How to clean your wood burning stove – a Household Guide

One of the main factors to consider when looking to purchase a new stove is cleaning and maintenance. Gas stoves require little or no maintenance besides a yearly service carried out by a registered Gas Safe engineer (this is required for the manufacturer warranty).

Although most solid-fuel type stoves do not require a yearly service via a regulated body such as HETAS, you are required to have the flue pipe swept regularly to comply with warranty terms and conditions.

Here we will cover general cleaning and maintenance for wood burning and multi-fuel stoves.

How often do I need to clean my wood burning stove?

As a general rule of thumb it is recommended to perform the steps below every 4-6 weeks. In colder months your stove is likely to be fired up more often, so more regular cleaning intervals may be required.

General Notes:

-Always ensure the stove and flue are completely cooled down before carrying out any cleaning/maintenance work.

-For optimum life span of the stove, and for easy cleaning, only burn dry/clean wood where possible.

-Avoid throwing debris into the burning stove – this can cause excessive soot to build up in the chimney/flue, affecting the overall performance of the stove and flue pipe.

-It is recommended to burn your stove at maximum output for at least 30 minutes every day during winter months, to help combat excessive soot building up in the chimney/flue.

-Avoid leaving ash indoors for a long period of time, as this can be hazardous (see step 2 below). The ash should be left to stand in a covered, non-combustible container outdoors, for up to 24 hours before composting.

Please be mindful that wind can cause embers to reignite, so be careful when disposing of solid-fuel waste.

Items you will require:

  • Protective Gloves
  • Dust Mask
  • Dust Sheet
  • Metal Dust-Pan (not plastic!)
  • Hand brush
  • Metal storage container
  • Lint-free cloth/rags
  • Kitchen/Paper Towels
  • Foam Glass Cleaner (optional, see step 3 below)
  • #0000 grade wire wool
  • Stove spray/paint (if you wish to touch up any scratches)

Step 1:

Once you are satisfied the stove and its contents are cold to touch, begin with laying down a large dust sheet to cover the hearth, under the stove and over the carpet/floor area immediately in front. Ensure your dust mask is correctly fitted to avoid unwanted exposure to harmful particles.

Very carefully remove the ash-tray (if multi-fuel stove) which is located at the very bottom/underside of the stove, or – if a wood burning stove – simply open the front glass door and begin with gathering any loose ash into a central pile using a hand brush.

Note that the ash is very fine, so any heavy-handed movements are likely to kick up dangerous ash particles.

Gently gather the ash into the metal dustpan and lower into the metal container. With the wood burning stove, you will need to leave a small pile of ash over the centre of the fuel bed to help with starting a new fire.

IMPORTANT: The metal ash container should be taken outdoors, as carbon monoxide can build up if stored indoors. It is recommended to leave the ash in a covered container outside for a further 24 hours before composting.

The grate on your multi-fuel stove may be removable and, along with the ash pan, can now also be cleaned down outdoors. It’s best to dry brush any detachable accessories such as ash pans, grates and fire bricks, to avoid rusting.

Before replacing the accessories, use a regular household vacuum and a small brush attachment (to avoid damaging the paint on your stove), to remove any dust/soot/ash that may have built up on the exterior surface and behind the stove.

Step 2:

Once the ash has been removed and the detachable components of the multi-fuel stove have been cleaned, the stove should be inspected for any damage which will need to be addressed before further use. Here’s a list of things to look out for:

  • Carefully check both the inner and outer glass for any chips or cracks.
  • Check the rope seal around the fire-door is secure and snugly fitted into the recess within the door. Check for damage all around the rope, and visually inspect there are no gaps between the contact of the rope and the stove when the door is closed.
  • Check the door handle/lock mechanisms are working correctly.
  • Check the base of the flue pipe, and look for any fire cement which may have cracked or come away.
  • Check the internal area of the stove, and inspect the fire brick for damage/cracks.
  • Consider whether the flue pipe/chimney needs a sweep (see below).

Step 3:

The glass door can be cleaned using various foam based and compound based cleaners, available to buy from most fireplace showrooms. You could also try dabbing a damp kitchen towel into some ash and rubbing this into the surface of the glass in big circular motions. Similar to the compound based cleaners, the fine grain cuts into the surface, removing any impurities that may have built up on the the glass. Finally, buff with a clean kitchen towel or a lint-free cloth.

How do I know if I need a chimney sweep?

An excessive build-up of soot in the chimney or flue liner can cause harmful fumes to circulate. The best way to ensure that your chimney is free of excess soot is to use it as often as possible.

Certain types of stoves and fuel types are more prone to soot build-up than others. For example, if you have a multi-fuel stove, you should aim to have the chimney/flue swept every 12 months, whereas wood burning stoves generally only require a chimney sweep every six months.

There are, of course, other general day-to-day maintenance measures you can take to make life easier for yourself when the time arrives for those big annual or biannual cleans. If you are able to get into a routine with these, you can reduce the accumulation of ash, soot and creosote tars, and prolong the life of your stove.