Many Americans will be firing up their fireplace this winter. In fact, the Hearth, Patio & Barbeque Association reports that more than half of US households have at least one fireplace or freestanding stove. While a fireplace adds to the ambience of your home, provides heat, and, in some cases, lowers your heating costs, burning the wrong materials can be dangerous.

Fireplace Hazards

Starting a fire in your fireplace may seem simple, but a lot of things can go wrong. Burning the wrong materials can cause dangerous flame flare-ups and explosions. These hazards can lead to devastating consequences like burns and house fires. Burning the wrong materials can also produce a byproduct known as particulate matter, which can pollute the air in and around your home. Experts say that these toxic fumes have chemicals that can affect your lungs and your heart, and they have been linked to heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, heart failure, stroke, lung diseases, and cancer. Certain burning materials can also create lethal carbon monoxide buildup in your home.

Experts generally suggest using dry or seasoned wood in a fireplace, as wet wood smokes more. For long-lasting fuel, it’s also recommended that homeowners use wood with higher density like rock elm, hickory, oak, or certain maples. Sometimes out of desperation (like emergency power outages) or simple inexperience, homeowners use any burnable items they have on hand, which, as mentioned previously, can have serious health consequences. You can practice fireplace safety by knowing what not to burn in your fireplace.

Six Things to Never Burn in Your Fireplace:

  1. The wrong wood. Not just any wood will do. Some woods are treated with potentially toxic chemicals in the production process. Experts caution against using pressure-treated, stained, painted, or glued wood in your fireplace. You should also be cautious of the condition of the wood. Older wood is more likely to have mold or rot, which should not be burned.

  2. Allergenic plants. Plants may seem like natural fireplace fodder, but be careful, as some plants can be harmful for your respiratory system. For instance, plants that release urushiol (like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac) can cause an allergic reaction when touched or when burned. So, before burning leaves or scraps from the garden, make sure you know what you’re grabbing.

  3. Paper products. Some homeowners use junk mail, colored newspaper, magazines, gift-wrapping paper, or old cardboard for their fire. Though these things are flammable, experts advise not burning them anywhere due to the potential of releasing toxins into the air. The toxins come from the chemicals that are used in the papermaking process, as well as any ink that may be on the paper or cardboard.

  4. Dryer lint. Some homeowners use dryer lint as a fire-starter, which may not be a safe idea. Experts suggest that some dryer lint may contain chemicals that are dangerous when burned. These chemical components can come from your fabric, detergent, or fabric softener.

  5. Fuel accelerants. Gasoline, lighter fluid, or any other type of fuel can be dangerous in a fireplace. These accelerants can be toxic in an enclosed space and can cause the fireplace to explode.

  6. Charcoal products. Although charcoal products make great fodder for a barbeque or grill, it’s dangerous for the fireplace. When charcoal is burned in enclosed spaces, it causes an increase of carbon monoxide. In fact, people die from charcoal-induced carbon monoxide poisoning every year. 

Burning the right materials is only the beginning for fireplace safety. To make sure that your fireplace is clean and in working order, it’s important to contact an expert. For a fireplace and chimney inspection, consider enlisting the help of a Best Pick. 

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Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Chimney Safety Institute of America; Environmental Health News; EPA; Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association; International Association of Certified Home Inspectors; NPR; This Old House; US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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