If you burn wood or wood pellets for heat, you will have to periodically clean the ash residue from the hearth or fire chamber of your woodstove, heat stove, pellet stove, or wood-burning fireplace. Keeping your fireplace or heat stove fire chamber free of ash is necessary in order to improve air intake (which results in a good burn). Removing the ash can also help reduce allergens and odors associated with smoke and burnt wood fibers.
As you go to clean your unit, your first instinct may be to reach for your household vacuum or shop/garage unit, but as it turns out, that decision could cost you. For many reasons, an ash vacuum is the only type of vacuum that should be used to clean your fire remnants. Here's why you should use a fireplace vacuum to clean your unit safely and effectively.
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Put Safety First
Safety cannot be stressed enough and is the main reason you should not use your regular vacuum for cleaning up wood ash. Your home vacuum is not designed to withstand heat and using it to clean a wood stove or fireplace can pose a serious fire risk. An ash vacuum has a metal construction and is specifically designed to handle any hot temperatures that could be lurking in those seemingly cooled ashes.
As a rule of thumb, your ash should be completely cool before vacuuming. This likely means you'll have to schedule a wood stove or fireplace cleaning session when the stove has been out of use for at least 12 hours. Never attempt to vacuum up hot ashes under any circumstances, even if you are using an ash vacuum.
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Protect Your Household Investment
While you may think a little ash is harmless to your household or garage vacuum, you're likely to burn out its motor or end its lifecycle. A traditional household vacuum is not equipped to handle anything hot—doing so can melt the rubber or plastic material in the hose and dirt bin construction and could even start a fire within your vacuum.
The quickest way to kill your home's vacuum is to use it to clean ash or sheetrock dust. Those minute particles will head straight to the motor and damage the inner workings of your vacuum. Regular vacuum filters—even HEPA-style bags—can not fully contain ultrafine dust, nor are they made to. If you want your household vacuum to last for years, use it only for what it was designed for: cleaning your home.
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Standup to Heat
Ash vacuums are designed with a thermal hose, typically made with rubber-coated steel, which is heat resistant—a good thing if your vacuum happens to encounter some unexpectedly hot embers. The nozzle of a fireplace vacuum is also metal and can take the heat of vacuuming into a fire chamber and is shaped to enable thorough cleaning of the interior of your wood-burning stove or fireplace.
After cleaning ash, you should always move the ash vacuum outdoors and, as soon as you can, dispose of the ash in a safe manner. A full ash vacuum should never be allowed to remain in a confined space, home, or building, even though it has a fire-resistant metal housing. Another note: Always ensure that you start cleaning your woodstove with an empty ash vacuum.
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Contain Ash Dust
Like household dirt and dust, ash tends to be a severe allergen, so you'll want a device up to the challenge of cleaning it properly. Though your household vacuum may have a good filter, ash is a different type of dust and so fine that it can quickly transfer to the motor. The filter of an ash or fireplace vacuum is designed to handle and contain warm ash, ensuring that none is released back to the home through the exhaust. It also helps you to do a more thorough job, leaving your firebox virtually ash-free once you've finished. Avoid breathing in ash dust as you're cleaning, so it's good practice to always use a dust mask and protective eyewear.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Keep It Compact
An ash vacuum is generally smaller than a household vacuum, compact to store, and designed for ease of use when it comes to cleaning in and around the firebox, including the enclosed compartment that contains ash pans. Some models have wheeled bases, which make them easier to maneuver around the heat stove and woodbox area.
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Don't Break the Bank
Ash vacuum prices tend to vary depending on what's included in the set, but many sell for $200 or less (though brand variety is limited). You also have the option to purchase additional accessories, which you can use for cleaning up your garage floor or after a DIY project. When it comes to burning wood for heat, you cannot be too careful, so purchasing an ash vacuum is a small price to pay for safety.