Cleaning Your Wood Burning Stove – It will be Totally Worth it!
How often you clean your wood burning stove is up to you. A dirty stove will make your room messy and dirty from ash so you will want to clean it on a regular basis, such as once a month or every two weeks, it’s up to you. A clean wood stove will burn more efficiently and will be safer to operate. According to the EPA nearly 7% of all home fires in the United States are caused by creosote buildup in the chimney, so in addition to cleaning your stove make sure to clean out your chimney pipe often.
Maintaining your stove by cleaning it on a regular basis will extend the lifetime of the stove and save you money. A regular maintenance schedule is important, especially if you have a catalytic wood stove. A thorough cleaning will really improve your stoves draft and efficiency. I advise cleaning your stove more often in the winter when you are using it more heavily than you do in the summer.
What to Burn, What not to Burn
You should only burn seasoned, dry wood in your stove. Please do not burn paper, plastic or any other flammable materials in your wood burning stove. Starting off your fire using a bit of paper is okay, but you should not burn paper trash in the stove. Never burn wood that has had chemicals applied to it such as pressure treated wood, painted or varnished wood, or any type of particle board. Nor should you burn green wood or driftwood in your wood burning stove.
Burning materials other than seasoned dry wood will produce hazardous fumes inside your home, and produce chimney emissions that are bad for our environment. Some materials could even pose a risk to the metals that make up your stove, or create a hazardous buildup of creosote in your chimney.
Generally speaking the goal of this article is to tell you the best way to remove the ash, soot and creosote from the working parts of the stove. (You may need to alter the following cleaning instructions depending on the make and model of your stove.)
Cleaning Wood Burning Stoves
Let’s get on with cleaning the stove!
First you will want to assemble all the tools and other items you will need to clean the stove, as listed below:
- A drop cloth or newspapers to protect your floor.
- Old newspapers or paper towels to clean and polish the glass.
- Gloves to protect your hands while cleaning.
- Small brush to brush away ash from stove parts.
- Small ash shovel to scoop out the ashes.
- Metal ash container to collect the ashes in for disposal later. Using two is better and makes for an easier job.
- Wide putty knife or scraper to use on stubborn soot and creosote.
- Spray bottle containing a vinegar, water, and soap solution, two parts water to one part vinegar with a squeeze of dish soap. See Naturally Bubbly’s window cleaning recipe!
- Dust mask to protect yourself from breathing in ash.
- A fireplace ash vacuum is a nice piece of equipment to have but is not necessary. Don’t use a household vacuum for this purpose. A properly filtered shop vacuum may also be used.
- Screwdriver, you may need a screwdriver to disconnect the top from your stovepipe so you can fit the long handled brush into the stovepipe to clean it.
- Optionally, you may burn a wood stove cleaning log, or a chimney sweeping log, in your wood stove just prior to cleaning it. Burning one of these wood stove cleaning logs will help loosen the creosote in your stove pipe which will make for easier cleaning with the brush.
Make sure the fire is completely out by waiting a few hours after the last embers have gone out. The best time to clean the stove is when the stove is completely cold so the creosote will chip off more easily.
Follow the steps outlined below to clean your stove:
Step 1: Spread the drop cloth or newspapers on the floor in front of the wood stove to protect your floor. Open the air dampener on your stove and open the door so the firebox is easily accessible. If you have a dampener on your chimney as well, open that so the chimney brush can glide through when you use it.
Step 2: Use the small ash shovel and the ash container to scoop out the bulk of the ashes from the inside of the stove. Scoop the ashes out gently with the shovel and slowly move the shovel over to the metal ash container, dropping the ashes gently into the container so as not to stir up a lot of fine dust. IMPORTANT*Make sure to cover the ash can with a metal top and let the bucket of ash sit for at least 48 hours on a non-flammable surface to ensure there are no hot embers remaining when you dispose of the ash.*
Step 3: Remove any firebricks that may obstruct the chimney brush when you clean the stove pipe. Loosen creosote to fall onto the bottom of the stove and not anywhere else in the stove. If you find a broken fire brick, replace it.
Step 4: Now it is time to climb onto the roof to clean the stovepipe. (Obviously at your own risk!) You will need a long handled brush made specifically for cleaning out stove pipes, make sure the diameter of the brush fits your stove pipe or you will have problems moving the brush up and down to loosen the creosote. A chimney brush that is the wrong size may even get stuck in the stove pipe, which is a hassle to remove.
