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Clean Your Dishes with Wood Ash

More from Outdoor Living Newsletter November Outdoor Living Newsletter
Wood ash from a campfire
You can use the wood ash from your campfire to make soap for washing your dishes.

Did you know that when you use commercial dishwashing detergent to clean your dishes while camping in the wilderness, you're causing harm to the ecosystem around your campsite?

The reason why we go on camping road trips to the wilderness is to develop an appreciation for nature. This kind of appreciation is something we can only have by getting up close and personal with Mother Nature herself. And if we want other people and the next generations after us to experience nature's beauty as we have, then it's very important that we leave no trace behind us after we've left the campground.

Unfortunately, when we use commercial dishwashing soap at the campsite, we leave a rather wide trace behind us. Dishwashing detergents have toxic chemicals in them. They may kill the germs on our dishes, but they can also kill the organisms living in the soil and water around our campsite. In turn, it can cause a disruption in the food chain and negatively affect the ecosystem.

We can prevent this kind of impact commercial dishwashing soap can have on the environment by using the bounty of nature herself in keeping even our dishes clean. The best way you can do it is by making your own dishwashing soap right at the campsite. All you need to do to accomplish this is the wood ash from your campfire and your greasiest pot.

How Do You Make Dishwashing Soap from Wood Ash?

The process of making wood ash soap for washing your dishes at the campsite is actually very simple. All you need to do is to pick the greasiest pot or pan in your pile of utensils and dishes to be washed. Then, you dump two or three cups of wood ash from your campfire into that pot. Add some hot water and mix everything together until you've got a paste in the pot. Let the paste cool for a while, and then you can start attacking the dishes whenever you want.

A word of warning, though: It's very important that the wood ash you use is purely ash from wood. If you've burned plastic, food scraps and other trash in your campfire, you'd be defeating the purpose of using wood ash for cleaning your dishes. You'd be releasing toxins into the environment, not to mention harming your skin and leaving toxic traces on your dishes that you can ingest the next time you sit down for a meal at camp.

So, avoid contaminating your campfire if you intend to use the ashes for creating your dishwashing paste. If you're not sure about the purity of your wood ash, go ahead and make a new campfire.

What's the Magic Behind Using Wood Ash for Soap?

So, what makes wood ash a good substitute for commercial dishwashing detergent? You see, wood ash contains lye. When lye is mixed with fat, with water as its conduit, the lye and the fat react together in a chemical process called saponification. The process releases salts - potassium salts, in the case of wood ash - that are effective cleaning agents.

There's nothing strange about saponification. In fact, mixing wood ash, grease and hot water is similar to the basic process soap-makers and chemists use for producing commercial and homemade soap. The only difference is that the ingredients used in commercial and homemade soaps are much finer and there's some fragrance added.

A Few Points to Remember when Washing Dishes with Wood Ash Soap.

Using wood ash soap for washing dishes at the campsite is great. You minimize your impact on the environment. You also lessen the load in your pack because you don't have to lug around a bottle of commercial dishwashing detergent with you anymore.

But there are still a couple of things you need to keep in mind when using wood ash soap. One is to use purified water or boil the water you will use for washing the dishes. The hot water will help kill the germs on them. The other is to wash your hands thoroughly after doing the dishes. The lye in wood ash soap can be harsh and can cause dryness and irritation.

Next time you go on a camping road trip, leave your dishwashing detergent behind. Use wood ash soap and let nature take care of you instead.

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