Friday, January 11, 2013

Washing clothes with wood ash - the old French way

This really sounds bizarre, doesn't it? First of all, washing clothes with dirty stuff sounds all wrong, and secondly, washing liquids are quite expensive but this one is free if you're prepared to put in the work. I had to give it a try!
Firstly, seive the wood ash and measure its volume. Wear gloves for the whole of this process. Put it with the equivalent volume of cold water into a tub and give it a stir or a shake every now and again, for at least 36 hours.
When it's been sitting for at least 36 hours, put the rubber gloves on again and strain the liquid - the first straining (through old tights in my case) results in a liquid which still has quite a lot of ash in it, so strain it again - I've found that filter paper from the morning's coffee is the only thing that works:
Look at the blue skies reflected in all my containers this afternoon! It's sunny and mild here in the south of France today...

So, my verdict on the suspiciously yellow washing liquid (which is well known in green/thrifty circles in France - I found my recipe here) is that it seems to be working well. The clothes are clean and smell, well, of fabric! You add half a mustard glass of the liquid (lovely French measurement there - think of those small Dijon mustard jars) to your wash, with some bicarb if it's white or white vinegar if the wash is coloured. The actual ingredient you're extracting from your ashes is potassium. Ben's only concern is that this might not be quite so kind to the clothes - neither the budget nor the earth is well-served if we have to go out and buy new clothes sooner. But those who use it swear by it, and so far, so good, with our clothes. Of course, we started with the dog's blankets, just in case...

PS just heard from Lulu Liz, a fantastic soap-making blogger - lye, which soap makers use, is a much more concentrated extract from ashes, and can really burn the skin. This stuff is milder but do remember what I said about gloves, and take other sensible precations...

12 comments:

Used-to-Bees said...

That's fascinating! No doubt a very ancient cleaning solution, so hopefully it won't damage your clothing as I'm sure they could afford that even less in the past than most of us nowadays!
x

Jane and Chris said...

We have plenty of wood ash here...I'm VERY interested to see how this works on your clothes.
Jane x

Deborah said...

So interesting, thanks for sharing :) have a happy weekend sweetie

Bee happy x

polkadotpeticoat said...

So are you then using your washer and this is the detergent.......I'm impressed!
I have tons of ash from the wood stove.
Have a wonderful weekend, Heidi

Winkel's Crazy Ideas said...

A very interesting post, wood ash is something we have a lot of here in the winter - wood fire burns almost continually during the winter months. Let me know how your fabrics tackle it...would be fun to try. Hope your weekend is a really good one, blessings Pam :-)

Pearly Queen said...

I think wood ash is Potassium Hydroxide, whereas Lye (caustic soda) is Sodium Hydroxide. At least from what I remember of a soap-making course I went on many years ago. You're right - the Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) is caustic (hence the name 'caustic soda' and when used in soap-making the mixture becomes extremely hot too so is handled with caution. Potassium Hydroxide made from wood ash as you describe is a much weaker solution, so is safer to a great degree. It can also be used for soap-making. I've never heard of it being used in this way for washing clothes, but have often been told to use the ashes themselves (dip a damp cloth into them) to clean the windows of my wood-burning stove. This works excellently!

Lorrie said...

Fascinating. I've heard of wood ash being used in the soap making process, but never just using the water - I hope you keep us posted on the results.

Andi's English Attic said...

It makes me wonder who on earth thought of this method in the first place? Why would the thought of washing things in ash water ever come to mind? A piece of history we'll never know. xx

Lace hearts said...

That is so interesting. I have often wondered about this, but never known of someone try it out. What a process though. So funny that you tried it first on the dog blankets - very sensible!

Juanita said...

Sounds like a good science experiment if one has wood ash at their disposal. It sounds like a good use for wood ash that seems to redundant.

A garden just outside Venice said...

Also the old Italian way!
LOL at the dog's blanket :)
x

Sue said...

I have never heard of this idea, and it made me feel guilty for throwing ashes away. I usually put them in the garden as I read they were good for the soil. I shall await to hear if they continue to do well.