Step 5: Remove the top from the stove pipe, using your screwdriver to do so if you must. Before putting this piece back on the chimney pipe, make sure to use the putty knife or scraper on it to scrape off all built up creosote, inside and out.
Step 6: Push your chimney brush into the chimney pipe and move it up and down vigorously to loosen all the built up creosote and soot in the pipe. The soot and creosote will fall to the bottom of the stove in the firebox.
Step 7: After cleaning the chimney pipe and replacing its top, you are done on the roof. Go back to the firebox in the stove and scoop out all the black creosote which has fallen as a result of cleaning the stove pipe, place the debris in a metal ash can and cover with a metal lid. Don’t forget to replace the firebricks if you removed them.
Step 8: Now is the time to use a vacuum if you are using one to clean the inside of the firebox. Vacuum around the edges of the seal and other small areas and ledges where ash has collected. If you don’t have a vacuum use a small brush to do this job. Move the brush using short, light, gentle strokes so as not to stir up a lot of fine dust. Brush the ash into a pile and use the ash shovel in conjunction with the brush, just like you would a broom and dustpan. If your stove has a floor clean out under the firebox, empty it into the ash can.
Step 9: Once you have cleaned all the ash out of the firebox to your satisfaction clean the ash off the seal on the door. If you are using a vacuum, simply vacuum off the seal. Otherwise use your brush to clean the seal.
Step 10: Last, if you have glass on the front of your stove door clean it as your last step. If the soot is built up heavily on the glass, you may want to buy a cleaning solution that is made specifically for cleaning the glass on a wood burning stove. These products will typically contain ammonia. If you decide to use the vinegar, water, and soap solution, spray the solution onto the glass, then wipe down the glass with newspaper or paper towels. Repeat this several times rubbing the paper towel or newspaper vigorously to remove all of the soot buildup and to polish the glass. This step may need to be repeated several times and may take some elbow grease, but is well worth it to have clean glass through which to view the dancing flames of your fire.
After you have cleaned the inside of the stove, you can clean outside also by wiping down the outside surfaces with your vinegar, water, and soap solution, which works well on stoves with porcelain or powder coat finishes. If you have a cast iron wood stove, use a stiff brush and vacuum if available, rather than vinegar and water because liquid solutions tend to leave streaks on black surfaces.
Also, if your stove has brass or metallic trim consult your owner’s manual as to the best way to clean the trim. Metal and brass trim should not be cleaned with flammable products (it’s a wood burning stove, obviously!) and most metal trim has a clear coat finish so don’t clean them with anything that is too abrasive. Soaking a cloth in the vinegar solution may do it, and it they are not too coated with soot, a club soda soaked cloth could work. Always try the least toxic substances available before moving onto other chemical cleaning products.
Chimney pipes are made of galvanized steel, stainless steel or black steel. The vinegar will work well on these, but if you have a flat (matte) black surface, immediately wipe it down completely with a dry cloth to prevent streaking.
If you have a catalytic converter on your wood burning stove, you will want to clean it also during the cleaning process. Remove the cells of the catalytic converter, and dust the outside of it lightly. You can clean out the cells using a can of compressed air, or use pipe cleaners to gently remove the dust from each cell. Be careful though, as you do not want to remove any of the metal coating inside the cells. Don’t use your air compressor for this job unless you can ensure very low pressure. Before you put away the tools that you have used during cleaning shake them gently to remove any fine ash that may be lingering on them.
Not comfortable cleaning your wood stove by yourself? you can always hire a chimney sweep who will do a professional job and check your stove over to ensure its operational safety. Or, hire a chimney sweep to clean your stove the first time, all the while watching what the chimney sweep does so you can repeat the steps on your own the next time you clean your stove!
The largest investment in stove cleaning equipment will most likely be the chimney brush that you use to clean out the chimney pipe, unless you also want to buy a fire place vacuum.
That’s all there is to wood burning stove maintenance. One last tip, make sure you keep a fire extinguisher close to your stove, you never know when an accidental fire may occur. Enjoy your fires and stay safe!
Julie builds websites and writes content for others as an independent contractor. She previously worked as a software engineer and as a IT consultant for close to 25 years before she started her own business working on the internet in 2004. She continues this work to this day and is especially passionate about her site http://alcoholismrehab.us dedicated to her deceased husband.