Plasma-based ashing of photoresist masks after pattern transfer is a common processing step in the fabrication of integrated circuits. In this work we investigated damage mechanisms of nanoporous ultra low k (ULK) materials with different overall porosities due to the ashing process. Oxygen-, nitrogen- and hydrogen-based photoresiststripping using direct and remote plasma processes were examined. Ellipsometry, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, secondary ion mass spectroscopy, and transmission electron microscopy were utilized to study the damage layer thickness, physical (pore morphology), and chemical modifications of the nanoporous silica thin films after exposure to the O2-, N2- or H2-based ashing processes. As a result of the plasma exposure, carbon groups in nanoporous silica can be removed from the ULK layers which is also accompanied by material densification. We find severe ashing damage of ULK materials after O2-based ashing using both direct and remote discharges. N2 and H2 discharges also damage ultralow k materials for direct plasma ashing processes which are accompanied by low energy ion bombardment of the substrates. The introduction rate and degree of the ULK materials modifications correlates with the overall porosity. We show that the pore interconnectivity is one of the key parameters that determine ashing damage. ULK damage is greatly reduced for remote N2 or H2 discharges, but the resist removal rates are impractically low if the substrate is at room temperature. We show that both acceptable photoresist stripping rates and ULK damage levels can be achieved- - for remote H2 plasma ashing processes if the substrate temperature is 250 °C and higher.