by Peter Gough November 17, 2022 4 min read


With the current crippling energy prices many of us are going to have to rely more and more on our stoves and, if we haven't got a stove, our open fires. There's going to be a real temptation therefore to burn whatever we can lay our hands on rather than pay out for kiln dried or seasoned wood and smokeless coal. After all it's free fuel, isn't it? Someone once said there's no such thing as a free lunch and that unfortunately is the same for much of the free fuel you might be tempted to burn in your stove or on your open fire. There's usually going to be some form of payback.

So what about bits of trees that you might find while out walking the dog, surely these are OK? These are probably still going to be wet and you should always avoid burning these, at least until you've fully seasoned them in about a year's time. Burning wet wood is just about as bad as it gets in terms of looking after your stove and chimney. More importantly it's incredibly damaging to our air quality. Air quality always suffers in the winter anyway but smoky fires, which is what wet wood will always create, will make this so much worse. So too will a lot of other 'free' fuel you might be tempted to burn which could release toxins and potentially deadly chemicals such as arsenic.

Stove manufacturers usually produce a list of materials that should not be burned in their stoves because they could damage the stove thus invalidating the warranty and also because they're potentially very harmful. Burning wood can be a very environmentally friendly way to heat your home, but it must be the right kind of wood and you should never use your stove like an incinerator. Remember burning prohibited ‘fuels’ in a Smoke Control Area is illegal. So avoid burning the following at all costs...


  • Wet wood. To reiterate, this is highly polluting and will leave an unsightly residue on your stove glass which the air wash system won't be able to remove. it will also produce a tar-like substance which will quickly clog your flue and could eventually cause a dangerous chimney fire or possibly leakage of carbon monoxide (CO) because the flue no longer provides sufficient draught to expel it from the chimney terminal. You'll know that you're burning wet wood because of the nasty acrid smell this produces. Wet wood will also produce approximately 50% less heat than seasoned wood (wood with a moisture content of around 20%).
  • Impregnated wood such as old pallets and decking. Burning old decking for example, or in fact burning any pressure treated timber, will release toxic chemicals possibly including arsenic. Exposure to this kind of toxic ash, either from breathing in its small particulates or handling it, is very unhealthy and also harmful to the environment. It's worth noting that the US Environmental Protection Agency regards such wood as hazardous waste and we should do the same.
  • Varnished or painted wood. Great looking wood and very tempting, but again avoid burning it because of the potentially toxic chemicals contained in the finished surfaces that could be released into your home and your neighbourhood air.
  • Driftwood. This is possibly the worst thing you could burn in your stove. It might look attractive because of its bark-free and sun-bleached surface but when burned it releases sodium and chlorine ions that form carcinogenic dioxins which can build up in your body. People with asthma and bronchitis are particularly vulnerable from breathing these in. 
  • Chipboard, MDF and plywood. These have been made with a lot chemical resins and glues and will produce toxic gases when they're burned and therefore they should always be avoided.
  • Household rubbish – newspapers, magazines and cardboard packaging. These days you shouldn't even need to use newspaper to light your stove when the appropriate fire lighter can do the same job but much more cleanly and effectively. Burning this kind of waste will quickly give a lot of flame but very little, if any, useful heat. Any of these could also potentially release toxic chemicals which are not only bad for the environment but could also affect the health of those in your home. It has been shown that burning coloured paper, for example, can release noxious carcinogenic gases.
  • Plastic and rubber. These will eventually burn, but my goodness they're certainly going to release a lot of harmful chemicals and really nasty smoke. They could also do untold damage to your stove, particularly to the glass and flue system and for at best, a negligible amount of heat.
...and because it's getting close to that time of year.
  • Christmas trees. Although it might not look it your tree will still be 'green' and will therefore have a high moisture content and an excessive amount of sticky resin which can cause problems inside your stove such as unsightly and difficult to clean stove glass and soot and creosote build up in the flue which could eventually cause a chimney fire. Your tree is also likely to have been treated with pesticides and possibly sprayed with chemicals to give it a snow-kissed look and toxins from these could be released when burned.  Pine needles also can burn very aggressively in a flash fire style which could trigger a chimney fire.  Instead, use your local authority's environmentally friendly Christmas tree disposal service or better still, if you can, buy a live tree that will save you money next year.

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