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How to Clean A Wood Burning Stove For The Best Performance & Safety

The sound of the crackling fire, the smell of the burning wood, the dancing flames, and warmth that penetrates deep into your bones – are all perks of heating with a wood stove.

Over time that pleasant wood fire creates creosote buildup and ash accumulate in the firebox meaning it’s time to clean the stove.

It’s necessary to clean your stove periodically to prevent accidental fires and to get the most efficient burn from your wood.

A snooze by the fire – the epitome of cozy.

A dirty wood stove can also lead to unpleasant smells in your home and furniture. And let me tell you, once that smell gets into your upholstery it’s difficult to get out.

Creosote is extremely flammable and can lead to a chimney fire. Creosote forms from a combination of moisture and debris not being fully consumed by the fire. This sticky substance builds up on the inside of your stovepipe, where if left unattended, it can become a serious fire hazard.

Lots of black, dried chunks of creosote are pouring out of a stovepipe which is being cleaned.
The dangerous build up of creosote inside this pipe, could have started a fire.

Hotter burning fires create less creosote, another good reason to maintain a clean wood stove.

Softer woods like pine are known for producing more creosote. Pine is great for starting a fire and has a lovely smell, so rather than giving up burning pine, you can always clean your wood stove more frequently.

Related Reading: What’s The Best Wood To Burn In Your Stove?

Safety Tips

  • Never clean a hot stove. Let the stove cool off entirely first.
  • When scooping out ash, always wear gloves.
  • Keep in mind that embers buried in the ash can stay hot long after the fire has gone out.
  • Always put ash in a metal container, never a plastic one.
  • Take your pail of ashes outside once you have finished cleaning, in case there are still any hot embers in the ash.

Tools For the Job

  • You will need a metal ash pail with a shovel. Choose a pail with a lid to avoid ash billowing throughout your house when you take it outside.
  • I recommend picking up a sturdy metal dustpan, and a heavy bristled dust brush to make clean up of stray ash, wood, and bark around your wood stove easy.
  • A couple of pieces of soft, clean cloth, such as flannel and a spray bottle with water, are needed to clean the glass of the woodstove door.
  • While it’s not a necessity, a small shop vacuum comes in handy for cleaning up spills and really deep-cleaning your firebox.
  • And if you choose to clean the stovepipe yourself, you will need a chimney brush that fits the inner diameter of the pipe snuggly and extension rods. A note – if your chimney brush is showing signs of being worn down, be sure to replace it.
  • Cleaning your wood stove tends to be a messy job. You’ll want to dress appropriately, and if you have furniture nearby, you may wish to cover it with a sheet.

How often you clean your stove really depends on how often you use it. If you’re using your wood stove every day as your primary heating source, you will need to at least scoop out the ash daily and do a more thorough cleaning once every week or two.

A hand uses an ash shovel to scoop ashes out of a woostove.
Keeping your wood stove burning hot and bright, means cleaning and removing ash regularly.

You must clean your stovepipe more often during the winter as well. If you tap on your flue when it’s cold and hear debris fall, you need to clean your pipe immediately.

If you only use your wood stove occasionally, you can clean it less frequently.

A good rule of thumb is to scoop the ash out once it’s a few inches deep. Too much ash prevents good airflow in the firebox, and you want a good, hot burn. If you begin to notice creosote buildup of 1/8”, it’s time to do a thorough cleaning.

How to Clean a Wood Stove

To clean your stove, you’ll first need to let the fire go out, and let the wood stove cool completely. Safety first, you don’t want to risk getting burned. Remember that embers buried in the ash can stay hot long after the fire itself has gone out.

Start by removing the ash using the shovel and place them in a metal pail.

Spritz the top layer of ash lightly with water to make the job less messy. Once a year it’s advisable to clean out all of the ash entirely so you can inspect the firebox and fire bricks, but usually, you can leave a bit of the ash behind.

If your wood stove has one, empty the ashtray and ash box.

