How to clean a wood-burning stove, a beginners guide
We had a wood burner, often referred to as a wood-burning stove, fitted in our living room several years ago, this is great for heating the house on really cold days and is over 85% efficient, and using recycled wood means it is a great investment, so looking after it, keeping it clean and in good working order is a task that I carry out regularly.
Once the wood burner has been in use for a while it will need to be cleaned and the ash removed from the firebox and grate, otherwise, it will become a mess, overflows, and won’t burn efficiently.
After several years of use and experience here’s how I clean my wood burning stove:
Allow the wood-burning stove to cool completely, remove the cold ash with a trowel, vacuum the firebox and hearth and empty the Ashpan, give the stove glass a clean with cold ash and wet paper towel, wipe over the outside with stove polish and sponge then rub off any excess with a dry cloth.
I usually check the amount of ash collecting in the grate of my 5 kW stove, every time I use my wood burner, and typically, during the winter needs to be cleared out every 14 days if used every day.
Keeping the firebox and grate clear and allows the wood to burn efficiently and avoid any ash overflowing when I open the door to add more wood, check out my in-depth, yet simple method and find out which tools I use at the end of the post
How long do you let the wood-burning stove cool off before cleaning it?
Woodburning Stoves can reach very high temperatures, in excess of 482℉ (250℃) and the chimney flues and connections are often rated higher than this up to 662℉ (350℃) for building regulations.
So the first thing to do before touching, emptying, or cleaning the wood burner is to allow it to cool down completely and let any heat dissipate so that you avoid burning yourself.
I always leave my wood burner to cool down overnight or for at least 12 hours, this gives the Stove and ash time to cool off completely.
Always test carefully to check the unit has cooled off, once you are sure the stove is cold you can then safely touch the stove and work inside the firebox without burning yourself or melting any clothing.
How to remove the ash from the wood burner
The inside of the wood burner is called the firebox and is usually lined with fireproof materials that help to contain the fire and project the heat forwards.
At the front there is often a removable log guard and ash pan, the log guard is there to prevent any hot logs or ash from falling out whilst the Stove door is open when you are adding more fuel for example.
Once the burnt ash has begun to sit level with the log guard it’s probably time to empty the firebox. How long this takes will depend on how often you light and use the wood burner.
To remove the ash I wear a pair of leather gloves and use a small garden trowel to remove the majority of the cold burnt ash.
I keep an old plastic bag nearby, usually on the hearth right in front of the stove so I can quickly and carefully put the ash in for disposal, old supermarket or plastic carrier bags are good for this.
Be careful if you burn pallet wood like I do because the old nails can puncture the plastic bag, which will allow ash to drop and the bag to split. So always support the bag from underneath when you lift it up from the hearth.
If your wood-burning stove is modern or less than 5 years old the chances are that it will have an ash pan to help collect and remove the burnt ash.
When I clean my wood burner out after I have removed the majority of the ash from the firebox, I open the grate shuttle which allows the remaining ash to fall into the ash pan and can then be transferred to the waste bag.
It’s a good idea to use a small stiff brush to clean the inside and bottom of the firebox and push the last of the cold ash into the ash pan.
The quick way to clean the stove firebox without using a brush:
If you want to make clearing out the ash from the woodstove even quicker, you can use an old vacuum cleaner or attach an ash collector box, also known as an ‘Ashcan’ to your household vacuum cleaner.
Using an Ashcan means all of the cold ash can be vacuumed out rather than brushed, you won’t need a separate bag, and will not fill up or clog your vacuum cleaner bags. This makes the job much cleaner and quicker.
To use a vacuum cleaner and ash can to clear the ash from the wood burner’s firebox, attach the hoses and switch on the vacuum cleaner, then use the wand attachment to gently suck up the ash.
Keeping the nozzle just above the surface of the ash works best and means you won’t block the nozzle, it also allows you to see when a large piece of ash has become caught in the nozzle so you can easily unblock it.
There are several different ash cans on the market, some are simple steel drums with a hose attachment, a filter, and a connection for your vacuum cleaner, others include the vacuum motor like this unit from Inno, as well so you don’t need to hook up your household vacuum cleaner.
You could even make your own using a strong plastic container with a lid, but for the price of the ones available at the moment it is probably cheaper and easier to buy one.
Ash cans or ash vacuums make a great addition to your household tool kit and can also be used for other vacuuming jobs that you wouldn’t want to use your normal house vacuum cleaner for, like clearing dust and dirt outside or in your workshop
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How to clean the glass on your wood burning stove
Once the firebox is clean the next step is to clean any glass panels that are fitted, usually these are fitted in the doors of the wood burners.
On some large, modern, or contemporary designs glass panels are used as part of the body of the wood burners, this gives a wide view of the firebox and makes the wood burner a centerpiece to a room.
Large glass panels will look great when they are new and clean but can quickly become lined with ash and burnt residue from wood which gets close or touches the inside glass surface whilst burning.
With so much glass being used keeping it clean can seem like a chore, but it does need to be, here’s how I keep my wood burner glass panels clean.
Use a wet paper towel, dip it into some ash from the firebox, enough to lightly coat the towel, then rub it onto the dirty ash of the glass panel, using a circular motion.
This will create a light grey paste that when wiped away with a fresh clean paper towel will lift the dirt from the glass, leaving it spotless and giving a clear view of the fire inside. And best of all you don’t need any chemicals.
