Safety tips for cleaning a wood-burning stove

Whether it's a fuel stove, a potbelly stove or other wood heater, keeping your wood-burning stove clean isn't only a matter of cleanliness. It's also a vital matter of safety. Every year wood stoves are responsible for fires that destroy homes and kill people, and one common cause is improper disposal of ashes.

Safety tips for cleaning a wood-burning stove

1. Clean out the ashes

  • Remove them with a metal ash shovel and place them in a tightly covered metal bucket. No plastic shovels, no paper bags, no cardboard boxes — no substitutions!
  • Then take the bucket outside and let it sit for a couple of days to ensure that the harmless-looking ashes aren't still harbouring any embers.
  • For final disposal, add to garden soil or sprinkle on the lawn so the potassium and other minerals in the ash are absorbed.
  • This is the cleaning job that needs to be done whenever the ashes are 8–10 cm (3–4 in) deep.

2. Cleaning a stovepipe or flue

  • This is a job you may have to perform several times during a season.
  • If your flue is removable, disconnect it from the chimney and from the stove when the fire is out.
  • Take the stovepipe outside and shake it into a metal bucket to remove the soot and creosote.
  • If there are stubborn clumps of residue, use a stiff-bristled brush.
  • If your flue is not easily removable, or you would rather not remove it, you can use a chimney and flue cleaner, which loosens soot and creosote deposits when it is used as instructed.

3. Keep it clean

    • To ensure the cleanest operation of your stove, burn hardwood (oak, for example) that has been seasoned for a year.
    • Burn a hot fire for at least half an hour every week during winter.
    • If you are unsure of the meaning of hot in this context, you can buy a stovepipe thermometer from a wood stove dealer to tell you.
    • Vacuum when there is no fire, using the small brush attachment.
    • For dirt that vacuuming won't remove, wipe the surface of enamelled stoves with a damp sponge.
    • On stoves made of cast iron, plate steel, sheet metal or a combination of these materials, use a stove polish.
    • Balled-up waxed paper, used on a warm stove, also shines these finishes.
    • Rust or other heavy dirt may be cleaned from a cold stove with fine steel wool and a cleaner, which is available from hardware stores.

4. To clean glass doors

  • Follow the instructions in your owner's manual.
  • A mixture of water and a little ammonia will remove smoke, but check your manual to make sure the glass doesn't have a protective coating, which might be damaged by the ammonia.
  • There are also specialist products that are specially formulated for removing soot, tar and creosote from wood stove windows and doors.

5. Other stove parts that need periodic cleaning

These include baffles, smoke shelves and catalytic combustors. These stove parts increase the efficiency of your stove and reduce pollution. They're often located near the spot where the stovepipe or flue meets the stove. Your owner's manual will tell you if your stove has one or more of these parts and will explain how to clean them.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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