Do chimney powders work? Are there any dangers?

How effective are creosote powder cleaners?  The brand I have is [****], and the active ingredient is cupric chloride.  Are there any dangers to the use of this material, and are the ashes of concern as far as toxicity is concerned?

Thanks for your help, James

Hi James,

Here is an excerpt from the Wood Energy Technical Training reference manual, part of the Canadian training and certification system for wood heat technicians and inspectors:

" Chloride-based powders, containing copper, zinc, or other metals, are the oldest form of chimney chemical. The active ingredients in these powders are the heavy metals and chlorides which have the corrosive qualities of salt. Chloride-based powders are effective only at high temperatures, so they are sprinkled on an intense fire. Tests have shown that this form of anti-creosote powder is not particularly effective and the chloride-based powders attack steel and cast iron. Therefore, chloride-based powders are not recommended."

I would also point out it has been found more recently that the combustion of organic materials (like wood) in the presence of chlorines/chlorides, such as salt, bleach, plastics and so on, promotes the formation of the toxic pollutants dioxin and furan.

The best way to remove chimney deposits is through brushing. If deposits form quickly or are difficult to remove, the problem is fuel quality and firing technique.

If you really must use a chemical treatment, look for manganese based liquids. They actually work somewhat if used correctly.



What to do about rust on a stove?

Hello, I have a question. We recently had installed a used wood burning stove that was in perfect condition when we got it this past spring, but with all the humidity we have experienced this summer, it has started to show some rust. What is the best way to deal with the rust. Is there something we should do to protect it? Perhaps some kind of oil? Moving it and painting it is not an option.

Thank you, Barbara


I have painted many stoves right where they are with no problems.

Stove paint (at least the good stuff like Stove Bright) dries almost instantly, and the cans have good nozzles that enable you to do a great job without a lot of over-spray. Use a cardboard shield to do edges, and open the windows and you'll have your problem solved in 10 minutes. Of course you'll have to steel wool off the rust first.


How do I maintain my axe?

I am looking for good, specific information on maintaining axes. How to sharpen properly, is it good practice to put axes in water for a while to keep the handle from drying out and preventing the the axe head from loosening, etc.


I don't think there is much to maintaining an axe, at least I've never had any problem. Here's what I do: I use a bench grinder to do general shaping and nick removal, then I use a standard file to sharpen or touch it up.

I've never found soaking in water to be all that useful. I think it is better to do a good installation of a new handle using wood wedges and glue. My experience is that if the handle is put on properly once, it won't come loose.



Can I sweep my own chimney?

Thank you very much for the information supplied in your site. I was afraid to use my huge silver maple as firewood and now you make it clear that it will work fine if used properly. I have a question though - I am an avid do-it your-selfer and would like to do my own chimney sweeping. I have very easy access to my chimney and the chimney is a straight shot down only 13 feet.  Is there any way I can be allowed to do this myself with limited education related to my specific situation? Where can I find the proper equipment and instruction?

Best regards, Paul


Certainly you can clean your own chimney.  If access is as easy as you say, I could even do it!

Sweeping equipment is available at any good fireplace specialty store, and some hardware and big box building supply stores.  The brush needs to fit the chimney properly, which is to say snug, but not too tight.  If your chimney is masonry, you may have to trim the bristles of a wire or plastic brush to fit its shape. Metal chimneys and liners are easy to get plastic brushes for since they are in three standard sizes: 6, 7, and 8" round.  Then all you need is some rods for the brush and a decent vacuum to control the dust.

Happy sweeping, Cal


Chains in chimneys and full liners for inserts

Hi,  I have been heating my house with a woodstove for 25 years.  I use a freestanding stove in front of a fireplace. A 5" flue exits the rear of the stove and passes through a plate in the fireplace opening.  I burn a hot fire and clean the rectangular clay chimney yearly.  Over the years a slick, smooth hard coating of creosote has developed on the chimney walls which a normal cleaning does not remove.  After some research I learned that a rotary chain device would remove the material.  Naturally, my first question was, "What degree of damage does the chain do to the chimney?"  The answer was, probably some.  The suggested remedy for the damage was a 5" stainless liner from the stove to the top of the chimney. Question #1  Is the rotary chain method the best and/or only solution for removing the hard slick creosote? Question #2  If an insulated stainless flue is installed from the stove to the top of the chimney is it necessary or only desirable to remove the coating first? Question #3  What effect on stove efficiency will the full length 5" flu have as opposed to the current setup where the flue exits the stove and only passes through the plate in front of the fireplace? Thanks  Walt

Hi Walt:

Question #1  Is the rotary chain method the best and/or only solution for removing the hard slick creosote?

There are chemicals available but they take patience since they only soften the surface, so it might take several applications with brushings between to remove the deposit. Chain is not the only rotary option, in fact I think chain would do too much damage. There is a creosote removal tool that uses three loops of fairly thin stainless steel cable, which is less brutal on the chimney.  The looped cable tool, sometimes called a whip, is used by a lot of chimney sweeps.

Question #2  If an insulated stainless flue is installed from the stove to the top of the chimney is it necessary or only desirable to remove the coating first?

