Cleaning Volcanic Ash



Cleaning ash out of your furnishings and other home interiors should begin outside, before it really has been tracked or carried in.

  • Entrances should be cleaned regularly, and you may wish to restrict entry to one that allows traffic to pass over a hard surface first rather than going directly from outside to carpeting.
    • A large sponge rubber mat, slightly dampened and placed just inside the door followed by a textured mat will keep most of the ash in the entry way.
    • Encourage people to shake shoes and brush clothes off before entering and to wear smooth, rather than heavily textured, shoe soles.
  • Damp mopping entry areas or hosing off sidewalks will also help keep ash out of your home.
  • To clean air-borne ash that enters the house:.
    • Vacuum and dust the house regularly and perhaps more often than normal depending on the amount of residue.
    • The ash contains tiny sharp particles, so you may wish to use the dusting attachment of the vacuum cleaner, rather than a dust cloth.
  • Ash residue on windows leaves a white ring on the glass that appears like water spots.
    • Rinse outside windows first with a garden hose.
    • Wash using a solution of warm water and detergent to clean the glass. Vacuum the sills and around panes.
    • Rinse the window and rinse again, using lots of water, before polishing with newspaper or soft cloth.
    • To avoid scratching the glass, check carefully before polishing to see if ash has been removed.
    • Windows should not be washed in hot sunlight.
    • Detergent in the water may cause a film or spotting if applied to hot glass


  • Avoid rubbing action on fabric that contains ash. The sharp particles may break or abrade the fibers that make up the yarns from which the fabric is woven or knit.
  • Shake garments vigorously outdoors to remove as much loose ash as possible. Vacuuming garments may also remove excessive soil.
  • Rinse and pre-soak rather than simply soaking. A more effective method of pretreatment might be to run water through the clothes until the water runs clear. An enzyme pre-soak product will not enhance cleaning. Most pre-soaks are enzyme products to remove protein stains. The ash is inorganic material; the particulates can be removed with detergent and water.
  • Use detergent to wash garments. You may wish to double the detergent to help suspend the hardness minerals found in the ash. Also, excessively soiled clothes always -require more detergent than specified on the package for use in a normal wash load.
  • Underload the washing machine so clothes have room to move freely in the water. Crowding the load may result in an abrasive action as ash-ridden garments rub against each other - a crowded load might not come out clean.
  • Depending on the particular washer and whether or not you have a choice, a front-loading washer may give better results than a top loader. Though the front loader uses less water, it does cause more clothing movement and openness, which allows for more soil detergent contact, which increases soil removal and suspension.
    • Increasing the ratio of water to clothes will help to reduce abrasion as clothes rub against themselves;
    • Help to reduce abrasion from clothes rubbing against the washer tub;
    • Help keep soil in suspension as the concentration of soil in the water will be less.
  • Bleach, oxygen or chlorine, in combination with iron in the ash, may cause irreversible problems. Iron in certain forms can activate bleach products and cause degradation of fibers. This may not be noticeable at first.
  • Use additives for very heavily soiled clothes. A borax laundry additive, such as Borateem or 20 Mule Team Borax, can be used with the detergent in the wash water.
    • These products adjust the pH (alkalinity) at the level for maximum cleaning efficiency of the detergent.
    • Borateem has enzymes, which are not required for the ash.
    • 20 Mule Team Borax is as effective for pH adjustment for this type of soil (volcanic ash).
  • Do not mix heavily soiled clothes with garments that are lightly soiled.
  • Dry in an automatic dryer only when the ash has been removed as the ash may scratch the inside surface of the dryer.


  • Vacuum fiber upholstery to remove as much ash as possible.
    • If left in the fabric, the sharp particles will cut the fibers causing excessive wear. Adjust for maximum suction and change the bag frequently.
    • As the bag fills, vacuum power is reduced.
    • A detergent shampoo may help remove the ash that is adhered to soiled areas.
    • Remember the abrasive quality of ash.
  • Rugs and carpets can be cleaned most effectively with a high-powered upright vacuum cleaner.
    • The greater the suction (along with the action of an agitator bar or brush) the more ash can be removed.
    • Some of the powerful rental vacuums with suction only might be good choices for heavy removal over large carpeted areas.
    • Once the dust has settled and you have removed as much as possible, then clean rugs, furniture, etc., following procedures recommended in normal situations.
  • Glass, enamel, and acrylic finishes may be scratched and dulled by the fine ash particles acting as a scouring powder.
    • Remove the large particles by vacuum or blowing or air dusting (feather duster).
    • Wear a mask if there is a lot of ash in the air.
    • Then wipe the surface with a detergent soaked cloth or sponge.
    • Dab or blot rather than wipe where possible to reduce scratching.
  • Vacuum painted surfaces, Formica, and hard service flooring to remove excess ash on the surface.
    • Then use detergent and flush with water (where possible). Use a blotting action rather than rubbing.
    • It will likely scour away the shiny surface (acts as a stripper).
    • You may need to re-wax or re-finish no-wax flooring to restore the shine.
  • High shine wood finishes will be dulled 7 by the fine grit7and scratched by objects set on it.
  • Air dust (vacuum) surfaces then blot with a cloth treated to pick up dust - depending on the wood finish involved.
  • A tack cloth, of the type used by furniture refinishers would work well. This can be bought at a paint store.


  • Be sure to replace all filters and replace often for the next few months. Don't turn on air conditioners until they have been thoroughly vacuumed and filters replaced. Furnace filters must be replaced.
  • Clean refrigerator air intakes. Clean any surface that may blow air and re-circulate the dust. Stove fans and vents should be thoroughly cleaned.
© Copyright 2014 Washington Military Department - Emergency Management Division