Using a flashlight inspect the inside of the firebox, the flue, and the chimney for creosote buildup or glazing. You can use the chimney brush to scrape and clean around the flue. If the creosote is 1/8” or thicker, you will need to clean the stovepipe. More on that later.

If your wood stove door has a window, you’ll want to clean the glass so you can enjoy the beauty of the fire.

A hand is shown using wood ash from a woodstove to wipe the glass clean.
Save some of the ash to use to clean the glass.

An easy trick is to dampen your flannel square and then dip it in some ash. Gently scrub the glass with the ash to loosen and remove the buildup. Wipe it clean with a little more water and a clean piece of flannel.

Put the lid on your pail and take the ashes outside.

Be sure to put them away from any buildings and allow them to cool for at least 24 hours before using them.

If you need some ideas, here is a fantastic list of 45 Practical Ways to Use Wood Ash Around the Home and Garden.

Cleaning the Stovepipe

Someone is shown using a bristle brush to clean a section of stovepipe.

You should clean your stove pipe each year before the heating season. Aside from creosote, it’s common for birds and mice to build nests in your stovepipe in the offseason.

While you can clean your chimney, and many people do, having a professional do the job is sometimes preferable.

Not only will they clean your stovepipe, but they can also inspect it for wear and tear. When deciding whether or not to clean your stovepipe or pay someone else, bear in mind that this means you will be on the roof, sometimes in inclement weather.

Are you up to the physical effort of cleaning your stovepipe, or would it be wise to call a professional?

It also requires a lot of physical effort to use the chimney brush and do a thorough job. Please keep your safety in mind when making this decision.

If you opt to clean your stovepipe, never do it alone. Always have a helper on hand.

To clean your stovepipe, make sure the flue is wide open and shut the door to your wood stove. It’s not a bad idea to put an old towel or sheet under the door anyway.

From the roof, you’ll need to remove the chimney cap.

Tie a length of rope to the handle end of your chimney brush, and tie the other end around the base of the stove pipe, that way if the brush slips out of your hand while cleaning, you can pull it back up.

Begin by scrubbing the topmost inside of the pipe.

Really put some elbow grease into it and be sure to twist the brush as well as plunge it up and down.

Once you get down into the chimney a bit, you’ll want to screw the next extension rod onto the end. Continue brushing and scraping and adding extension rods as needed until you run into the flue.

If you have a spark box, this is an excellent time to brush off the vents with your chimney brush.

Replace the chimney cap and you’re done.

Great! You’ve just made a huge mess in your wood stove, but the stovepipe sure looks nice.

Back on the ground and inside the wood stove, scrape and clean the smoke shelf above the damper if there is one and sweep or vacuum the debris from inside the firebox.

Clean up debris around the outside of your wood stove with the dust brush or shop vacuum.

A professional kneels on a cloth covered floor to clean and inspect a woodstove.
Another perk of letting the professionals clean your wood stove – they take care of the clean up.

(The fine ash will tear apart a standard household vacuum cleaner’s motor.) It’s important to keep flammable items away from the wood stove to prevent fires.

Take this time to wipe down the outside of the stove with a damp, wet cloth.

And of course, if you use a pot or kettle filled with water to help add moisture to the air, now is a good time to refill it.

Slow the Buildup of Creosote

  • Only burn wood in your stove – not garbage or papers.
  • Burn only properly seasoned wood – not wet wood.
  • Do a ‘hot burn’ each morning when you start the fire by opening the vents fully. After about 15-20 minutes, you can adjust the vents.
  • Occasionally, burn a Creosote Buster log in your fire.
  • Be diligent about cleaning your wood stove if you burn wood daily. Consider marking period cleaning and inspections on a calendar.
Regular maintenance will ensure you enjoy beautiful, warm fires for years to come.

A wood stove provides a wonderful and economical way to heat your home. It provides ambiance and a sense of comfort and security. With proper care and maintenance, it’s a safe way to heat as well.

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Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,