In our home, knowing how to clean creosote from the stove pipe chimney is a job best handled by my wonderful husband. Although I do try to give a helping hand when it is time to clean it out, I find I’m more in the way than anything. He finds it important for me to have a good working knowledge of the process. When it comes to the question of how to clean creosote out of your wood-burning stove, we must understand how important a task it is.
Understanding the importance of a clean stove will even help us make better decisions on which stove to purchase and install. When looking at masonry stove plans or a nice soapstone addition for our homes, knowing what must be done to maintain it is part of the process.
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A clean wood stove will burn more efficiently and will generally be a safer stove to use in your home. The EPA says nearly 7 percent of all home fires in America are caused by creosote buildup in the chimney. So as great as wood heat is, we need to make sure we are safeguarding our families and homes from the danger.
When we’re running the stove every day in the winter, we can sometimes lose track of when it is time to clean it. This brings me to the first recommendation of staying on a cleaning schedule. Mark your calendar or simply put a reminder in your phone, but always remember, every day you use your stove, creosote is slowly building up inside the stove pipe.
How fast does this happen? Well, that depends on quite a few factors. The outside temperature, what kind of stove you have, how efficiently it burns, the quality of stove pipe you have, and most importantly what kind of wood you are burning are all factors.
Besides knowing the best way to split wood, the right choice in wood for burning is important. Some wood burns cleaner creating fewer toxins and creosote build up in your chimney. As for what kind of wood you should burn in your wood-burning cook stove or heater, the area you live in and what kind of wood you have available to cut, split and burn will determine that. However, you should only burn seasoned or dry wood in your stove if at all possible. Wood that burns great in our area is tamarack. Tamarack produces a nice long burn, gives off very little creosote to build up in your chimney, and leaves very fine ash to clean out and not much of it. Dense hardwoods like maple and oak have a higher energy content and so release more heat. They also burn longer. Softer woods like birch, pine, and spruce are less dense, so they burn out faster.
Growing up in the deep south, hardwoods like oak were the preferred firewood. Softer woods made an excellent fuel for spring and fall use since they warmed the house up and died out faster than the more dense hardwoods. I have read some about new stove models which can function well with a wider variety of wood types because of their better control of the combustion process compared to the older stoves we grew up with.
A wood stove is not for burning large amounts of trash, especially slick coated or shiny paper and plastics. Remember to never burn chemically treated wood such as pressure treated or painted. These materials can cause hazardous fumes inside your home. Even at small amounts, they will cause debilitating sinus problems.
Before we go through the tools you’ll need to clean your stove, let me share some things we have found that help make the job easier
Morning burn out
We burn the hardest, driest wood available. When splitting firewood, try to split some pieces into small two, four-inch diameter sizes for what we call the morning burn out. Every morning we get up and start the stove with these small, burn out pieces. We open the stove vents all the way so the fire gets plenty of oxygen. This does two helpful things every morning. First, it gets the house warmed up, nothing like drinking your morning coffee all warm and toasty. Second, it helps to warm up the stove pipe and loosens some of the creosote that has built up in the last twenty-four hours. This simple morning routine has cut down on the amount of creosote buildup in the stove pipe and keeps the stove burning as efficiently as it can.
We also have found burning a chimney cleaning log once in a while and especially a few days before it’s time to clean the stove has helped make the job of cleaning the creosote easier. We use this as an opportunity to do a safety check on the stove and pipe. We look for smoke leaks from the pipe on the inside of the house and for any dripping of creosote down the pipe. This helps us identify possible problem areas for us to focus on when manually cleaning the pipe.
The type of stove you have, the type of wood you burn and any preventative measures you have in place, may affect the frequency of how often you have to clean the creosote from your chimney. However, you will still need to have a regular cleaning and safety check schedule in place. Depending on the type of stove you have, you will need some or all of these tools to finish the job properly and safely.
- A drop cloth or newspapers to protect your floor
- A chimney brush
- Small hand brush
- Ash shovel
- Metal ash container to collect the ashes in for disposal later
- Spray bottle containing a vinegar/water/ammonia mixture or commercial glass cleaner
- Old newspapers to clean and polish the glass
- Screwdriver to disconnect the stove pipe where needed
- Ladder to reach top of stove pipe
Be sure the fire is out of the stove and the pipe and stove have had sufficient time to cool. Once you’re securely on the roof, inspect the pipe for any damage or signs of wear. Make any repairs necessary.
Use the chimney brush according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You may also want to check your stove instruction book to see if there are any special requirements for chimney brushing.
Proceed to clean the pipe from the top, letting gravity carry the creosote down the pipe and into the stove. Once the pipe is clean, you can sweep the ash and creosote debris into the ash pan or waiting bucket. Sweep the ash pan compartment. Empty the ash pan into the bucket and set outside in case of cinders.
If you have a glass door, now is the time to clean it. Your stove is clean and ready for a new fire to be built. You may want to keep the ashes to spread on your garden. I keep them for my asparagus bed!
There you have it. How to clean creosote from a wood stove. Do you have any tips or suggestions for how to clean creosote to share with us based on your experience? Be sure to comment below.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack
A special thanks to my own personal chimney sweep, J