One "Theory" On Why Ash Works So Well For Cleaning Glass

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turbocruiser

Feeling the Heat
Jun 10, 2011
329
Rocky Mountains Majesty
Fine folks, I'd like to share something and ask for thoughts.

After reading thread after thread about using ash to clean the glass I decided to try this method.

Previously I was using two products that Rutland makes. One was a spray called "Fireplace Glass Cleaner" and the other was a paste called "White Off". Both of these worked well enough but they both cost something whereas the ash costs nothing.

The first time I tried ash to clean the glass I was amazed at how well it worked even when I was purposely damping down the air control completely and getting some good soot and stuff baked on all over the glass.

If I had to give I guess I'd guess that the ash actually worked better than the two products purchased previously and I started trying to think through that and figure out why it worked so well.

The more that I think about it I think the effectiveness is possibly/probably due to one of the general rules regarding solubility which is "like dissolves like". In other words the compounds that collectively make up the soot and stuff on the glass are the same that make up the ash and thus when those compounds are dissolved into the water that is on the paper or paper towel they also aid in dissolving the dirt on the glass. Since the ash is much more soluble initially in water than the soot and stuff, by starting with the ash the ash then accelerates the dissolving of the soot and stuff.

Anyways, its just one theory on this but I would like to ask the experts what they think; I'm completely convinced that the ash works much more than water would alone and much more than something that simply is abrasive (like silica or sand) and there has to be a basic reason why it works so well compared even to products specially purposed for cleaning the soot and stuff off of glass. I maybe taking my assorted chemistry classes too far with this one theory but that's for you folks to tell me so I'm asking the question with the hope to learn the answer. Thanks As Always!
 

glassmanjpf

Member
Apr 4, 2006
226
Long Island, NY
Sounds good to me! Been cleaning with ash for years and it's always been the best. Sorry I can't get more scientific.
 

neumsky

Minister of Fire
Dec 25, 2011
629
Oklahoma City
We have hydraulic fluid on the bottom of our airplanes...guess what the best thing to use to clean that hydraulic fluid off the bellies of the aircraft is?
 

fossil

Accidental Moderator
Sep 30, 2007
10,568
Bend, OR
neumsky said:
We have hydraulic fluid on the bottom of our airplanes...guess what the best thing to use to clean that hydraulic fluid off the bellies of the aircraft is?
Ash?
 

neumsky

Minister of Fire
Dec 25, 2011
629
Oklahoma City
Hydraulic fluid....hahahaha.
 

DanCorcoran

Minister of Fire
Jan 5, 2010
2,205
Richmond, VA
Ash is a very fine abrasive. End of story. Cigarette ashes are often used in finish polishing antique furniture.
 

laynes69

Minister of Fire
Oct 2, 2006
2,565
Ashland OH
Years ago and still today, some make lye from wood ash and water. I've always came to the conclusion that when the ash is moistened, it forms a weak solution of lye. It seems to break down whatever is on the glass quickly.
 

pen

There are some who call me...mod.
Staff member
Aug 2, 2007
7,957
N.E. Penna
I can't say whether or not there is any chemical action taking place by dampening the ash that helps with cleaning, but I do know that ash doesn't really dissolve in water. Because of that, I'd say it works as a very fine abrasive.

pen
 

Huntindog1

Minister of Fire
Dec 6, 2011
1,879
South Central Indiana
Many cleaners work by being alkaline in the ph range. I think simple green works as its a alkaline cleaner.

Wood ashes are alkaline as if you put them in your garden it raises your ph which means it makes your soil more alkaline.