For more information on how to clean the glass on your wood burner check out our in-depth post here
How to dispose of the ash from a woodburner
Now that you have collected all the ash and dirt cleaned from the inside of the Woodburner and firebox, it needs to be disposed of properly.
In most cases, you can put cold ash into the waste bin for the local authority to remove, but make sure you check the requirements of your area before doing so.
But there are much better ways to utilize the ash from your wood-burning stove,
Use it in your garden, burnt wood ash contains potassium which is great for plants, and adding it to your compost or soil can improve the nutrients.
The wood ash is alkaline in nature and will help to reduce acidity levels in the soil which can help various plants grow, check out this link to the RHS for more information.
You can also use ash to protect your garden from slugs by spreading it around the base of plants, the ash acts as a desiccant and dries up the slug or snail as they try to cross it.
Wood ash can also remove odours from rooms or small spaces, by placing a small bowl inside a fridge for example can help to keep it smelling fresh.
How to clean the outside of a wood burner
Clearing out the firebox, grate, ash pan, and catch tray is the first part of cleaning a wood-burning stove,
Keeping the outside clean and looked after will mean the stove looks good and lasts for a very long time.
I use a clean, dry cloth to remove dirt and dust, from the outside of my wood burner, I also use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment to clean into any tight or awkward spaces.
Typically this is best for cleaning around the door hinges or under the stove to remove dust and cobwebs, which can be awkward to reach.
Once the surface is clean and dust-free, I check over the stove body for any issues, I am looking for any corrosion or damage, if you keep it clean there really shouldn’t be any.
I also check the joint at the top of the wood burner where the chimney pipe connects, this is usually sealed with fire cement and can need repairing as it will crack over time as it constantly heats up and cools down as the stove is used.
If the joint is loose or the fire cement is cracked, repair it using some fresh cement and fill in the gaps to prevent any leaks.
If there are any signs of damage or cracks to your wood burner, the chimney connection, or the flue it’s a good idea to have it checked by a professional chimney sweep or woodstove installer and have them repair it properly.
My Stove is made from cast iron which is coated to prevent corrosion. This is typical of most wood-burning stoves as cast iron is a good heat-sink and strong enough to cope with the temperatures that occur when burning wood.
To keep the outer and exposed surfaces protected I regularly wipe them over with stove and grate polish which comes in a small tin and looks like black boot polish.
The best way I have found to apply it is by using a small sponge the kind you can buy in supermarkets to clean dishes with.
It’s always a good idea to wear some rubber gloves to protect your hands as the stove polish is pretty messy stuff and takes quite a bit of soap and a good scrub to get off.
Simply wipe the sponge into the tin of polish and then gently apply to all the cast iron surfaces, it will immediately look darker and slightly wet, so you can see which areas you have already done.
Rub the sponge over the stove, refilling it from the tin as required, it doesn’t need much as the polish will spread quite well with the sponge.
Once I have done the outside I also clean the log guard and ash pan which can be removed from my particular stove making them easy to clean.
I use an old toothbrush to clean between the grill on the log guard, as this often gets filled with old ash which needs to be removed before the grate polish is applied.
The stove polish should be left for a few minutes to dry off before being wiped over with a clean dry cloth to remove any excess and whilst this is drying I clean the log guard and ash pan then swap over to allow them to dry off so that I am not wasting time.
How to set the Stove with kindling ready for next time
Once the outside of the stove is treated and polished, all the internal parts can be put back together ready to set the fire for next time.
The Ash pan news to be placed back into the correct position to allow it to catch ash and any vents of grates closed and in the right position.
Put the log guard back at the front of the firebox making sure it is seated fully and will not fall forwards.
Then the firebox can be set up ready for the next time you want to light the fire, I always have some well-dried kindling, stored safely inside ready to use.
I create a simple stack of kindling which has been cut into about ½” square strips, this can vary an is a really basic outline, I use two pieces to form a layer then add two more pieces across building up until I have four or five layers
Using old pallet wood split with a hatchet makes great kindling which is easy to set and use in a wood burner check out our post on how to cut and use kindling for more in-depth details
I add some old newspaper scrunched up into balls, putting them in the center of the stack of kindling.
To light the fire I place a small piece of odorless firelighter at the base of the kindling stack and a long reach lighter.
You can find out the more detailed information and tips on how to set and light a wood burner in our post
What tools do you need to clean a woodburner?
You don’t need many tools to look after or clean a wood-burning stove, but here are a few of the ones I regularly use to clean my stove
- Leather Gloves
- Garden Trowel to remove the old ash
- Waste rubbish bag To collect the old ash
- Paper towels To clean the surfaces and glass
- Water To clean the glass
- Vacuum cleaner/AshCan To clear the firebox and surrounding area
- Stove polish To keep the stove protected
- Kitchen sponge To apply the polish
- Old rag To rub-down the stove and remove excess polish
- Brush To clear up and clean awkward areas
- Dustpan To clear up any fallen ash or dust
This article was written by: Richard Quinton – The DIY Help Desk Owner, Engineer & technical specialist.
Richard is one of the key partners in The DIY Help Desk team. He is a qualified Engineer, writer, and publisher, educated to Master’s level. He is a keen advocate of DIY and home improvements.
Richard enjoys helping others to learn new skills and reach their goals and believes that passing his knowledge and experience on through his writing is an effective way to positively impact the lifestyles and well-being of others on a larger scale.