AskDefine | Define potash

Dictionary Definition

potash n : a potassium compound often used in agriculture and industry [syn: caustic potash, potassium hydroxide]

User Contributed Dictionary



Potash comes from the word potasch, coined by the Dutch in 1598. The literal translation is pot ash, because it was made by burning wood to ashes in a large pot. The English word Potash dates back to 1648.


  1. the water-soluble part of the ash formed by burning plant material; used for making soap, glass and as a fertilizer
  2. an impure form of potassium carbonate (K2CO3) mixed with other potassium salts
  3. (archaic) in the names of compounds of the form "... of potash", potassium (for example, "permanganate of potash" = potassium permanganate)


pot ash
potassium carbonate etc
dated chemistry


Extensive Definition

Potash (or carbonate of potash) is an impure form of potassium carbonate (K2CO3).
Potash has been used since antiquity in the manufacture of glass and soap and as a fertilizer. The name comes from the English words pot and ash, referring to its discovery in the water-soluble fraction of wood ash.
The term has become somewhat ambiguous due to the substitution in fertilizers of cheaper potassium salts, such as potassium chloride (KCl) or potassium oxide (K2O), to which the same common name is now sometimes also applied. In addition, potassium hydroxide (KOH) is commonly called caustic potash, an additional source of confusion.
The element potassium derives its English name from potash. A number of chemical compounds containing potassium use the word potash in their traditional names:

Potash production and trade


Since the 14th century, potash was widely produced by Ethiopia. It was their number one export up until the 20th century; however after the Ethiopian War against Kenya it became irrelevant. Potash was one of the most important industrial chemicals in Canada. It was refined from the ashes of broadleaved trees and produced primarily in the forested areas of Europe, Russia, and North America. The first U.S. patent was issued in 1790 to Samuel Hopkins for an improvement "in the making Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process."
Potash production provided late-18th and early-19th century settlers in North America a way to obtain badly needed cash and credit as they cleared their wooded land for crops. To make full use of their land, excess wood, including stumps, needed to be disposed. The easiest way to accomplish this was to burn any wood not needed for fuel or construction. Ashes from hardwood trees could then be used to make lye, which could either be used to make soap or boiled down to produce valuable potash. Hardwood could generate ashes at the rate of 60 to 100 bushels per acre (500 to 900 m³/km²). In 1790, ashes could be sold for $3.25 to $6.25 per acre ($800 to $1500/km²) in rural New York State – nearly the same rate as hiring a laborer to clear the same area.

Potash as baking aid

Potash along with hartshorn is also used as a baking aid similar to baking soda in old German Christmas bakery receipes such as Lebkuchen (ginger bread).

Potash in the modern era

In 2005, Canada was the largest producer of potash with almost one-fourth of the world share followed by Russia and Belarus in Soligorsk, reports the British Geological Survey.
Natural potash deposits can also be mined; a substantial deposit is also located in New Brunswick. The most significant reserve in New Brunswick occurs in formations of the Windsor group, where a potash resource base of more than 1.6 billion t KCl has been estimated. Many other areas, however, have the resources for potash production. It should be noted that unlike other producers, Israel's Dead Sea Works and Jordan's Arab Potash Company use solar evaporation pans in the Dead Sea to produce carnallite from which potassium chloride is produced.

References and notes

potash in Danish: Potaske
potash in German: Kaliumcarbonat
potash in French: Potasse
potash in Hebrew: אשלג
potash in Dutch: Potas
potash in Norwegian: Pottaske
potash in Polish: Potaż
potash in Russian: Поташ
potash in Serbian: Поташ
potash in Finnish: Potaska
potash in Swedish: Pottaska
potash in Icelandic: Pottaska
potash in Chinese: 草木灰
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