Cleaning creosote from the pipes of your wood-burning stove or your fireplace chimney could mean the difference between life and death.
Chimney fires happen every year from creosote buildup. Learn how to clean your own chimneys with this easy step-by-step guide.
Living off-the-grid, we use wood fire to heat our house and our water, and we cook with our wood cookstove. As you can imagine, we burn a LOT of wood.
When you maintain clean pipes on your wood stove, it will burn more efficiently and be safer in general. Did you know, according to the EPA, nearly 7% of all home fires in the U.S. can be contributed to by the buildup of creosote in stovepipes or chimneys?
If you live in a cold climate like we do, then you’re running your wood stove every day, probably all day. This can make us complacent about the reality of needing to maintain a cleaning schedule.
We put a mark on the calendar and use our phones to set reminders. Even though you’re using your stove every day, creosote is building up a little at a time in there.
What Is Creosote?
Creosote is a complex and flammable residue that forms as a byproduct of the incomplete combustion of wood or other organic fuels in heating appliances like wood stoves and fireplaces.
Comprising a mixture of tar, soot, and other organic compounds, creosote gradually accumulates on the interior surfaces of chimney walls and stovepipes.
Over time, it can solidify into a sticky and highly combustible substance. Creosote poses a significant fire hazard, as it can ignite and lead to chimney fires if not regularly and effectively removed through proper maintenance and cleaning.
Additionally, the accumulation of creosote reduces the efficiency of heating appliances and may result in the release of harmful substances into the home, underscoring the importance of vigilant fireplace and stove maintenance.
Understanding Creosote Build-Up
Just how quickly creosote can build up in your pipes or chimney depends on a few factors.
- The temperature outside
- The quality and efficiency of the stove and pipes
- The kind of wood you’re burning
To find the best wood to burn and other important firewood information. The Best Tips For Firewood Storage
Of these factors, the type of wood you’re burning plays a major role in creosote buildup.
Choosing wood for clean-burning is just as important as cleaning creosote from the pipes. Because one directly affects the other’s difficulty.
The Dangers of Chimney Sweeping Logs
Chimney Sweeping Logs are logs you burn in your fireplace to help remove creosote buildup. They are made with toxic chemicals and produce harmful fumes.
CSL are logs impregnated with a potent chemical mixture that can alter the adhesive composition of the creosote layer, turning it into a brittle or powdery texture.
The smoke from creosote sweeping logs contains active minerals and additives that are carried up the flue and settle on the creosote deposit.
Over the course of subsequent fires, the active chemicals in the vapors alter the glazed nature of the deposits, making it easy for the chimney sweep professional to break it down and clean the chimney.
In addition to the toxic and harmful chemicals, CSL’s can leave flammable creosote ash in bends in stovepipes or chimneys, where it can later cause fires.
The Washington Public Fire Educators states “The use of these products alone is not an adequate substitute for mechanical chimney cleaning and inspection because it does not provide for the same level of protection to the chimney system.” They also state that the use of these logs can increase the risk of chimney fires because of the creosote ash they leave behind.
Selecting the Optimal Wood for Burning
Naturally, certain tree varieties yield a cleaner burn compared to others, resulting in reduced residue and simplified creosote removal from pipes.
Your geographical location dictates the wood options available for your use, emphasizing the importance of exclusively employing seasoned wood in your wood stove or fireplace for both safety and efficiency.
In addition to the diminished heat output of green wood, it accelerates creosote accumulation. In our region, situated in the Smoky Mountains, wood is chosen as the preferred option due to its prolonged burning duration and minimal creosote residue in pipes. Its efficient combustion not only leaves scant ash, but the residue is also fine and easily manageable.
Denser hardwoods like maple and oak boast higher energy content, delivering increased heat and longer burn times. In contrast, softer woods like birch, pine, and spruce burn more rapidly but generate less energy due to their lower density.
If you need help finding firewood near you, we have tips for you to read here in our article Firewood Near Me – And Where Can I Can Free Firewood?
In the South, the preference is for hardwoods like oak. Softer woods are utilized during the spring and fall seasons, given the relatively mild temperatures during these periods, requiring only a minimal amount of heat.