Yes, it is strongly recommended because if the glaze creosote caught fire outside the new liner, it would produce a nasty fire in a place that is hard to get at.  If you put in the effort to clean it first, you'll feel a lot better about running the stove afterwards.  I like insulated liners but I wouldn't insulate the liner from the stove to the original fireplace throat area because this can lead to overheating and damage to the liner.  Only insulate the liner once it gets up into the chimney.

Question #3  What effect on stove efficiency will the full length 5" flu have as opposed to the current setup where the flue exits the stove and only passes through the plate in front of the fireplace?

I expect you will find your stove transformed, at least that's what customers of mine found (back when I had a retail store) when we relined the chimney of an existing insert.  Your fires will light easier, built to a hot fire faster and, if the liner is installed correctly and the stove run well, you'll only ever have to remove flake and powder from the flue, not sticky creosote.

By the way, a full liner to the top of the chimney is mandatory in Canada for inserts and hearthmount stoves for just the reasons you found.  I think the US homeowner gets a raw deal from installers who don't know enough to run full liners and from dealers who don't point out the problems and risks.  Just because a 'direct connect' is cheap doesn't make it any good.  That's why we pushed for a regulation on full liners and got it ten years ago.

Good luck with it.



What should I do with my ashes?

I am a new home owner with a woodstove insert that was already in the house. We are enjoying the recent use of it and are looking forward to heating our house with it while sharing the duties with the high efficiency gas furnace we have.

The question I had was regarding the ash leftover from periodic burning in the woodstove. What do we do with it?  I have been putting some in our composter but could see it filling up over the winter with lack of composting activity. Do I put some in the garden? What are my options in an urban area of this size?

Thank you very much for your time and I really appreciate the information of the website, it was all very helpful. I look forward to using many of the tips and techniques listed here and am looking forward to a season of wood heating.

Thank you for your time. Peter

Hi Peter,

Ash can be good for soils because it reduces acidity and adds some minerals.  I've also heard people say that ash can be useful as an anti bug dusting for plants, but don't know the details.  There is some concern about putting a lot of ash year after year on a vegetable garden because of the possible build up of heavy metals that occur naturally in the wood but which concentrate in ash and are absorbed by the veggies.

As to what to do with the ash, here are some ideas:

  • use sparingly on a vegetable garden to reduce soil acidity
  • use as much as is appropriate on flower gardens
  • keep some around to use on the driveway to give traction on ice
  • dig a small pit in the corner of your lot and bury the ash
  • take the ash to the local waste disposal site (dump)
  • ask your municipal government if you can put it out with the garbage

I wouldn't put ash in a compost bin or pile unless you have checked the ph of the material first.



Is stove black the right finish for my stove?

Great site! Thanks for all the terrific information.

I am a new wood stove user. I am in search of information for maintaining my stove.  I know I need to use well seasoned hardwood and keep my chimney clean, but what else is needed to keep a stove in good working order?

What is stove blackening? What does it do? Is it the same as stove polish? Are there other products that need to be applied to the outside of the stove or chimney?   Any help you can provide or point me to other sites will be appreciated.

Thanks,  Debra

Hi Debra,

Stove black is the same thing as stove polish, which is a waxy paste used to make stoves black and shiny. It is now used only for antiques for a couple of reasons. First, it's not water proof, so if water lands on the stove it will rust.

Second, stove polish was used in the old days when stoves were cared for lavishly and gleamed from being polished on a weekly basis. We don't do that much any more.

There are some terrific high temperature specialty wood stove paints in a range of colors that have become the standard way to spruce up wood stoves. The paint lasts up to five years, depending on how the stove is used.

Other maintenance tasks include replacement of door and door glass gaskets and making sure that internal baffles and bricks are in place and still sound. Not knowing what kind of stove you use makes it hard to give clear advice on maintenance. One of the best ways to get familiar with these issues is to hire an experienced chimney sweep to do a thorough servicing of the stove. After that, you can decide which of the tasks you can do on your own from then on.



How to spruce up a cast iron stove

I have a 10 year old black cast iron wood-burning stove that is still in good working condition, but needs to be cleaned up a bit on the outside. I've been told that a thin application of mineral oil will make it look new and cause a minimal amount of smoke to be emitted on the first use afterward. Do you have any suggestions for any other cleaning products or methods?



Before the days of reliable heat-proof paint people used stove black, or stove polish, which was waxy. Applied and then polished, it produced a very nice finish with slightly silvery or metallic highlights on the castings. But after firing, stove black was not water or corrosion resistant, so the stove would rust at the slightest provocation. Maintaining a stove with stove black was just another routine job for overworked rural women. All this went out of fashion many  years ago when good, reliable, corrosion resistant heat-proof paints came along.

The best way to do a full paint job is to take the stove out to the garaage where the overspray and fumes are less of a problem. You can do minor touch ups with the stove in place as long as you use a sheet of cardboard behind the stove to catch overspray.

It will stink the first few times you run it so you'll have to open windows. But the finish will last for several years instead of several weeks as with stove black. You can paint the stove flat black like it was, then stove black and polish it if you really want it to look nice. You can get good stove paint at a fireplace or stove store.

I don't think mineral oil would do much or for very long on a stove because the oil will vaporize pretty quick.



Debbie responds:

Thank you for your response. I spent more time on the Internet looking for cleaning solutions and found reference to both the stove polish that you described and also the heat-proof paint. It was nice to get some educated input prior to any purchases. Thank you!

Regards, Debbie