Burning a wood stove is a must for many who live a self-reliant lifestyle in Northern climates. Generating enough heat via solar or wind to power a large enough furnace that would be required to combat the cold winters is not within the financial grasp of most folks. If firewood is available in your area a wood stove offers an affordable way to heat your home without running up a bill or being connected to the grid. A wood stove can also be an excellent source of emergency heat for winter time power outages or for that ‘just in case’ moment. Not only can they heat a home or bug out location but one can use even your average wood stove to cook on (click here to learn how).
Along with owning a wood stove comes maintaining it to keep it safe, and a big part of maintaining a wood burning stove is cleaning it. If wood stoves and their chimney’s aren’t cleaned periodically a dangerous smoke residue called creosote can build up in the stove and in the chimney, this build up is the primary cause of almost all chimney fires. Regular cleaning and good burning practices can greatly reduce the risk of chimney fires.
Here is a quick run down on how to clean out a free standing wood stove with a pipe chimney – most of this can be adapted to many types of stoves, but remember to reference your owners manual for cleaning and maintenance specifics if one came with your stove – yes, most modern EPA approved wood stoves have a manual. Also keep in mind if you have a very large brick or stone chimney its going to require some extra work and safety precautions on your part.
Let the fire go out.
Let the stove go out – for like a day. IMPORTANT: Stove should be cold to the touch, the fire box may still be a little warm but the stove and chimney should be cold. If you have a back up source of heat, now is a good time to run it, just until you get the stove going again. Once stove cleaning becomes routine, this chore should only take an hour to two of time.
Wood stoves vary in the time they need to be cleaned, it all depends on what is being burned (ex: seasoned hardwood burns better than something that is still a little green and typically it burns more cleanly than pine) and how (small hot fires burn more cleanly than big fires burning slowly). Plus there are creosote busting powders that can be added to your fire on a regular bases to extend times between cleaning. Also opening the stove up and allowing it to get real hot for about 45 minutes twice a day will help get rid of creosote before it builds up and extends times between cleanings. In the end they ALL need to be cleaned, some more frequently than others. We clean ours out about once a month in the winter time, sometimes more often, as our chimney is a tad prone to fires.
First – Shovel out the fire box.
Get rid of all the ash and debris in the fire box. It’s a good idea to use a metal can like the one I have pictured. If there is some hot coals left over it will melt a plastic bucket or start a cardboard box on fire. Take all of the ashes in the metal can outside and set it on the bare ground some where away from any dwelling. Important note: DO NOT set the ash bucket in a garage or on a deck or in the garbage – if there is even one hot coal in there you could run of the risk of starting a fire.
Once the ash has set for a few days it can be dumped or re-purposed. If you have a vegetable garden and it has slightly acidic soil – wood stove ash would be beneficial to it by increasing the pH (lower being acidic and higher being more alkaline) and adding nutrients. If the wood that was being burned was hardwood, the ash can also be used for making lye.
Mark the indoor section of the chimney for dis-assembly.
This is a little trick we learned over time to make reassembly easier and quicker since the chimney pipe is held together with little screws. It fits back together in a particular way with little screws holding it together so once marked, all one has to do is line up the white lines and pop the screws back in place. The white maker tends to burn off so it must be reapplied each time. A silver sharpie or chalk will also work.
Once the chimney pipe is removed don’t forget to look down into the stove and clear any creosote build-up near or around the opening.
Clean out the creosote from the stove and indoor chimney.
Using a chimney brush and rod like the one I have pictured, scrub out the chimney pipe. This can be done by using a garbage bag like I have pictured to catch the all the little chunks of creosote greatly reducing the mess made in the house. If there are any bends in the chimney pipe examine them closely as that is where creosote likes to build up – clean them out thoroughly.
Add the removed creosote to another metal can or add it to the ash can if there are no plans for re-purposing it. Look down into the stove from where the chimney was removed, if there is creosote build up there, clean that out too then reassemble the chimney. TIP: Brushes come in 6 inch and 8 inch size measure your chimney pipe before you buy a brush.
Clean the glass on the stove door.
If your stoves has a glass window on the door this is the best time to clean the glass on it. Creosote can be cleaned off of glass by using a diluted lye solution OR a commercial wood stove glass spray which just happens to be diluted lye, but the mixing is all done for you so there is no guess work. Either way use a mask, keep the kids away and try not to breathe the stuff in. Simply lay down a couple of layers of newspaper to catch drips, spray on – let sit for a few minutes – then wipe off with scrubber sponge. Repeat until clean.
Clean the tray off.
The tray on the front of the stove that catches the coals that try to fall out when wood is being added, the one that is so tempting to use a duster or little broom on? Now is the perfect time to clean that off while not lighting the duster or broom on fire.
Remove any dust or ash build up.
Using a shop vac or a regular house vacuum remove any dust or ash build up. A dry cloth or dust broom can also easily be used but a vacuum is the easiest way to go.
Clean out the outdoor chimney.
Important note: First stand out of the way of falling debris and carefully remove the access door or cap as pictured – this will provide access to the rest of the chimney. Again, using your chimney brush clean out any visible creosote from the chimney by adding extensions to your chimney brush rod. Once cleaned, reapply the access door, and disassemble your chimney brush for easy storage.
We usually add the recently removed creosote to our fire pit in the yard – it will burn up in a hot fire leaving nothing but powdery ash that can then be added to a garden. If that is not an option for you the creosote can be buried or thrown out once completely cooled.
Put everything back together and get a fire going.
Once the chimney indoors and out, stove and accessories are put back together you can get a worry free fire going as soon as possible. Keep in mind a freshly cleaned stove will draft (breathe) a little differently than it did two hours ago – so it may be tricky to start.
End product is a clean, safe, well burning stove.
Please note: There are many articles on the internet on wood stoves and cleaning wood stoves, any similarities are merely coincidental.