a naturally occurring weak base that’s perfect for many applications.
A prominent use for wood ashes is making lye. Lye is a strong base that is exceptionally handy but dangerous. Always wear protective equipment when handling lye, including rubber gloves and safety goggles.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use wood ashes to make lye:
Step 1: Create a leaching bucket and reservoir
Drill a ¼-½-inch hole in the bottom of a plastic five-gallon bucket and set it inside an intact bucket.
Step 2: Make a leaching filter
Place two inches of loose gravel in the bottom of the leaching bucket, then fill it with straw, pine needles, or wood chips.
Step 3: Add one gallon of wood ashes
Pack the bucket with wood ashes. If you run out of room, give it a gentle shake and let the ashes settle before adding more.
Step 4: Pour in two gallons of water
The best water for making wood-ash lye is rainwater. Tap water can contain chemical residue that might contaminate the final product.
If you need to use tap water, then let it sit uncovered overnight before pouring it over wood ashes.
Step 5: Collect lye water
Let the collection system sit in a well-ventilated area for 12 hours. When you remove the inner bucket, there should be about a gallon of lye water in the outer bucket.
Step 6: Concentrate lye water
You can leave the lye water uncovered and let the excess water evaporate on its own. One gallon of lye water concentrates down to about a cup of lye.
To expedite this process, boil the lye water over medium-high heat for several hours in a stainless steel pot.
Once you have a decent supply of homemade lye, use it to clean and sanitize your camp.
Use wood-ash lye to clean your clothes without a washing machine. Add a dollop to dirty pans to cut through grease and grime.
Caution: Caustic lye eats through aluminum, so only use it for cleaning stainless steel and cast iron cookware.
2. Make Wood-Ash Soap
Lye is an excellent cleaning product, but it is so powerful that you cannot use it on bare skin. Lye breaks down fats and oils in your tissues, leading to severe chemical burns.
Soap harnesses the cleaning power of lye in a way that is safe to handle. The lye chemically alters alkali fat in a process called saponification.
An ideal use for wood-ash lye is making soap at home using a few basic ingredients. Here’s how:
Step 1: Warm concentrated lye
Bring one cup of wood-ash lye to a simmer. Keep the mixture at around 100°F throughout the entire process.
Step 2: Heat and add fat
Heat one cup of rendered fat or oil to 100°F and slowly add it to the lye.
Step 3: Boil for three minutes
Stir constantly to prevent separation.
Step 4: Reduce heat and simmer
Stir the mixture occasionally—about every ten minutes.
Step 5: Add scent oils and/or exfoliants (optional)
Once the soap thickens, you can fold in essential oils, oatmeal, and natural coloring.
Step 6: Pour into molds or bottles
Wood-ash soap doesn’t set as hard as commercial bar soap. Many homesteaders opt to store homemade soap in bottles or mason jars.
Do you want your soap to set into a firm bar? This is possible with the addition of salt. Add one teaspoon of salt to wood-ash soap while it is still warm and stir well to ensure it fully dissolves.
Soap is a critical survival tool for practicing proper hygiene and sanitation to prevent diseases and infections. Homemade wood-ash soap and warm water can effectively eliminate pathogens from skin, clothing, and cookware.
3. Turn Wood Ashes Into Garden Fertilizer
A straightforward use for wood ash is all-purpose fertilizer due to its high concentrations of essential minerals.
Sprinkle fresh wood ashes around the base of plants and trees. The natural potassium and calcium will help fruit and flower production.
More Survival Uses for Wood Ashes
There are innumerable creative uses for wood ashes in everyday survival situations. You will likely discover even more unique applications as you go.
Here are just a few more great ideas on how to use wood ashes:
Due to calcium carbonate, you can use wood ashes as a leavening agent in bread. Ensure you only use wood ashes from a non-toxic tree, like apple, maple, or hickory.
Mix equal parts pine resin and wood ash to make a simple glue. Boil these ingredients with a bit of water to make a sealant paste that is water-resistant once dry.
You might ask, “how can paint be used for survival?” Depending on your situation, you may need to hide in order to survive.
Camouflage is necessary whether you are avoiding the keen eyes of prey, other humans, or even unwanted facial detection software.
Mix wood ashes with water to form dark grey paint. Add crushed leaves, berries, clay, charcoal, or powdered stone to tint your homemade camo paint.
Using Wood Ashes to Survive
Now you know the top uses for wood ashes in survival scenarios. This is just one of many ways something that seems worthless can help you survive unexpected emergencies.
Do you want to learn more survival tips for things you use every day? Check out our Everyday Items page for a wealth of fantastic resources.