How to Make Wood Ash Laundry Cleaner
Finally a way to prioritize clean clothes when it’s campfire season & you’re stranded in the woods with sweaty garments! Save those embers to make wood ash laundry cleaner, Bear Grylls style! Presenting the ultimate off-the-grid (&off-the-wall!) cleaning skill.
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Do you ever wonder how our ancestors used to wash their clothes? Believe it or not, there was a time when humans didn’t spend money on toxic chemicals, unnecessary packaging, and carbon emissions to clean their laundry. It turns out our forebears washed their clothes by using neighborhood plants rich in saponin to make detergent and plants rich in potash to make soap. So we decided to go completely off-grid to put their age-old recipes to the test! We really enjoyed foraging for English ivy to make our homemade laundry detergent, but there’s another recipe that we are very fond of as well: hardwood ash laundry cleaner!
‘How might one clean with ash?’, you might ask. It’s certainly not by sprinkling fire pit ash on your clothes, but close. Hardwood trees like oaks, chestnuts, fruit trees, and acacias are actually high in potash content. Potash, which is potassium carbonate, is an ingredient sometimes used in soap production. It dissolves grease, acts on most stains, is gentle on clothes, and has absorptive properties. There are multiple ways to use wood ash for cleaning purposes. You can 1) extract the potash with water and use this liquid to wash your clothes, 2) make soap by adding animal fat or vegetable oils to this liquid, 3) mix ash and water to polish silverware, or 4) remove paint stains with ash and a hard brush.
The environmental impact of using these hardwood trees for cleaning purposes and soap making is close to zero, so long as you are repurposing ash that otherwise would have been discarded. You can use hardwood ash from your chimney or from a fire pit to make wood ash laundry cleaner.
Here’s how to make wood ash laundry cleaner:
- Hardwood ash (a lot)
- Tub to collect ash
- Large bowl
- Reusable tea filter or nut milk bag (or single-use coffee filter, if that’s all you have)
- Large plastic container (using glass may be a safety risk)
- Essential oils (optional). We recommended Aromatics International.
- Put protective gloves on (to avoid skin irritation)
- Collect ash in a large tub. WARNING: Don’t burn yourself. Ash can look deceivingly cool. It can actually remain hot for over 12 hours after a fire goes out.
- Sift ash into a large bowl until you’ve collected 4 cups of sifted ash.
- Add 9 cups of water. Mix.
- Let it steep for 24 hours to extract the potash, mixing occasionally if possible.
- Filter the ash water into a large plastic container. It will feel soapy.
- Label the plastic container before placing in the fridge. Compost the leftovers.
- The liquid will keep for several months in the fridge.
- Use ¾ cup to 1 cup per load of laundry. If hand washing, wear gloves as the potash may irritate or dry your skin.
- You may also add drops of essential oils (such as lavender).
So, what’s the verdict? We were surprised to discover that it actually does clean well! However, it is not ideal over the long term for white clothes, because their colors will fade (…in which case you can attempt to revive the white colors with sodium percarbonate or washing soda!).
Next time you’re stranded in the woods with sweaty clothes, you’ll know just how to put that campfire ash to good use! Because cleaning your clothes while lost in the woods is the most useful survival skill.
Permaculture principles applied:
While this method may not be the most practical, it certainly is eco-friendly. There are no packaging or carbon emissions associated to making this wood ash laundry cleaner. In fact, we are even using a resource that would otherwise have been considered waste.
This cleaning solution certainly falls under this principle. Using wood ashes is a smart and slow way of making use of local resources in a sustainable way. It may not be the end-all be-all solution to cleaning our laundry, but it can hopefully inspire us to look for better solutions to step away from toxic cleaners that pollute our health and our waterways.
There are many ways to sanitize our clothes and our homes. This particular recipe may be a little too time-consuming for most, but we share it to show you how many options you have available to you to make the switch from toxic cleaners to safe ones. Learn about convenient and simple ways to clean your laundry effectively and safely in our online course Conscious Cleaning 101.