While most homeowners are confident in their ability to safely use their wood burning stoves and fireplaces, many are misinformed when it comes to dealing with the embers and ashes left behind after a fire. Correctly removing, storing, and disposing of ashes can help a fireplace burn more efficiently, help avoid ash or soot stains to interior furnishings, and help prevent accidental fire. Improper disposal of ashes can even lead to accidental house fire, as recently happened with a family in Hartford County.
Even if a fire looks like it has been completely extinguished, hot coals and embers can remain hidden in the ashes. When these embers are once again exposed to oxygen they can reignite, causing anything around them to ignite as well. Because of this, even cold ashes should be treated as a fire hazard and should never be stored near flammable materials. According to forestry officials , “Wood ashes retain enough heat to ignite other combustible materials for several days.”
How to dispose of ashes
The first step in the proper disposal of ashes is ensuring that a fire has completely burned itself out and that no remaining hot coals or embers remain. This can be done in most fireplaces by simply closing the glass doors or screens and letting the fire naturally extinguish overnight. However, the flue should be left open during this time to ensure that no gasses or smoke back up into the room. The next morning, stir the ashes and feel for any pockets of warmth. If the ashes are completely cold, they can be safely transferred.
While it may seem convenient, vacuums should not be used to remove ashes from the fireplace. The fine dust particles are more likely to become airborne than to be sucked up into the vacuum, causing soot to coat interior walls and furnishings. If a vacuum is going to be used, only those with HEPA filters are recommended.
How to store ashes
Ashes should be kept in a specially designated metal ash container that both sits off the ground and has a tight fitting lid. Ash containers should also have long handles for easy carrying and transporting. Ash bins should never be stored near any combustible materials, including being stored in garages or on porches. Instead, place the ash container a safe distance away from any buildings or woodpiles.
Ashes should never be kept in cardboard boxes, paper bags, or regular trashcans or dumpsters. Any trapped hot embers could ignite these containers or their contents, creating an accidental fire. Likewise, metal ash containers that are flimsy, rusted, or have holes should not be used.
Many homeowners have found a variety of different and unique ways to use their fireplace ashes. One of the most popular and common uses for leftover ashes is to use them as garden fertilizer. Small amounts of ashes from quality hardwoods can be added once a year to flower beds, vegetable gardens, and compost piles. Likewise, ashes are a natural insecticide and can be sprinkled along the edges of garden plots to repel slugs and snails. Finally, during the winter ashes can be sprinkled on driveways or sidewalks to help prevent slipping on ice. However, this can lead to dirty shoes; leave them outside or in a mudroom to prevent tracking ash and soot into the house.