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Wood ash

Ash or ashes are the solid remnants of fires.[1] Specifically, ash refers to all non-aqueous, non-gaseous residues that remain after something burns. In analytical chemistry, to analyse the mineral and metal content of chemical samples, ash is the non-gaseous, non-liquid residue after complete combustion.

Ashes as the end product of incomplete combustion are mostly mineral, but usually still contain an amount of combustible organic or other oxidizable residues. The best-known type of ash is wood ash, as a product of wood combustion in campfires, fireplaces, etc. The darker the wood ashes, the higher the content of remaining charcoal from incomplete combustion. The ashes are of different types. Some ashes contain natural compounds that make soil fertile. Others have chemical compounds that can be toxic but may break up in soil from chemical changes and microorganism activity.

Like soap, ash is also a disinfecting agent (alkaline).[2] The World Health Organization recommends ash or sand as alternative for handwashing when soap is not available.[3]

Natural occurrence[edit]

Ash occurs naturally from any fire that burns vegetation, and may disperse in the soil to fertilise it, or clump under it for long enough to carbonise into coal.


The composition of the ash varies depending on the product burned and its origin. The "ash content" or "mineral content" of a product is derived its incineration under temperatures ranging from 150 °C (302 °F) to 900 °C (1,650 °F).[4]

Wood and plant matter[edit]

The composition of ash derived from wood and other plant matter varies based on plant species, parts of the plants (such as bark, trunk, or young branches with foliage), type of soil, and time of year. The composition of these ashes also differ greatly depending on mode of combustion.

Wood ashes, in addition to residual carbonaceous materials (unconsumed embers, activated carbons impregnated with carbonaceous particles, tars, various gases, etc.), contain a between 20% and 50% calcium in the form of calcium oxide and are generally rich in potassium carbonate. Ashes derived from grasses, and the Gramineae family in particular, are rich in silica.[5] The color of the ash comes from small proportions of inorganic minerals such as iron oxides and manganese. The oxidized metal elements that constitute wood ash are mostly considered alkaline.

For example, ash collected from wood boilers is composed of[6]

The pH of the ash is between 10 and 13, mostly due to the fact that the oxides of calcium, potassium, and sodium are strong bases. Acidic components such as carbon dioxide, phosphoric acid, silicic acid, and sulfuric acid are rarely present and, in the presence of the previously mentioned bases, are generally found in the form of salts, respectively carbonates, phosphates, silicates and sulphates.

Strictly speaking, calcium and potassium salts produce the aforementioned calcium oxide (also known as quicklime) and potassium during the combustion of organic matter. But, in practice, quicklime is only obtained via lime-kiln, and potash (from potassium carbonate) or baking soda (from sodium carbonate) is extracted from the ashes.

Other substances such as sulfur, chlorine, iron or sodium only appear in small quantities. Still others are rarely found in wood, such as aluminum, zinc, and boron. (depending on the trace elements drawn from the soil by the incinerated plants).

Mineral content in ash depends on the species of tree burned, even in the same soil conditions. More chloride is found in conifer trees than broadleaf trees, with seven times as much found in spruces than in oak trees. There is twice as much phosphoric acid in the European aspen than in oaks and twice as much magnesium in elm trees than in the Scotch pine.

Ash composition also varies by which part of the tree was burnt. Silicon and calcium salts are more abundant in bark than in wood, while potassium salts are primarily found in wood. Compositional variation also occurred based on the season in which the tree died.


In food processing, mineral and ash content is used to characterize the presence of organic and inorganic components in food for monitoring quality, nutritional quantification and labeling, analyzing microbiological stability, and more.[4] This process can be used to measure minerals like calcium, sodium, potassium, and phosphorus as well as metal content such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and aluminum.

Other Properties[edit]




Incomplete combustion[edit]

Specific types[edit]

Joss paper ash. With wind and dispersion, the size of particulates decreases, while the number of particles increases.

Cremation ashes[edit]

Cremation ashes, also called cremated remains or "cremains," are the bodily remains left from cremation.[7] They often take the form of a grey powder resembling coarse sand. While often referred to as ashes, the remains primarily consist of powdered bone fragments due to the cremation process, which eliminates the body's organic materials.[8][9] People often store these ashes in containers like urns, although they are also sometimes buried or scattered in specific locations.[10]

Aging process[edit]

Global distillation[edit]

Health effects[edit]


Oxidative stress[edit]



Health conditions[edit]

Effect on climate change[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "the definition of ash". www.dictionary.com. Retrieved 2018-06-18.
  2. ^ Howard et al. 2002: Healthy Villages A guide for communities and community health workers. CHAPTER 8 Personal, domestic and community hygiene. WHO. Accessed Oct. 2014. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/hygiene/settings/hvchap8.pdf
  3. ^ WHO 2014: Water Sanitation Health. How can personal hygiene be maintained in difficult circumstances? Accessed Oct. 2014 [1]
  4. ^ a b McClements, D. Julian. "Analysis of Ash and Minerals". Analysis of Food Products Lectures. Retrieved 2024-06-15.
  5. ^ Pépin, Denis (2013). Composts et paillis: pour un jardin sain, facile et productif. Terre vivante. p. 54. ISBN 978-2360980918.
  6. ^ Couturier, Christian; Brasset, Thierry. "Gestion et valorisation de cendres de chaufferies bois" [Management and recovery of wood boiler ashes] (PDF) (in French). Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrse de l'Energie. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-01-15. Retrieved 2024-06-24.
  7. ^ "What Are Cremains? (& What to Do with Them) » Urns | Online". www.usurnsonline.com.
  8. ^ "All About Cremation Ashes | What Are Human Ashes Made of | Scattering Ashes". www.cremationsolutions.com.
  9. ^ "Education | Cremation ashes". www.lonite.ca.
  10. ^ "What To Do With Cremated Remains". cremation.com. Retrieved 25 June 2023.