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Safely Scooping Fireplace Ash

You’ve heard it said that where there’s smoke there’s fire. We would point out that if your fire is burning well, smoke may not even be visible leaving your chimney. And we’d add that where there’s a wood fire, there most definitely will be wood ash!

These two things – a clear fire and wood ash – are related. Maintaining an appropriate level of ash in your wood-burning stove, fireplace, or insert, coupled with using properly seasoned logs for your fire, will ensure an efficient, clean-burning blaze.

If a hot, clean fire is your goal – and trust us, it ought to be – then you’ll need to know when and how to clear out ash from your firebox.

Shovel, Remove, Repeat

wood burning with an ash pileClearing out ash is simple enough.

  • Wait at least 24-72 hours after your most recent fire to allow ashes to cool.
  • Use a sturdy metal fireplace shovel to scoop ash to a level of about one inch in your fireplace.
  • Place scooped ash into a container. Your container should only be fireproof with a securely fitting lid, such as a lidded metal bin.
  • Remove your container to a place outside your home that’s not close to any structure that could combust.

Keep in mind that embers buried in ash may retain heat for a long time. Even after they appear cool, hot embers are able to ignite a fire for days under the right conditions. Treat ashes like they’re hot even if you don’t think they are. Wear heat-resistant gloves while using your shovel to remove ash, and don’t place anything flammable near your ash container until you’re certain the contents are completely cool.

After ashes are cool, dispose of them – or better yet, save them for one of their many potential uses around your property.

Why Leave Some Ash Behind?

If you’re going to the trouble of clearing out ash, why not just scoop it all?

Well, the goal is producing the best possible fire crackling away in your fireplace, and this goal is achieved more readily with the help of that layer of ash.

You want to minimize any smoldering (which is a fire with smoke, but little flame) when using your fireplace. Smoldering can be detrimental to air quality, heat output, and system cleanliness. Rather, we want bright flames, generous heat output, and complete combustion of logs. When a fire is burning well, there shouldn’t be smoke visible, and flue gases should be hot so they vent properly.

A thin layer of ash aids in combustion, as new fires will be easier to light on a bed of ash. Because of its insulating properties, energy from your fire won’t be wasted warming bricks to the level necessary for your blaze to thrive.

When Is It Too Much?

Now, some ash is good, but don’t let it go too far. After a while, enough ash will accumulate that it becomes a hindrance rather than a help. It’ll reduce air supply to your logs, making it more difficult to start a fire and resulting in more smoke. At this point, you know some ash needs to be cleared out to maintain that one inch level.

Also, after your last fire of the season, you’ll want to do a total clean-out, as leaving ash in the firebox year-round can create havoc in your system. When combined with moisture, ash left sitting can corrode the floor of your firebox and cause damage to your system.

Taking Advantage of Ash

close up view of bucket with ashEnjoying your fire leaves you with ash. But it’s not just waste – it has beneficial properties that can be put to work in your home and garden. After all, since you’re producing wood ash as you heat your home, you may as well use it! 

Savvy gardeners know that fine, moisture-drawing wood ash is useful in deterring ants, snails and slugs in the garden. Encircling plants that tend to attract slugs with ash will discourage them from eating them since snails and slugs don’t like to cross substances that pull moisture. Ash can also be used as a soil amendment if your soil’s pH needs to be elevated, and it can be sprinkled on your compost pile to add a generous helping of potassium and neutralize acidity.

It’s also useful underfoot in increasing traction on icy surfaces, and its moisture- and odor-absorbing properties make it great help for minimizing odors. Keep a small, open dish in the fridge to avoid stink. You can also rub it on a pet who’s had a close encounter with a skunk.

Keeping Your Fireplace Working for You

There are many ways to get the most from your fireplace. In addition to maintaining an appropriate level of ash and practicing fireplace safety, staying on top of maintenance and servicing is critical. The freeze/thaw cycle, wear, and bad weather can cause chimney system deterioration, and soot and creosote can build up in your flue over time.

We know you do what you can to keep your home safer and more comfortable, so partner with us when it’s time for your annual inspection or chimney sweeping. We’ll put our expertise to work for you. We have over two decades of experience and certifications that keep us on top of all industry standards, so we know what we’re looking for and how to achieve it.

Let us help you keep your system in tip-top shape. Call 973-450-1947 or reach out online now.

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