Guide to Maintaining Your Wood-Burning Cabin Fireplace

Fireplaces provide homes (Especially cabins) with outstanding heating and a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

There’s nothing better than returning to your cabin after exploring the surrounding nature and sitting down by the warm fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate. The crackling sound which an authentic fireplace produces, is like music to my ears. The atmosphere which is provided by a fireplace is not something which can be replicated by an electric alternative.

It’s important that you keep in mind that your fireplace and chimney will require some maintenance for it to continue to work effectively over-time. If not properly maintained, an overwhelming amount of issues may arise. If not maintained properly, a fireplace could cause a house fire. This makes it vital to your health and well-being that you keep your fireplace maintained regularly. In this article I’ll be providing you with a guide on how to maintain your wood-burning cabin fireplace.

Start by Preventing Build-up

I’ve always believed that it’s better to prevent a problem occurring than it is to fix it. “Prevention is always better than the cure” This is an old saying which applies well to the situation of maintaining a fireplace. Therefore, the first step that you should take when maintaining a fireplace, is preventing any build up.

There are a few things you can do to prevent an issue with your fireplace, these are good habits which you should adopt as soon as possible. I’ll list them below.

Clean Your Fireplace Regularly

One of the most important things you should do to prevent build-up in your fireplace and chimney, is to clean it out regularly. I’ll be going into more depth on this topic in a later section of this guide.

Avoid Wet Wood

As I’ve explained in a previous article in which I provided tips to light fire in your cabin fireplace. It’s important that you avoid burning wet wood, always try to go for dry wood. This is because when burning wet wood, more smoke will be produced which in turn causes more buildup. This means that if you should avoid burning freshly cut wood, either let the wood sit for a few months or purchase firewood from the store. This is my go-to option, firewood is relatively cheap, and you can buy bulk amounts of it to store for later dates.

Avoid Softwoods

Softwoods such as pine and spruce don’t burn as clean as hardwoods such as oak and teak. Softwoods tend to produce a lot more smoke than hardwoods, and therefore they’re not good for home burning. Because of this, you should always opt for hardwoods when possible – or as mentioned previously, just purchase firewood from the store.

Clean Up Ashes When Cool

It’s important to clean the ashes out of your fireplace after they cool down. This is because when ash builds up, it will cause the fireplace to function less efficiently. Ash can restrict airflow through the chimney, which will trap smoke in your cabin. Obviously, this is not a good thing, and is something which you’ll want to avoid happening, therefore making it important to clean out ash.

You may have heard that ash in-fact helps increase airflow through your chimney, which is true however this only applies to a small amount of ash. Anything more than a little bit of ash will decrease efficiency and restrict airflow. I only ever allow ash to sit for just a couple of days before I clean out all the ash. Keep in mind that ash can stay hot for very long periods of time (A few days) depending on a few circumstances, and therefore should be left to cool before you attempt to clean out your fireplace. This means you should approach the task of cleaning out your fireplace with caution and care.

I often leave my ash to cool in the fireplace for 2-3 days before I clean it out. By this time the ash is cool enough to remove safely. Ashes can be removed when still warm if you know what you’re doing and have experience, however I’d highly recommend that you avoid doing so at all costs. By allowing ash to cool, you ensure the safety of yourself and anyone else staying in your cabin. If you’re using your fireplace everyday during your cabin stay, then it may be a good idea to just let the ashes sit.

Next, I’ll be providing a few tips which will help when cleaning out ashes:

Re-use your Ashes

You may have a load of ashes that are ready to be thrown away but wait – you can re-use these ashes effectively. They can be added to compost or sprinkled on grass. You wouldn’t think so, but this is good for grass as the ashes are full of healthy nutrients.

Use A Metal Bucket

I’d recommend that you keep a bucket near your fireplace which you could dump ashes into when cleaning out your fireplace. I keep one in the corner of my living room. It’s important to use a metal bucket and not a wooden one, as the ashes that haven’t fully cooled could cause a fire otherwise. Also, try and purchase a bucket which doesn’t have a metal handle as if the ashes heat the bucket – you don’t want to burn your hand.

Use a Metal Shovel

I’d recommend you get a solid metal shovel to clean the ashes out of your fireplace, it will help with the cleaning process. Again, try to purchase a metal shovel which doesn’t have a metal handle so that you don’t burn your hand if the shovel gets heated. I’d highly recommend that you invest in a fireplace log rack kit. this comes with a few useful tools, a shovel, broom, poker, tongs and most importantly, a rack to store all your lumber and tools. This is the ultimate set-up for any home fireplace.

Keep Children Away

It’s important to always keep your children’s safety in mind when doing anything potentially dangerous. They may become curious and play around with potentially warm ashes which could cause some serious burns. It’s not rare for children to injure themselves using ashes. Therefore, it’s important to clean out your ashes and don’t leave your metal bucket anywhere where a child could gain access to.

