A wood burning fireplace (or wood burning stove for that matter) is a wonderful item to enjoy during the fall and winter months. The snap and crackle of burning wood. The orange glow through the fireplace glass. The warmth that permeates the room. A wood fire feels homey and comforting.
Yet as fires are built from day-to-day, ashes builds up. At some point, it must be cleaned out. If not, it will spill out onto the hearth. To prevent this messy situation, periodic ash removal becomes a regular chore of fireplace or wood burning stove use. But do you know how to safely dispose of fireplace ashes? We have all heard the stories of how a house fire was started with fireplace ashes. Don’t become a statistic, learn how to safely dispose of ashes.
According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America there as several reasons why it is important to remove ashes. 1) if the layer of ashes is deep enough that it comes into contact with the grate… the grate may burn out resulting in a much shorter life span than normal. 2) a very deep layer of ashes reduces the volume of wood that can be placed in the fireplace (or wood stove).
Basic Tools Needed
- ash bucket – container made of non-flammable material such as metal or earthenware
- ash shovel – a specialized tool or even a metal trowel could be used as a substitute
- fire resistant gloves – help prevent accidental burns
- face mask (optional) – reduce chance of inhaling ash
With tools in hand, you are now ready to remove ashes from your fireplace. If possible, wait 24 hours after the last fire burned in the fireplace. This gives time for the ashes and any remaining pieces of wood to have cooled down. Now during winter months, wood fires may be constant or with very little downtime between fires. If this is the case, it is even more important to handle wood ashes safely.
Open the screen, fireplace door (or wood stove door). Place the ash bucket in front of opening. Reach in with the ash shovel and scoop out the ashes. If there are live coals, push those towards the back or off to the side. Do not remove them and leave a thin layer of ash around them. By doing so, it will make it easier to start your next fire. The ash acts as an insulator for the coals.
Once you have removed a sufficient amount of ashes from the combustion chamber of the fireplace (or wood stove), place the ash bucket in a cool, well-ventilated area away from combustible materials such as newspapers, cardboard, rags, etc… You may also place the ash bucket outdoors, but be sure to place in a location where it cannot be knocked over by winds or curious animals. Even when the ash bucket is placed outdoors, remember to keep away from dried leaves and firewood.
Safety Precautions When Handling Ashes
- treat all ashes as hot
- wait at least 24 hours after a fire before removing ashes
- do not add live embers to the ash bucket
- do not add anything combustible to ash bucket
- place lid over the ash bucket to reduce the possibility of oxygen reaching a live ember or smoldering ashes in the ash bucket
- store the ash bucket (with ashes) in a well ventilated location as ashes may contain live coals (embers) from which carbon monoxide emits
- do not place ash bucket (with ashes) next to anything combustible
- pour a little water over ashes in ash bucket (think of properly extinguishing campfires), but do this in an outdoor setting in case of live embers or smoldering ashes or….
- allow ash bucket to sit for at least three days before disposing of ashes
When it comes to disposing of cold ashes, they can be bagged up and placed in the trash. Or if you are a gardener, they can be sprinkled across garden beds or worked into compost bins.
With these tips, you too, can stay safe during wood burning season.
Liz (Eight Acres) says
Great tips. I put the ash from our woodstove in our garden. I have learnt to wait for them to cool though as I once caught the mulch on fire!
Thank you. Waiting for the ashes to cool can be a test of patience. While we try to leave the embers in the fireplace, sometimes a couple sneak into the ashes. Oh… I hope everything was ok once you put out the mulch fire.
For 15 years we had a wood stove as our only source of heat. We had a can that looked like a small trash can with a lid and a wire handle. We would scoop ash (and embers if need be) into that and then set it outside away from anything flamable. Worked great! When the bucket was full we would either use the ash in the yard or put it in the trash. The lid was great because it helped to snuff out the embers more quickly.
Sounds like you had a great ash bucket. Those with lids are especially nice for just the reason you listed.
Toni, Oh my goodness! Why in the world didn’t I think of this. I have one exactly like you describe! I’ve been using a galvanized slop bucket with no lid, taking it out to the spigot and running water in it, very inconvenient and not exactly safe. Thanks!
You are welcome. We use our ash bucket weekly given how often we have a fire going in our wood stove. Ash buckets certainly make it convenient to store and dispose of ash.
I’ve often heard recommendation for spreading ashes in the garden, compost, or lawn. I’m not as clear on just how much to spread to each and how often. I know it can be overdone and suspect that it may also depend at least partly on what is being planted as plants prefer different pH levels.
Do you have any general “rule-of-thumb” suggestions?
When it comes to spreading ash in the garden, I recommend doing a soil test first so if your soil will benefit from it. Wood ash is alkaline in nature. The more alkaline the soil (if the soil pH is already above 7.0), the harder it is for plants to draw up certain nutrients: copper, zinc, phosphorous, and iron are examples of nutrients. An example of how much wood ash to add (from Purdue University) is no more than 20 pounds per 100sq ft annually. But it must be worked into the top 6″ of soil rather than just dumping over the surface. More acidic soils (less than5.5 pH) will benefit the most from the addition of wood ash. And if you have acid loving plants, do not spread wood ash around them.
If you use woodchips on garden, woodchips have a neutral ph and the ashes would benefit will the minerals. Woodchips retain moisture. Just have to make sure ashes are not still lit. Been adding ashes to garden for years.
We add some ash to our garden as well.
We use our wood ash as a replacement for sand on slick, icy paths and roadways. Works so incredibly well!
Yes it does.
Appreciate your calling attention to the dangers of embers in the ashes. They can stay hot enough to start a fire for several days. If you can sort them out, and just remove the ash, using a tool like this ember and ash separator you can keep your fire going continuously: http://seasoningfirewood.com/embersieve-firewood-tool/.
I haven’t tried one of those tools, but I am intrigued.
I wonder whether I can spread the ash over the snow that covers my lawn for about 7 months of the year. Is it good for my grass when spring finally arrives in May or even June? I’m not a chemist and I don’t really understand the ph discussion. What is optimal for a green yard in summer?
Ash is alkaline. If you are interested in spreading over your lawn (or even garden beds) have your soil tested to see if it would benefit from the addition of ash.
C. Wayne says
I emptied my ashes into my steel bucket with lid, then went back to clean up the area with our $500 miele hepa vacuum cleaner. A small ember must have been on the floor, nestled in the dust bag with lots of air passing thru, and within seconds my vacuum looked like a locamotive. Ran outside with it, but too late, melted the entire inside. Just an fyi. Sometimes it pays to clean up later, lol.
We always wait to empty our ashes…at least one day after a fire. It is amazing how long embers can stay warm/hot while nestled in the ashes.
Millie Hue says
Thanks for helping me understand that ashes should be kept away from possible causes of fire even from dried leaves. I will keep that in mind once we have our own fireplace in our dream house. This is because it is our first time to be having a fireplace since the place we’ve always lived in never have snow.
I have known too many people that have accidentally set outbuildings or other pieces of property on fire because of hot embers buried in the ash. Stay safe.
Does using wood Ash to melt ice on walkways/driveway mean that the ashes get everywhere/ tracked into the house, etc?
I’ve not used wood ash in an attempt to melt ice on sidewalks or driveways. I wait until the ash is cool before removing from the fireplace. Also, it would create a mess if used on either the sidewalk or driveway.