Remains of campfires are not uncommon sights along hiking trails, especially in popular camping areas. Knowing how to properly dispose of campfire ashes can help to reduce the impact of campfires in the backcountry.

What are Campfire Ashes?

Campfire ashes are the burnt remains of wood used to have a campfire. Typically the ashes that have been completely burned are charcoal or white ash, although there could also be pieces of wood remaining that have not completely burned.

In popular front-country camping areas there are established campfire rings that are maintained and cleaned out by campground staff. However, at remote backcountry campgrounds there may not be anybody maintaining the campsite, except perhaps a local trails organization that may not get to every single part of the trail they maintain every weekend. Therefore, it is up to individual backpackers and hikers to clean up after themselves.

Why Clean Up Campfire Ashes?

If left unchecked, ashes will build-up in fire-rings used by multiple visitors, until the ring has completely filled up with ashes and is unusable. Hikers may try to expand the fire-ring to create more space, or start another fire-ring nearby. All of these situations goes against low-impact camping, and can be an eyesore.

How to Dispose of Campfire Ashes

Cleaning up campfire ashes can be a simple task, but it does require getting a little dirty.

Allow ashes to accumulate

One of the most common errors is failing to clean the ashes from the campfire after each fire. A little ash cushion at the bottom of the campfire insulates the fire, allowing it to burn hotter and longer. Allow for about an inch of ash at the bottom of the fire. Consider taking away the ashes once they have accumulated beyond that point; if the ashes are hitting the bottom of your fireplace grate, ash cleanup is overdue.

Allow plenty of time for the fire to cool

Hot embers can remain hidden in an ash bed long after the fire appears to be out. Before attempting to remove the ashes, make certain that the fire has totally cooled. It is recommended that you remove the ashes at least 24 hours after the fire has been extinguished.

Make sure that the campfire is dead-out, such as by pouring water on it before going to bed the previous night, and that the coals are cold to the touch.

Remove the ashes with a shovel

Always handle ashes with caution, as they may still be hot. Using a metal shovel, remove them from the firebox and drop them in a metal ash bucket. If you intend to keep the ashes in your home, seal the bucket with a tight-fitting metal cover or store them in the garage or a well-ventilated area. If the combustion is still going on, the ashes can leak carbon dioxide, which can be dangerous inside your home.

Do not crush ashes on rocks, as this can stain the rocks with ash and create an eyesore.

The ashes should be disposed of or reused

After allowing the ashes to cool for several days, it is safe to believe they are entirely cooled and can be disposed of. You can bag them and dispose of them with your regular rubbish, or you can reuse your fireplace ashes in a variety of ways around your home.

Fireplace ashes are a gardener’s dream; they may be used to enrich compost, mixed into the soil around calcium-loving plants, or sprinkled around garden beds to keep pests like slugs and ants at bay. Fireplace ashes can also be used to generate traction on snowy surfaces, hide stains on cement, and clean glass fireplace doors or even silver.

Before you throw ash away, consider the following

Extinguish another campfire

There are few things better than spending time with your loved ones around a campfire.

But, whether you’re enjoying a few adult cocktails or merely roasting marshmallows, you must always be ready to put out the fire at a moment’s notice. That is why you should keep an ash container handy.

Submerging hot flames and embers in it will help put out a fire rapidly.

When dealing with flames, you never know what can happen, therefore it’s always best to be cautious than sorry!

Use ash to repell ticks

If you enjoy being outside, you are well aware of how unpleasant, uncomfortable, and possibly hazardous tick bites may be.

Ticks are microscopic parasites (usually 3 to 5mm in size) that reside in fields and forested areas and require blood to survive. The majority of tick bites are harmless, but some carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

So, if you spend a lot of time outside, you should take precautions to avoid tick bites.

The dusty fireplace powder, as you may have figured, is a natural tick repellant!

Apply it liberally on your naked skin before embarking on an outdoor trip. Yes, it’s a little dirty, and you’ll look like a coal miner, but it’s better than spending money and time at the shop on a stinky name-brand spray.

Safety Considerations When Disposing of Campfire Ashes

When disposing of campfire ashes, keep these safety considerations in mind:

  • Make sure the coals are dead-out and cold to the touch before crushing them. This not just for personal safety, but scattering hot coals through the woods can be a fire safety hazard.
  • While crushing the coals watch out for shards of glass or metal from cans. Consider wearing leather gloves for protection.
  • If the local rangers have different recommendations, follow what the rangers say for their own area.

By disposing of their own campfire ashes wisely, backpackers and hikers can help maintain their favorite campsites for years to come.