Got a wood burning stove but don’t have the first clue as to how to go about cleaning it?
Wood burning stoves not only provide your home with warmth but being able to watch the flames adds a luxury atmosphere to any room. The disadvantage, however, is just how quickly they get dirty and full of soot. The external surfaces can also rapidly fade and become rusty. This not only takes away from the look of the appliance but additionally makes it unsafe and less efficient.
The more modern your stove is, the more likely that it includes attributes which make it a lot easier to clean, such as being made from a cast iron casing and having a removable ash pan and air wash feature to keep the glass clean. However, it will still need regular maintenance and upkeep.
How often you do this is up to you, but it is recommended that you thoroughly clean the interior every month and possibly even more during winter when it is regularly used. It is also advised that at least once per year, the chimney/flue is cleaned out, and the exterior look of your appliance is enhanced. For this, you will need:
A floor cover/old newspaper
Metal ash shovel
Metal bucket/can with lid
Stain blocker/stove paint
Home-made window cleaner – one-part vinegar to two-parts water, with a squeeze of dish soap
Steel wool, if you need to remove rust patches
It is best if you clean your wood burning stove in an outdoor area to prevent any mess, but this may not be possible due to inclement weather or it being too heavy to move. So, before you do anything, some form of covering should be placed on your indoor flooring to protect it from any soot or spillages from cleaning products. Put down an old bedsheet, newspaper or a plastic/fabric covering for use when painting. Also make sure your burner has completely cooled, as this not only protects you from burns and scalds but will also ensure any product used to coat the exterior is placed on the ideal surface and won’t streak/melt.
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If your model comes with a removable ash pan, empty this into the bucket first, which will remove the majority of residue inside your appliance. Brush it clean to check there is none leftover. If you have a burner without this feature, use your shovel to get rid of any debris and deposit instead. Do this all gently, so you don’t release any ash particles into the air. Be aware that, even if the surface of your burner is fully cooled, some of the cinders may still be hot depending on when it was last operated (hence the use of metal removal products – never use plastic). Clean the internal surfaces as required using the brush.
It is vital that you store the removed ash on a non-flammable surface outside for approximately 48 hours before disposal, with the metal lid firmly in place. This ensures that any hot embers remaining will have a chance to completely cool. The pile can be disposed of in your garden after this period, as ashes which derive from untreated wood can be used as a fertiliser.
Check the seal of the door next; this should be clean and free of any excess ash. The brush or a damp cloth can be used to guarantee this.
The glass should be cleaned whenever ash starts to build up, and the good news is that there is no need to use metal scourers or harsh chemical cleaners to do this. If the soot has built up quite a lot, you may find it less time-consuming to buy a product which has specifically been created for use on glass within a wood burning stove. However, dipping some scrunched-up newspaper into a bit of water and then into some of the residual ash is a lot more environmentally friendly and cost-effective, plus won’t leave a horrible smell behind. Rub this onto the glass, and you should start to see the difference straight away. It’ll take a bit more elbow grease than dedicated cleaners but will provide a use for some of the leftover ash.
If there are any stubborn burnt-on parts, a piece of cold charcoal dipped in water will remove them but be careful as not to press down too hard and scratch the glass. Once it is clean, use a cloth to wipe down with your vinegar-based window cleaning solution and thoroughly dry with paper towel.
If your wood burning stove is used to boil water or cook/heat up food, the outside will probably be covered in quite a few splashes and marks, and possibly even rust patches. Brush away any dirt that is sitting on the surface, and then vacuum if possible using a handheld brush attachment. The steel wool will come in handy if there are any rust patches on the surface; remove by using circular motions and brush down afterwards.
Don’t scrub too hard as this could make the surface very uneven and scratched. Try to avoid using liquid-based cleaning products on the outside of your cast iron wood burner as this can leave streaks if not properly dried, particularly on black surfaces.
If your appliance has faded slightly with use, you may wish to apply a coat of stove paint/stain block. This should be done at least once per year. It is usually available in tin or aerosol form and is heat resistant so won’t peel away when the stove is in use. A paper towel or dry cloth can be used to rub it in well and reapply once dried if necessary, to give a darker colour. The ideal product will differ depending on your specific appliance, so check with the manufacturer as to which polish is best for your individual needs.
To dry the polish thoroughly, light the fire. Ensure the room is well ventilated by opening all windows, as the coating will give off some fumes at first. To get the fire going, you may wish to retain some of the ash or make use of the old paper towels.
There is more to your stove than just the wood-burning interior. The flue pipe carries any fume waste out of the furnace and can become lined with tar and deposits. This may cause blockages and mean any fumes will not be taken away as efficiently.
You can hire a professional chimney sweeper which will save yourself a lot of effort, or you can attempt this yourself. There are plenty of accessories available, such as wire chimney brushes, but remember to lay down dust sheets and wear safety goggles/gloves as it is an incredibly messy process. This should be done at the end of every heating season to avoid soot fires and assist with environmental combustion.