So maybe your making a cheap alkaline cleaner.
 

turbocruiser

Feeling the Heat
Jun 10, 2011
329
Rocky Mountains Majesty
DanCorcoran said:
Ash is a very fine abrasive. End of story. Cigarette ashes are often used in finish polishing antique furniture.
pen said:
I can't say whether or not there is any chemical action taking place by dampening the ash that helps with cleaning, but I do know that ash doesn't really dissolve in water. Because of that, I'd say it works as a very fine abrasive. pen
I agree about the abrasive action of the ash however, and not as an argument at all, the major components of wood ashes are potassium carbonate (potash), sodium carbonate (soda ash), potassium chloride (salt) and sodium chloride (salt) along with assorted compounds from the soil the tree is grown in such as silica and calcium carbonate. All sodium compounds and all potassium compounds are actually soluble in water. The silica isn't soluble in water. Dissolving potassium carbonate and sodium carbonate in water will produce both anions and cations both of which will have different dissolving effects on the soot and stuff left over on glass. I'm sure that the abrasive action is important however if it was only that I'd think simple silica when wet would be as effective as anything at all? Again not as an argument, I'm just trying to gather some good thoughts on this. Thanks.
 

LLigetfa

Minister of Fire
Nov 9, 2008
7,360
NW Ontario
I think it is both the abrasive factor and the alkalinity of the lye.

I haven't tried it but I heard that orange hand cleaner with pumice works well too.
 

Mr A

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2011
597
N. California
Yep, ash for the stove glass works great. I wonder if it good for anything else? I know it's good for corn. Corn kernals have to be boiled in wood ash and water to release the vitamins. It is the chemical lime in the ash that makes the corn digestible. The Native Americans knew this, but when Europeans started relying on corn they got pellagra, a nutrition deficiency disease.
 

firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,349
Unity/Bangor, Maine
Since Year 2 when I started burning truly seasoned wood . . . and learning how to properly run my woodstove I have to say it's a rare event when I get the black gunk on my glass (usually when I do it's when a split or round rolls up against the glass blocking the air flow) . . . usually all I need to clean the glass from the fly ash is a few quick swipes of damp newspaper . . . I don't even bother with the ash any more.
 

billb3

Minister of Fire
Dec 14, 2007
4,674
SE Mass
calcium carbonate is poorly soluble in water - it is likely acting as a fine polish / abrasive. You would need to add a hydroxide to the carbonate to make lye.
There may even be enough in the black soot that combined with the water and newspaper it tends to clean itself the water providing the paper enough flexibility to maximize contact with the ceramic surface and as an aid to hold the "dirt" into the pores of the paper .
There can also be a small per centage of clay and calcium in the newsprint.
 

turbocruiser

Feeling the Heat
Jun 10, 2011
329
Rocky Mountains Majesty
Sorry I'm so late to return to this but thanks for the comments. I too think it is the combination of slightly abrasive substances as well as the alkalinity of the ash that probably works so well. Turns out that many of the oven cleaners commercially available are highly alkaline as well. If there is any cleaning action due to the rules of solubility it would work by dissolving the sodium and potassium compounds within the soot and that would likely leave lots of other compounds clinging to the glass. Still that solubility might accelerate the action but I still think the slightly abrasive quality as well as the alkalinity of ash is what is working the most. Thanks again for all the comments I always learn a lot here!
 

Lighting Up

Feeling the Heat
Jan 30, 2010
338
Roc City NY
turbocruiser said:
Fine folks, I'd like to share something and ask for thoughts.

After reading thread after thread about using ash to clean the glass I decided to try this method.

Previously I was using two products that Rutland makes. One was a spray called "Fireplace Glass Cleaner" and the other was a paste called "White Off". Both of these worked well enough but they both cost something whereas the ash costs nothing.

The first time I tried ash to clean the glass I was amazed at how well it worked even when I was purposely damping down the air control completely and getting some good soot and stuff baked on all over the glass.

If I had to give I guess I'd guess that the ash actually worked better than the two products purchased previously and I started trying to think through that and figure out why it worked so well.

The more that I think about it I think the effectiveness is possibly/probably due to one of the general rules regarding solubility which is "like dissolves like". In other words the compounds that collectively make up the soot and stuff on the glass are the same that make up the ash and thus when those compounds are dissolved into the water that is on the paper or paper towel they also aid in dissolving the dirt on the glass. Since the ash is much more soluble initially in water than the soot and stuff, by starting with the ash the ash then accelerates the dissolving of the soot and stuff.