Certain wood stove installers have conveyed that the combustion process in modern stoves is highly efficient, allowing for the use of a broader range of woods while still achieving satisfactory energy output.
This is our Redneck Fire Alarm- when the popcorn starts to poppin
Tips to Make Cleaning Creosote Easier
- When using your wood stove, exercise caution against burning materials deemed “trash,” particularly glossy paper from junk mail and plastics. Not only do these items release harmful toxins, but they can also leave a chemical coating on the stove pipe.
- It is imperative to avoid burning wood that has been painted or chemically treated due to the potentially lethal fumes they emit, which can, at the very least, result in severe sinus problems.
- Enhance your stove’s efficiency and minimize creosote buildup by incorporating a morning “burn out” routine. Utilize dry wood pieces with a diameter of 2″-4″ and open the stove vents fully. This not only rapidly warms the area but also heats the pipes, effectively loosening creosote accumulated over the past 24 hours.
- During the morning burnout or when using an eco-friendly chimney cleaning log, take the opportunity to inspect the stove and pipes for potential smoke leaks into the house. Additionally, check for any creosote drips down the pipe. Identifying these issues during the inspection will provide guidance on where to focus your efforts when cleaning creosote from the pipes.
How To Clean Creosote Buildup From Your Stovepipe
We prefer conducting chimney cleaning in the middle of the day when the sun is shining, allowing us to abstain from using the stove for a couple of hours without feeling the chill.
This practice extends beyond the wood-burning season, as we also perform chimney cleaning before the season begins and at its conclusion.
When it comes to cleaning creosote, it’s essential to have the right tools on hand. While you may not require all of them, I’d like to provide you with a comprehensive list to ensure the task is carried out safely and effectively.
Keep in mind that your specific setup and the type of stove you have will dictate which tools are necessary.
- A drop cloth or newspapers to protect your floor.
- Chimney sweep brush.
- Small hand brush.
- Ash shovel.
- Fireproof container to collect the ashes in for disposal later. We use a metal one.
- Our homemade glass cleaner.
- Old newspaper to clean the glass door, if you have one.
- Screwdriver to disconnect the stove pipe where needed.
- Ladder to reach the top of the stove pipe.
*Remember: The stove and pipe should be cool before you start cleaning creosote from them.
Our Chimney Sweep Brush. We also have three 6ft handle extensions to reach the down the entire length of our stove pipe.
Only perform this task if you have someone with you, have proper safety gear, and are comfortable climbing roofs.
- Begin the chimney cleaning process by ascending onto the roof to inspect the pipe, the surrounding area, and the pipe cap for signs of damage, promptly addressing any necessary repairs.
- Remove the chimney cap.
- Utilize the chimney sweep brush to thoroughly clean the pipe. Refer to the instructions provided with both the brush and stove to ensure compliance with any specific guidelines before, during, or after the sweeping process.
- Conduct the cleaning procedure from the top to allow gravity to guide the creosote downward into the stove.
- Upon completion of the sweeping task, use the ash bucket to remove both ash and creosote from the stove. Pay special attention to challenging areas along the pipe, disassembling those sections to check for buildup, particularly in elbows where problems commonly arise.
- Sweep out the ash pan compartment and include its contents in the ash bucket.
- Ensure that the ash bucket is emptied or securely placed in an outdoor location to prevent potential issues with cinders.
- We use our wood ashes in the garden and compost. Your poultry will appreciate it if you add them to DE for their dust baths. Check out our article, 10 Amazing Ways To Use Wood Ash.
Cleaning Creosote From Your Stove Tips
I love having a glass door on my wood stove—something about watching the fire is memorizing. Gotta keep that glass clean, though. Now that the stove is all cool and tidy, it’s the perfect time to give the glass a good clean.
Having successfully completed the task of removing creosote from your stove pipes or chimney, do you happen to possess any intriguing anecdotes or insightful tips related to stove cleaning or managing creosote?
Feel free to drop them in the comments section or send us an email and we’ll add them to the article to share with others.