Lather Rinse Repeat

By on November 26, 2012
woodfire ashes

Whether you are camping or in a disaster situation, antibacterial soap will be a precious commodity.

Did you know that you can use ashes from your wood fire to create a “soap” that can be used to clean your pots and pans?  It’s actually a very simple process that has been used in some form or another for a very long time.

-Let your fire burn down to the point where it is cool enough to remove the ash without burning yourself.

-Select the pot you need to clean. If the food residue is not very greasy you can help the soap making process along by adding a small amount of fat or oil into the pot. Butter, margarine, olive oil, animal fat, etc. are all good. Just a few drops is all you need.

-Shovel a few cups of ashes into the pot. Be sure to add in a few lumps of charcoal from the fire as this will aid in scouring.

-Add enough hot water to the wood ashes in the pot to make a paste. Because you are cleaning gear that will be touching food, you must make sure this water is free of disease causing organisms as stated in step one. You can either first boil this water to make it safe  or first add some hot coals to the. These hot coals should raise the water up to a high temperature to destroy any organisms in the water.

-When the water and wood ash paste is cool enough smear it all over your cooking gear and let it set for several minutes. This is where the chemical reaction takes place that makes your wood ash soap.

Scrub your mess kit or gear until the residue is completely removed.

Rinse with clean water but make sure that you do this well away from your fresh water supply, so as not to contaminate it.

You might be wondering “how does this work?”

The hot water will help break down the wood ash into potassium salts. These salts will then mix with the fats or oils in the leftover food residue which creates a very crude form of soap that will lather and cut through the crud and grease on your cooking gear.

This type of soap making was initially observed in ancient Babylon (2800 B.C) and even though we have refined the process since then, it never hurts to know how to get back to the basics.

Do you know of any other methods to help with basic sanitation during a disaster?

Get the latest news, reviews and features directly into your inbox.

By submitting above you agree to the Survival Life Privacy Policy

Like Survival Life on Facebook

'Above Average' Joe

About 'Above Average' Joe

I am just an average guy with a passion for learning. I am excited to share the things I learn with you but I am most interested in learning from you. Survival Life is more than just one man. It is a growing and living community of individuals; all with the desire to be prepared to survive and thrive no matter what this world throws at us. I look forward to growing with you! Feel free to follow me on google+
  • phil


    • Nunya Bidness

      Be careful about burning anything inside a closed space, as open flames use up oxygen and both open flames and electric heating devices and motors release deadly carbon monoxide. Be sure to open doors, windows, hatches, et al. for adequate ventilation before burning something in a confined space.

  • Marie

    Also car go bag – portable radio and extra batteries.

    • Rex

      Sand works well as a scouring agent as well, if it is available. How about heating your cooking gear over the fire after cleaning, to kill any bacteria still on them?

      • Joe

        My dad would always crack open a can of beer and pour it off into his cast iron pans. He would set them in the fire and let the beer burn off. I don’t know if that was the secret but anything that was cooked in those pans was always delicious.

      • Otakop67

        Sand is also a natural fire extinguisher (good to have around a campfire in addition to it’s cleaning properties). This is why blacksmiths, both modern and historical, keep the floors of their forges covered in sand. Doctors, in 18th & 19th centuries, would also line their floors with sand when tending to small pox patients. It was the most effective way available at the time to keep the porous wood floors clean and sanitary.

  • Margo

    I always keep a small box of baking soda in my trunk. Adding a couple of spoons and enough water to cover the stuck-on food area to a pot/pan, then heat (boil if possible) and allow to cool, scrub off the residue. This treatment will work on even the most stubborn burned on food. At home I add a few drops of dish detergent but it isn’t necessary.

  • http://yahoo... Veda

    A Tire Iron And a Short handled Shovel Would be a good addition ..and Always carry a Couple Gallons of Water along. Never can tell when your Car will overheat..or “throw a Belt’… And Oh Yeah ! Throw in at least a dozen Apples. ( And paper towels ! ) An Xtra blanket and pillow would be nice.

  • Jean

    Rainwater, cold ashes, animal fat. If you have ever heard stories of grandmom standing for hours outside boiling the ash lye and fat for soap there is a reason, so soap is a spring, summer or fall project in a survival situation. I found a link to the recipe I remember MY grandmother talking about from living in the Depression, along with the instructions she expected me to memorize and I did just enough to get her to stop nagging me, then promptly forgot with the ‘more important’ stuff of 1980’s teenage life :S

  • Warren

    Add an electric blanket in your emregency car gear…alot more efficient that runnig thhe engine of the candle idea! Make sure it can be pluggest into your cig lighter or get a conveerter. You should have a converter anyway!

  • Stephen Rhinehart

    Inthe very early 1900s an Indian chief was being interviewed for a news paper.When ask what was the greatest thing white man brought to this country he replied Matches.

  • ron

    don’t forget to have some toilet paper handy also a sharp knife and try to have something to protect yourself and family, just in case.

  • del

    Three things everyone must have packed in their BOB. Three small plastic bottles, Iodine, Bleach, Hand Sanitizer. Fire is easy (you should already have Bic lighters tucked into every part of your life), finding water is easy, shelter is not that hard. Getting sick WILL kill you fast. Just a few drop of iodine will purify a quart of water…the same amount of bleach will purify 5 gallons! Iodine also has the obvious first aid applications for wound care. I teach this stuff all the time…it’s not sexy like building friction fires or survival hunting, but if you are hit by gastro-intestinal issues you will dehydrate, not be able to build shelter or fire, and you will have a bad time.

    The critical idea is this: Once you find yourself in a survival situation, it is clear that lots of things have gone very wrong to strip you of basic conveniences to maintain life comfortably. At this point you are not allowed to make any more mistakes. The consequences of further stress on an already crippled system will end badly for you.