Cleaning Your Woodstove – How To Handle Ash

Whether you have a wood burning stove, an open fireplace or a even a pellet stove; you will have to regularly remove the ash. Modern stoves are usually designed with ingenious moving grates and trays to make ash clearing easier and some simple tools can help keep the place tidy.

One of the big complaints home owners have about heating with wood is the mess that can be generated – bark and dirt brought in on the fire wood or ash from clearing up.

Emptying The Ash Pan
You stove will have come with instructions for emptying the ash, but as a general rule they should not be emptied completely – a layer of ash protects the metal of the stove and helps control the intensity of the fire. You should aim to leave half an inch or so in the fire box.

If your stove has an ash pan built into it lift it out carefully and place the whole thing inside a plastic bag. Gently tip the ash off the pan into the bag, but keeping the top of the bag closed. In this way the ash does not fly up and get scattered around the hearth.

If you do not have an ash pan you can use a small metal ash shovel to lift ashes directly from the hearth – again put the whole shovel in the bag before tipping. If you have done this carefully enough you should now have a carrier bag full of ashes ready to dispose of, and no mess!

Safety Point : While the ashes may appear cold they can still have a hot ember lurking in the bottom ready to start a fire. Never store ashes in plastic buckets or dispose of in plastic wheelie bins. They have been known to start a fire off up to a week later!

Disposing Of The Ashes
What to do with ashes is always a bit of a question – your roses or fruit trees might benefit from some, but they certainly will not want to be buried by a heap 2 inches deep. What ever you choose to do with them, if you are not using them immediately transfer them to a metal container and store them outside.

Here are some suggestions for how to use them:

  • As driveway deicer – just sprinkle over the path as you would salt
  • As fertilizer in your garden – plants love ashes in moderation, a light dusting on the top of the soil or lawn will soon be washed in or a thicker layer spread around the base of fruit canes will feed the roots and keep weeds down.
  • Keep some near your compost heap so you can mix in small amounts when you add your garden waste – the nutrients will end up spread through your compost – just make sure it is thinly mixed and not dumped in a big load.
  • Ash is a very gentle abrasive – add a bit of water and you can use it to polish brass or clean the glass door of your stove
  • A small amount of ash added to a pond can help promote beneficial plants if you have an algae problem.
  • Tomato feed – bury half a cup in the hole when you plant your tomatoes – they are hungry feeders and will love it.
  • Block slugs and snails – they do not like slithering over ashes or charcoal – put a ring around delicate plants to protect them

Even though, you may find the quantity more than you can use – we now have a dumping spot out of sight under a hedge.

Cleaning Around Your Stove
After using your stove, and especially after emptying the ashes, there may be a small amount of cleaning up to do.

Ideally your stove will be mounted on a hard smooth surface such as stone or concrete, and will have a lip around the heart area to prevent detritus spreading. A simple dustpan and brush can be used to sweep up any litter, including ash.

Things get a bit more complicated when the floor is not perfectly level, such as a brick plinth with lumps and bumps for the mortar. Sweeping is a good first step, but then you need to follow up with the vacuum cleaner.