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Potash is the common name given to potassium carbonate and various mined and manufactured salts that contain the element potassium in water-soluble form.[1]

Potash has been used since antiquity in the manufacture of glass, soap, and soil fertilizer. Potash is important for agriculture because it improves water retention, yield, nutrient value, taste, colour, texture and disease resistance of food crops. It has wide application to fruit and vegetables, rice, wheat and other grains, sugar, corn, soybeans, palm oil and cotton, all of which benefit from the nutrient’s quality enhancing properties.[2]

The name derives from the old method of making potassium carbonate by leaching wood ashes and evaporating the solutions collected in large iron pots, leaving a white residue called "pot ash". Later, "potash" became the term widely applied to naturally occurring potassium salts and the commercial product derived from them.[3]

To further confuse the terminology, potash imports/exports etc. are reported in 'K2O' equivalent, although fertilizer never contains potassium oxide, per se, because potassium oxide is caustic and so highly reactive that it must be stored under kerosene, as with metallic potassium.

The following table lists a number of potassium compounds which use the word potash in their traditional names:

Common name Chemical name Formula
Potash fertilizer potassium oxide K2O
Caustic potash or potash lye potassium hydroxideKOH
Carbonate of potash, salts of tartar, or pearlash   potassium carbonateK2CO3
Chlorate of potash potassium chlorate KClO3
Muriate of potash potassium chloride KCl
Nitrate of potash or saltpeterpotassium nitrate KNO3
Sulfate of potash potassium sulfate K2SO4
Permanganate of potash potassium permanganate KMnO4


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."[4]

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.

During the Civil Rights era in the United States, Caustic Potash was often used as a weapon by African Americans. It was typically used on other African Americans accused of consorting with the whites, or being an "Uncle Tom"... The bleaching action of the lye would burn the skin and remove pigment, leaving the victim white after the burns healed. Availability of Caustic Potash to the general public was heavily curtailed in the 1970s, as a result of increasing instances of its use in this manner.[citation needed]

Potash as baking aid

Potash along with hartshorn was also used as a baking aid similar to baking soda in old German baked goods 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. The most significant reserve of Canada's potash is located in the province of Saskatchewan and controlled by the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan.[5][6]

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

  1. ^
  2. ^ Potash Price Close to all time highs – Future Outlook[1]
  3. ^ The World Potash Industry: Past, Present and Future, 50th Anniversary Meeting The Fertilizer Industry Round Table, New Orleans,, LA, Octtoberr 4/6/2000[2]
  4. ^ Kids - Time Machine - Historic Press Releases - USPTO
  5. ^ Canadian Potash Reserves - The Canadian Encyclopedia
  6. ^ Cameron French (June 14, 2008). "Potash: The new gold rush". Globe and Mail. Retrieved on 2008-06-01. 

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free 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.



Wikipedia has an article on:




potash (uncountable)

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


Derived terms

  • acetate of potash
  • carbonate of potash
  • caustic potash
  • chlorate of potash
  • chromate of potash
  • citrate of potash
  • iridiate of potash
  • manganate of potash
  • nitrate of potash
  • muriate of potash
  • osmiate of potash
  • oxygenated muriate of potash
  • permanganate of potash
  • plumbate of potash
  • potash alum
  • potashery
  • potash-felspar
  • potash-granite
  • potash greensand
  • potash kettle
  • potash-lime
  • potash-mica
  • potash-water
  • silicate of potash
  • stannate of potash
  • stannite of potash
  • sulfate of potash, sulphate of potash
  • sulfurated potash, sulphurated potash

Related terms


  • Krueger, Dennis (December 1982). "Why On Earth Do They Call It Throwing?" Studio Potter Vol. 11, Number 1.[1]


Simple English

Potash is a generic term for a chemical compound. It means the mixture of potassium hydroxide and potassium carbonate left over in ashes. The wood was burnt to produce ashes, which were dissolved in water. The potash was then reacted with fat to produce soap.

See also

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