Cleaning creosote from the pipes of your wood burning stove or your fireplace chimney could mean the difference between life and death. At the least, it could save you time and energy on cutting and chopping firewood.
At our house, this is a job for my own personal chimney sweep, my husband. He likes me to know what he’s doing and why, but I usually wind up in the way so I just pass him tools and empty buckets!
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 the build up of creosote in stove pipes 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 to 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.
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
Of these factors, the type of wood you’re burning plays the major role in creosote build up. Choosing wood for clean burning is just as important as cleaning creosote from the pipes because one directly affects the difficulty of the other.
Choosing The Best Wood To Burn
Obviously, some types of trees burn cleaner than others. They create less build up and make cleaning creosote out of the pipes easier. The area you live in determines your options for the kind of wood you use. It’s important to safety and efficiency to only use seasoned wood in your wood stove or fireplace.
Besides the fact that green wood doesn’t put off as much heat, it also causes more creosote buildup quickly. In our area, Tamarack is considered top choice of wood because is has a long burn time and leaves little creosote in pipes. Because it burns so efficiently, it doesn’t leave much ash and the ash it does leave is fine and easy to clean out.
Dense hardwoods like maple and oak are higher in energy content so they provide more heat. They also burn longer than softer woods such as birch, pine, and spruce. These softer woods burn faster but produce less energy because they’re less dense.
In the deep south where I originate from, hardwoods such as oak are preferred. We would use softer woods in the spring and fall because it doesn’t get “cold” down there in those seasons which means we only need a little heat. Some wood stove installers have told me the combustion process in the newer stoves works so well you can use a wider variety of woods and receive good energy output.
Tips to Make Cleaning Creosote Easier
- Dont’ burn a lot of “trash” in your wood stove. This is especially true of all that slick paper you get as junk mail and plastics. Not only do they release dangerous toxins, they can coat the stove pipe with chemicals.
- Never burn wood that is painted or chemically treated. I’m sure this is obvious to you, but the fumes these release are deadly. At the least they can cause serious sinus problems.
- Do a morning “burn out”. First thing in the morning, burn pieces of the driest wood you have that are 2″-4″ in diameter. Open the stove vents all the way. Doing this will not only warm the area quickly, but it warms the pipes loosening the creosote build up from the past 24 hours. We found doing this every morning significantly cut down creosote build up and helped the stove run more efficiently.
- Use a chimney cleaning log. We’ve found burning a chimney cleaning log once every couple of months and especially a few days before cleaning creosote from the pipes, makes the job easier.
- During the morning burn out or when you use a chimney cleaning log, use the opportunity to check the stove and pipes for any areas where smoke may be leaking inside the house and to see if creosote drips down the pipe inside the house. Identifying these trouble spots will help you know where to focus when you are cleaning creosote from the pipes.
Tools You’ll Need When Cleaning Creosote
You may not need all of these but I wanted to share a good list with you of the tools you could expect to need in order to do the job safely and right. Your setup and type of stove will determine which you’ll need.
• A drop cloth or newspapers to protect your floor
• A chimney sweep brush
• Small hand brush
• Ash shovel
• Ash container to collect the ashes in for disposal later. We use a metal one.
• Your choice of glass cleaner and old newspaper to clean the glass door if you have one
• Screwdriver to disconnect the stove pipe where needed
• Ladder to reach top of stove pipe
*Remember: The stove and pipe should be cool before you start cleaning creosote from them.
The first step is to climb onto the roof and inspect the pipe, area around the pipe, and pipe cap for any signs of damage and make any repairs needed.
Next, clean the pipe with your chimney sweep brush. Be sure to check the instructions which came with your brush and your stove to see if there’s anything special you need to do before, during or after you sweep the pipe.
Of course, you clean the pipe from the top so gravity will carry the creosote down into the stove. When you’re done sweeping, remove the ash and creosote from the stove using your ash bucket.
If you have any trouble spots along the pipe, disassemble that section and check for buildup. It’s usually in elbows where any problems occur.
Be sure to sweep out the ash pan compartment and add it to the ash bucket. It’s important to empty or set the ash bucket in a safe area outside in case of 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.
I like a glass door on a wood stove. There’s just something entrancing about watching a fire burn. Being able to see the fire means keeping the glass door clean. Since the stove is cool and clean, now’s a good time to clean the glass.
Now, you’re finished cleaning creosote from your stove pipes or chimney. Do you feel like a pro?
Share your own special tips and experience on cleaning creosote with us in the comments below.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack
A special thank you to my own personal chimney sweep for all his input!