How to clean a wood burning stove: 8 expert-approved steps

DIY expert Helaine Clare provides step-by-step instructions for how to clean a wood burning stove including the exterior and glass

Elmdale wood burning stove by ACR Stoves in living room
(Image credit: ACR Stoves)

This advice on how to clean a wood burning stove will help your wood burner not only look nice, but also run smoothly and efficiently, keeping you warm once the cool autumn and winter days return.

As lovely as they look once lit, [fireplace ideas] that use wood as their main source of fuel can get sooty pretty quickly, which can present a health hazard, as well as staining carpet and furniture nearby - eek!

So we've put together a guide to how to clean and maintain a wood burning stove, using expert advice from DIY expert Helaine Clare as well as other industry experts.

Everything you need to clean and maintain a woodburning stove

How to clean a wood burning stove – step by step

First things first: only start cleaning wood-burning stoves that are cold. Otherwise you risk burning yourself! 

1. Protect the floor before you start

2. Start by emptying the stove

3. Clean the cavity

4. Wipe down the glass

If stoves have sooty windows, it can indicate that they are not burning efficiently. To clean, wipe the window with stove glass cleaner, leave for five minutes, then remove with a damp rag. Clean a sooty window on a wood-burning stove with wood ash applied on a damp cloth. Rub away the soot and then wipe with a clean cloth. 

Tips for log burner maintenance

How to remove soot and tar marks on the walls

If soot and tar deposits have migrated through the plaster from the brick chimney breast, brush away dirt and apply a coat of stain block. If necessary, apply a second coat two hours after the first one has dried. Once dry the surface can be over-painted with any type of paint.

We'd use this opportunity to use a product like Rust-oleum's stove and BBQ paint. This heat-resistant finish is a quick drying formula that offers superior durability, stops rust and resists heat up to 650 degrees Celsius / 1202 degrees Fahrenheit. For best results, allow to dry for at least one hour before heating.

How to repair rust patches on the stove

To remove rust patches from a wood burner, cut a pad of medium grade steel wool to rub away the rust and, wearing protective gloves, gently work away at it until it vanishes. With a brush and dustpan sweep up the mess, and use a stove brush or clean shoe brush to clear dirt off the surface ready for painting.

First mask the glass doors and metal handles with newspaper and tape. Protect the walls and hearth, too, if you are painting the whole appliance. Before applying the paint, open doors and windows to ensure good ventilation. Hold the can about 25-30cm away from the surface and spray the damaged top of the stove.

How to check the rope seal on your wood burner

Over time the rope seal around the door will flatten and lose its shape, affecting the stove's efficiency and allowing fumes to leak out. Set a small fire and close the doors and air intakes. Move a lit candle around the door – if the flame is drawn towards it a poor seal is indicated and the rope needs replacing.

6. Give the stove a health check

Clean out the firebox and empty the ash pan. Shine a torch inside to check that the firebricks are not broken. Leave the air inlets open and the door ajar to allow a flow of air through the chimney to keep it dry. Arrange to have the chimney swept too. 

How to reseal the hearth

Seal a slate hearth to enhance the colour and make it easier to clean. First sweep up loose dirt and ash, then with heavy-duty floor cleaner and hot water scrub the hearth, mopping up the water as you work. Wipe over with clean water and dry with an old towel. Leave for at least four days before applying sealer.

 8. Apply slate oil to the hearth

Some stone care products mustn’t be used where the temperature is likely to exceed 25ºC so always read the guidance on the product. Slate oil will repel dirt and ash while still allowing the slate to breathe. Before you start protect rugs or carpet from splashes. Apply evenly with a brush or sponge and allow to dry for two hours. 

How often should I clean my wood burning stove?

Typically, you should clean you wood burning stove at least once a month (it's fine you haven't cleaned it since spring if you haven't been using it over the summer). During periods of heavy use, i.e. in winter, you may beed to increase the cleaning frequency to every two weeks, or even once a week. The cleaner you stove is, the more efficiently it'll run, so it's a good idea to keep it spic and span. 

'Proper function of a stove, its seals, gaskets and the chimney draw, can all affect emissions. When everything works optimally, the appliance will run at its cleanest and most efficient,' says Phil Wood, UK country manager for Contura.

'And it is maintenance that will achieve optimum performance. The chimney, flue and stove should be swept professionally at least once a year. An annual check is crucial to troubleshoot any issues, check all parts are functioning correctly and remove any soot and blockages that may be affecting the efficiency and emissions of your stove. Set an annual reminder to get your annual chimney sweep appointment booked in.'

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