Use Fireplace Ash to Make Soap

Make Soap from Fireplace Ashes

For centuries humans have been making soap from fireplace ash. If you’re looking for a way to use your fireplace ash and are interested in exploring some homesteading skills, read on and learn how to make soap for your own use.

1. Make lye.

The active ingredient in soap is lye. Lye is an alkaline substance with a very slippery feeling when dissolved in water. The lye dissolves grease and lifts dirt.

For this step it’s wise to wear gloves, long sleeves, and eye protection as lye is caustic and will cause chemical burns.

To make your lye, boil hardwood ashes in rain water for about half an hour. Do NOT use aluminum pans- the lye will eat through them. Use glass or enameled pots instead. Once the fireplace ashes have settled to the bottom of the pot, skim off the liquid lye. Once you have collected enough liquid lye, pour it into a pot and boil until an egg will float in it.

2. Collect and render fats.

Gather leftover meat fats, lard, and vegetable oils. These fats will form the structure of your soap, keeping it solid. Slowly heat the fat and oils in a pan until it becomes liquid. Strain out solid bits and impurities by pouring the hot fat through cheese cloth. Be very careful not to burn yourself.

3. Mix it all together.

Once the fat is filtered, keep it on low heat while you bring your lye to a boil. When the lye is at a rolling boil, slowly add the hot fat while stirring with a wooden spoon. This is the time to add any herbs or essential oils to give your soap scents. Add some salt as the mixture thickens.

Keep boiling and stirring the mixture until it gets the consistency of thick cornmeal mush.

4. Pour your soap.

Pour the hot lye and fat mixture into soap molds lined with parchment paper. You can use all sorts of molds to make soap – be creative.

Soap Molds for Making Soap from Fireplace Ashes

Soap Molds to Make Soap from Fireplace Ashes

Once you’re poured the mixture, allow it to cool and harden to make soap.

You now have homemade soap made from fireplace ash!

Posted in General, Using Your Fireplace Tagged with:

How to Remove Birds and Nests from Chimney

Birds and bird nests in chimney

Bird nests with or without birds in them are a health and fire safety problem for your home. Bird droppings are not only unsightly in your fireplace, but birds can also carry mites and parasites into you home.

One note: Chimney swallows are classified as protected birds by the federal government.

How to Get Rid of Bird Nests in Chimney

Whether to wait until any nestling are gone or not is up to you. Be aware, however, that barn swallows, which are one of the most common birds to nest in home chimneys, hatch in 15 days. The young continue to use the nest for up to three weeks. Typically, a second brood is hatched while the first brood is still using the nest. The older siblings help feed the new baby birds. You will recognize barn swallows by their characteristic forked tail. Barn swallow nests you can recognize by their cone or pocket shaped mud nest plastered to the vertical wall of your chimney.

Another choice is whether to do it yourself or bring in a chimney sweep to remove bird nests from a chimney. Some bird nests can be easily removed by any homeowner willing to go up on the roof. Others, such as barn swallow nests, require scraping the nest from the interior of the chimney. This is a messy process that can drop unsanitary and possibly mite-infested material into your fireplace. (See Dangers of Bird Droppings in Chimneys.) If you do this type of bird nest removal yourself, we suggest you take your shop-vac to the roof and use it to catch bird nest debris as you remove it.

Whether you remove the bird nest yourself or hire a chimney sweep to do it, it is imperative to remove any nests or remaining nesting materials before using your fireplace in the fall. Combustible material inside your chimney flue and a burning fire are not a good combination!

Are You Ready to Prevent Bird Nests in Your Chimney?

But bird nests in chimney need not be an annual concern. A damper that seals the top of your chimney , such as a Lyemance damper, can prevent any animal, including birds, from using your chimney for shelter or nesting purposes. You can open such a chimney damper  when you have a fireplace fire.

 top-mount fireplace damper

See How to Prevent Birds and Bird Nests in Your Chimney.

Posted in Fireplace and Chimney Maintenance, Safety Tagged with:

Year-Round Indoor Fireplace Plants

fireplace decorated with plants

Your fireplace is a major component of your home design that can either become a pleasing focal point or cumbersome distraction (depending on how you choose to decorate it). While there are many different styles and techniques you can apply to your mantle, a simple, elegant choice is to use plants.

However, there are several considerations you have to account for before you can begin sprucing up that mantle.

For example, what kind of lighting is available near your fireplace? How big is your fireplace? What kind of style do you want? And finally, what types of plants will fit your needs?

If you do your homework, you can create an appealing aesthetic with fireplace plants all year round.

Lighting for Fireplace Plants

When dealing with plants, lighting is a major factor in the type of vegetation you can use.