Clean Your Firebox

The open area inside of your fireplace is known as the ‘Firebox’. It’s very important that you clean it at-least once every two months. Keeping your firebox clean will allow your fireplace to work efficiently and reduces the chances of an accident. I clean out my firebox once a month to ensure that it stays in good condition. Maintaining your firebox will ensure that your fireplace stays in good health and has a long life-span.

Don’t allow for too much buildup inside of your fireplace, as build-up can cause your fireplace to work inefficiently. This is because build-up makes it more difficult for air to flow properly and will therefore cause more smoke to become trapped inside. Not only is this dangerous to humans, but your fire will also not get a sufficient amount of oxygen. If your fire doesn’t receive enough oxygen, it will simply die.

In this section, I’ll be providing you with some tips to keep your firebox clean and in good condition.

Clean Out Your Ashes

As I had mentioned in-detail previously in this guide, it’s important that you clean all the ashes out of your fireplace often. This is something which you should develop a habit for, if you want to keep your fireplace working as efficiently as possible. There are many ways you can go about this task, I use a combination of a shovel, bucket, and broom to make the cleaning process as easy as possible.

Clean Out Soot Buildup

After you’ve cleaned the ashes out of your firebox then you should clean out as much soot buildup as possible. This is a black powdery substance, consisting predominately of amorphous carbon. This is the byproduct of burning fossil fuels. Soot can be harmful to humans, causing a wide variety of different respiratory illnesses if breathed in. This makes it’s important to clean out soot before it can buildup.

There’s many methods and recipes for cleaning soot, however I find that a simple mixture of soap and water works just as well. You can either fill a bucket up with the mixture or use a spray bottle. I find that a spray bottle works the best as you can easily coat the fireplace surfaces with a few sprays. Once the surfaces are covered, I give it a few minutes before I get to work with a wire brush and begin scrubbing.

This should work unless your fireplace is in a severely bad state, in which case you will require something a bit stronger such as InstaNew. This is a product designed to clean fireplaces. It also comes with a handy brush, perfect for scrubbing out fireplaces. Bare in mind, this is a heavy-duty cleaner, so it is recommended that you have some sort of ventilation when using it, I’d open all windows and keep the door open for a few minutes after spraying.

Maintain Your Chimney

It’s important to maintain the state and health of your chimney, to extend its life-span and improve efficiency. There are plenty of ways which you can maintain your chimney. In this section, I’ll be providing you with some tips on how to main your chimney.

  • Use a chimney cap to prevent stuff from going down your chimney. It’s common for chimneys without chimney caps to collect a lot of debris. This includes trash such as leaves and twigs which fall from trees and down your chimney. Chimney caps also prevent animals from falling or finding their way down your chimney. Stuff blocking your chimney will decrease airflow and block smoke from leaving your cabin. This can be very dangerous – and makes it very important that you have a chimney cap installed onto your fireplace.
  • Cracks may become apparent in the bricks and mortar of your chimney. You should keep your eye out for such cracks. It’s important to identify them as soon as possible so that they can be repaired before the damage becomes increasingly severe. It’s also important to have repairs carried out by professionals that know what they’re doing.

Clean Your Damper

It’s important that you keep your damper clean and prevent any buildup. It’s important to keep your damper clean so that the damper mechanism can work effectively. You can use either of the mixtures I had mentioned previously for cleaning. Bare in mind that the damper can be difficult to reach, so expect to get dirty. Have your fireplace inspected and cleaned professionally

It is a good idea to have your chimney professionally inspected. Buildup can cause severe damage to your chimney which you might not be able to identify without professional help. Therefore, it’s important to have your chimney inspected annually. I’d also recommend that you have your chimney cleaned – you can have your chimney inspected and cleaned by a chimney sweep. I have this done once a year after the winter.

Having your chimney inspected and swept isn’t very expensive and doing so will significantly increase the life span of your fireplace. It can also be beneficial to your health to have your chimney inspected and cleaned. Keep in mind that it’s important that you ensure that your chimney sweep is certified with the CSIA. You always want someone who is qualified to do the job, they’ll obviously be more expensive however they’ll get the job done well and conduct it safely.


Maintenance of a fireplace is important to ensure that it continues to work effectively. Fireplaces that are maintained well will have a longer life-span and generally perform better, keeping your cabin nice and warm.

If not maintained properly, it will work inefficiently and become potentially dangerous to your health. In this guide I’ve explained how to maintain your wood-burning cabin fireplace properly to ensure that it stays clean and in good health. It’s not difficult to take the steps I’ve listed above, and the effort will go a long way!

If you feel as though I could have added to this guide in any way or have any questions you’d like to ask, feel free to leave a comment below. I’m always looking for new ways to improve my articles and provide readers with the best content possible.

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My name is Eugene Thornhill. I'm an outdoor enthusiast who loves nothing more than being one with nature. I've lived in numerous outdoor homes and even constructed my own. Living off-grid is something I'm very familiar with, more so than living in the city. For many years I've dealt with the many problems of living off-grid. It's time to pass on my knowledge through Cabinguides.

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