Anyways, its just one theory on this but I would like to ask the experts what they think; I'm completely convinced that the ash works much more than water would alone and much more than something that simply is abrasive (like silica or sand) and there has to be a basic reason why it works so well compared even to products specially purposed for cleaning the soot and stuff off of glass. I maybe taking my assorted chemistry classes too far with this one theory but that's for you folks to tell me so I'm asking the question with the hope to learn the answer. Thanks As Always!

You know what, I bet if you make a cute little packaging container and put wood ashes in it and label it as a glass cleaner...you will make millions....just like the pet rock or SuperCedars.
 

pgmr

Feeling the Heat
Jan 14, 2006
403
Central Indiana
What about the "minerals" that didn't come from the tree? Can the crud found on the outside of the wood (dirt, sand, rocks, hydraulic fluid (anyone paying attention??)) potentially cause scratching of the stove window?
 
S

ScotO

Guest
laynes69 said:
Years ago and still today, some make lye from wood ash and water. I've always came to the conclusion that when the ash is moistened, it forms a weak solution of lye. It seems to break down whatever is on the glass quickly.
you are exactly right! The more you leach the water through the ash, the stronger the lye becomes. I'm going to try making soap next year to see if I can do it 100% purchase free. I will make my own lye, use rendered fat from the deer we harvest, the only thing I have to figure out yet is the fragrance. I doubt the wife wants to smell like deer tallow......lol.....
 

firebroad

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2011
1,521
Carroll County, MD
Turbocruiser, I agree with you, there is something else at work beside pure abrasiveness. I was amazed how well ashes cleaned the glass as compared to something that is made for cleaning, say, ceramic stovetops. I recall many years ago watching an old timer using cooking oil to loosen the cooked-on grease of grills in much the same fashion.
I have been tempted to try wood ashes on my glass cook top, but I haven't got the nerve yet. :blank:
Also, making your own lye water is a b**ch, trust me.
 

Jacklake2003

Member
Jan 3, 2012
37
Woodstock, GA
Regarding the "like disolves like" rule, I don't know if that would apply here. The "gunk" on the glass is from improper combustion. This leaves residues which I would assume are of a differenct chemical composition than the ash. The fine ash is a by-product of complete (nearly) combustion.
 

KodiakII

Minister of Fire
Jan 17, 2011
527
Eastern Ontario
I would have to agree with the slightly caustic mildly abrasive theory. Lye was made years ago by passing water through ashes...used in soap making if I remember right.
 
billb3 said:
calcium carbonate is poorly soluble in water - it is likely acting as a fine polish / abrasive. You would need to add a hydroxide to the carbonate to make lye.
There may even be enough in the black soot that combined with the water and newspaper it tends to clean itself the water providing the paper enough flexibility to maximize contact with the ceramic surface and as an aid to hold the "dirt" into the pores of the paper .
There can also be a small per centage of clay and calcium in the newsprint.
Add water to ash and you will have a base. Believe me on this.

Calcium carbonate reacts with acids, forms bicarbonates.

Above some temp you will decompose that to calcium oxide. Now we have real basicity.

Potash is also leached from ashes.

I could go on.

If you doubt that ash produces a base in water, mix them together with your hands. (as someone that has to use ash mixed in water a fair bit... I suggest not actually doing this too much) :)
 
Lye from wood ash

If that black shmutz on the glass is creosote, which has oily properties, then you'd expect it to at least dissolve in a caustic solution, though maybe not give saponification.

(finally- a valuable use for my chemistry degrees)
 
S

ScotO

Guest
Adios Pantalones said:
Lye from wood ash

If that black shmutz on the glass is creosote, which has oily properties, then you'd expect it to at least dissolve in a caustic solution, though maybe not give saponification.

(finally- a valuable use for my chemistry degrees)
Great link, AP......and to think you had to spend how many years getting that degree to FINALLY use it here!! :cheese:
 
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