Most fireplaces are situated away from windows and therefore may not receive much direct sunlight. If this is the case with your fireplace, you will have to consider what plants can thrive in low or indirect sunlight.

Another alternative to choosing only indoor plants that require minimal light is to use LED grow lights. Many gardeners employ these lights to enhance the growth of their plants and mimic natural sunlight.

Grow lights emit an electromagnetic spectrum necessary for photosynthesis.

The advantage of LED grow lights is that they are typically inexpensive, long-lasting, cooler, and consume less power. Their lower heat production allows them to be placed closer to the plants and reduces the time between watering.

A great way to incorporate them into your fireplace décor is to place them above plants directly inside the fireplace. This can serve to not only improve fireplace plant growth, but highlight the plants in the center of your fireplace.

Size of Fireplace Plants

In addition to lighting conditions, the actual size of your fireplace will determine how you can best decorate. For bigger mantles and fireplaces, you may consider adding one or two larger plants to fill the space, a number of smaller plants, or other features to balance the façade.

In most cases, you will include other items such as mirrors, vases, or pictures on or around the mantle for decoration.

The number and size of these objects will factor into the kinds of plants you will want to use to complement the ensemble.

For example, a large fireplace may benefit from taller potted plants like trees or bushes. A tree on either side of the fireplace can create an attractive and symmetric visual for your décor.

Add a large mirror in the center or some frames and vases to the mantle, and you will have a pleasant arrangement.

In contrast, a smaller fireplace will seem crowded and cluttered with too many bulky fireplace plants. Opting for smaller, daintier vegetation can add elegance and charm without overwhelming the eye. You may consider a small vine to hang over the mantle adjacent to a ceramic or frame.

Style of Fireplace Plants

Wrapped up in all of this is your style. Based on the available light, size of your space, and overall décor of the home or room, you should choose corresponding plants.

For example, if your home is in a hot or desert climate, picking cacti varieties is a reasonable option. This will work especially well if your home has a western design.

Additionally, for more traditional homes, you may prefer regal trees or sophisticated ferns. For a lighter, more delicate arrangement, small, flowering plants will do the trick.

Pay attention to the style of your home and the kind of décor you want to follow. This will help you determine the best plants for the job.

Recommended Fireplace Plants

As we have indicated, the types of plants you use will be largely based on the amount of lighting and space, and the specific style you prefer for your fireplace.

Because most fireplaces receive indirect sunlight, we will discuss several varieties of plant options that will last year round.

Muehlenbeckia

The muehlenbeckia is a fanciful looking topiary that is a great addition to a fireplace.

Their lollipop shape provides a simple geometric to complement your décor, while the flyaway stems offer whimsy and a more a relaxed vibe than a traditional, sharply trimmed topiary.

Place three to five in a row at the base of your fireplace for an interesting arrangement, or add one or two on your mantle to bring the façade together.

Because they like indirect light, they will thrive by the fireplace.

Ferns

Ferns are a great plant for a minimalist approach. Their simple, lush green vegetation adds classic elegance to any décor. They need only indirect light and should be watered whenever the soil is dry to the touch. Place them on the mantle or in the fireplace to spruce up your space.

Areca palm

For a more tropical paradise style, an areca palm is an excellent choice. This tree can grow up to seven feet tall, though it will stop if you keep it in a smaller pot. It adds a nice softening effect to a room, which is especially appealing for decors with hard lined furnishings. It thrives in indirect sunlight.

Pothos and Heart-Leaf Philodendron

These two vine plants are great additions to a fireplace mantle. Both vines can be tailored to trail along a mantle or down the side of your fireplace. Simply trim any vines that get too long. This provides a nice border and a simple, uncluttered look.

Christmas cactus

The Christmas cactus is a lovely plant that blooms in winter. The bright, vibrant colors add spice and life to your room, particularly in a season that usually lacks such rich foliage. These are ideal for a pop of color to your fireplace and require minimal maintenance.

There are certainly many more options for indoor plants that will dress up your fireplace. However, this list should give you an idea of the variety of choices and styles available.

When you go to decorate your mantle, remember to keep these factors in mind, and stay true to your own personal style. You’re choosing year-round plants after all—you’d better like what you pick!

Nina Hiatt researches and writes articles to help people find balance and beauty in their personal space through landscape and interior design. In her free time, Nina blogs about many of her interests, which include gardening, technology news, and baking.

photo via housetohome

Posted in Decorating

Test Knowledge: Famous Movie Fireplaces

Fireplaces in Movies

The humble fireplace, so familiar we pass by every day without a second glance, but did you know that it has played a key role in some of the most popular movies of all time.

We have combed through film archives to find some of the most memorable fireplace movie moments, so if you’re fired up about movies test your knowledge of famous movie fireplaces!

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Posted in Decorating, Using Your Fireplace