You Should Try Adding Fireplace Ash To Your Laundry Loads

Bleach may be effective at removing stains and whitening clothing, but it isn't the most environmentally friendly option for your laundry. If you want a greener, zero-waste option for whitening your clothes, you might be surprised to learn that you can repurpose your fireplace ash. Ashes from untreated hardwood trees, including chestnut, oak, acacia, and fruit trees, contain high levels of potassium carbonate. This water soluble white salt is already used in many liquid laundry detergents, but you can get it straight from the source in your fireplace.

Ashes also have a high pH level. "When mixed with water, the potassium hydroxide dissolves and creates an alkaline solution that breaks down the chemical bonds between the stains and the fabric fibers and dissolves dirt and stains on clothing," explains William Henry, the CEO of LEDask, per Homes & Gardens. "This helps to brighten whites by removing any yellowing and by neutralizing acidic residues," he adds. However, this doesn't mean you should just haphazardly throw your leftover ashes into your next batch of laundry — this could lead to serious, permanent damage, especially for more delicate clothing and textiles. You'll need to make sure you're using the correct ashes in the right amount for the best results.

Safety precautions

One of the first precautions you should take when using fireplace ash in your laundry cycles is ensuring it has completely cooled down to the touch. Hot ash can easily burn both your skin and clothing, and it can stay hotter longer than you think. Wait at least 12 hours after removing it from your fireplace to use it in your laundry. Ash combined with water also produces lye, which can be a major skin irritant, so make sure to wear gloves and protective clothing the whole time you're handling it. Furthermore, consider wearing a respirator mask if you have asthma, allergies, etc.

You also need to make sure you're using the right kind of ashes. Don't just sweep up any amount of burnt debris and toss it in your laundry. As Cynthia Hamilton, Our Good Living Formula's marketing director, warns in Homes & Gardens, "Use only untreated wood ashes since treated wood can be toxic, and these ashes can be dangerous." Similarly, any ashes not from wood could have chemicals you don't want in your laundry. Instead, only use the ash created by the hardwood logs.

Using the ash

Once you have all your ashes sorted out, it's time to mix them with water. Run roughly 4 cups of fireplace ash through a sieve and add it to a plastic container. Be careful to avoid glass containers for this project, as the mixture can cause explosions inside closed glass containers over time. Add 9 cups of water, mix thoroughly, and let it sit for 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Once it's sat for long enough, filter out the ash particles from the lye water.

From here, you can either add the lye directly into your washing machine, or use it to target stains before you toss articles of clothing into the laundry. If you want to add it directly in your wash, be sure that you've separated your laundry by color, and you aren't washing anything delicate. If you want some scent boosting in the mix, you could add essential oils to your batch of lye water. If you want to be a bit more cautious, grab a small brush and apply it directly to stains, then rinse the clothes off with water before running the load. Regardless of which method you choose, Jen Stark, the founder of Happy DIY Home, recommends testing the lye on your clothes to make sure it won't ruin them (via Homes & Gardens).