Fire pits bear witness to some of our most memorable times, but how long do they last? Depending on who you ask, fire pits can last barely a year, or they can last forever. So, what’s the secret to the longevity of certain fire pits?
Some fire pit users swear that the difference in how long fire pits last depends on the type of fire pit used. Others claim that how long a fire pit lasts depends on how often its used. However, it seems that the one life-lengthening area that most fire pit owners can agree on is fire pit maintenance.
A well-maintained fire pit will last far longer than even those fire pits said to be of higher quality.
There are several ways that you can extend the life of your fire pit, but we’ve narrowed it down to five maintenance tricks that will extend the life of your fire pit.
Tip #1 – Watch What You Burn
One of the easiest ways you can extend the life of your fire pit is to watch what you burn in it. Some items that people throw in fires to burn release harmful gases and toxins into the hair, and some accelerants that people use to start the fire can harm the fire pit.
So, what should you burn in fire pits? Simply put, you should use dry, split wood in your fire pit.
To take it a bit further, there are specific types of wood that are best for burning in fire pits, and they are:
- Oak wood
- Maple wood
- Cherry wood
Birch wood is a quick-burning wood that is suggested for starting your fires.
What Should I Avoid Burning in my Fire Pit?
There are many common items that people throw in their fire pits that are not recommended for burning because of many reasons. The Family Handyman website has an amazing list of what not to burn with clear, easy to understand reasons.
To sum it all up in a quick, precise list, here are the items you should not burn in your fire pit and why:
- Anything plastic – Plastic releases toxic fumes into the air that are harmful to both you and the environment.
- Accelerants – Accelerants like gas and lighter fluid are tempting to use when your fire is slow to start, but they can cause explosions and fiery accidents.
- Magazines – Burning paper like magazines and junk mail can be harmful because the ink on the paper releases toxic fumes into the air.
- Wooden pallets – Some wooden pallets are treated with methyl bromide, and this chemical is harmful when burned. Wooden pallets are a popular choice for fire pits, and, if you know for sure that they were not treated with methyl bromide, it is okay to use them.
- Particleboard – It can be tempting to burn old furniture that is just laying around, but particleboard, which is used in most furniture, includes adhesives that can emit toxic gases when they are burned.
- Painted wood – Painted wood is never wise to burn because of the fumes given off by the paint when it is burned. Additionally, if the painted wood is old, it could be lead-based paint, which is even more dangerous.
- Cardboard – Cardboard seems to be a harmless material to burn, but the ink on the cardboard can give off toxic fumes. Also, cardboard burns very quickly and can cause accidents, especially if someone is sitting close to the carboard when it catches fire.
- Poison ivy, oak, or sumac – You may want to burn these plants to get rid of them but burning them releases a harmful fume that can irritate the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses.
- Green or soft wood – Green and soft woods release a ton of smoke when they are burned and can make a fire almost impossible to sit around
- Trash – Not only does burning trash release lots of smoke and harmful fumes, but it’s also illegal in lots of places
Tip #2 – Take Care When Extinguishing Your Fires
To extinguish the fire in your fire pit, you should follow these steps:
- Allow the fire to burn out completely. Remember that even the ash that is left behind from the fire will be very hot. If there are any large chunks that are taking a long time to burn out, you can take a shovel and break them in half gently to help move the burning out process along.
- Once the fire has burned out and the ashes have cooled down a while, pour water slowly into the fire pit. Make sure you cover all the ashes with water and not just the ones that are glowing red.
- Stir the wet ashes with a shovel. Make sure that you combine all the ashes with the water. This step helps to make sure the ashes stop generating heat.
- Check around the fire pit. Look around your fire pit to make sure that no ashes or burning wood have fallen.
- Do a temperature check. Check to make sure your fire pit is no longer generating heat.
- Once the ashes have dried, dispose of them safely.
The biggest mistake made when extinguishing the fire in a fire pit is pouring water onto the fire while it is still burning or while the fire pit is still extremely hot. This drastic temperature change can cause cracks to form in the fire pit.
When you are extinguishing your fire, take special care to not pour the water on it until it has cooled significantly. Properly putting out the fire in a fire pit is a long process.
Remember: ashes are acidic and leaving them in your fire pit for long periods of time can harm your fire pit. Once the ashes have dried, you can remove them from the fire pit.
Tip #3 – Keep Your Fire Pit Clean
Keeping your fire pit clean is very helpful in extending the life of the fire pit. There are different kinds of fire pits, so you must know how to take care of the specific kind of fire pit that you own.
There are some tools that all fire pit owners should have, regardless of the type of fire pit they own. They are:
- An ash scoop, to help remove ashes from your pit. Don’t forget, there are several uses for wood ash
- A long poker or tongs, to move logs and wood around
- A spark screen, for safety and to help prevent charring on your pit
- A vinyl or protective fire pit cover, to cover your pit when it isn’t in use
While the tools for maintaining fire pits generally are the same no matter what kind of fire pit you have, the maintenance and cleaning of the different types of fire pits can vary. The steps for cleaning various kinds of fire pits are:
For a stone or masonry fire pit:
- Remove ash and debris from the bowl.
- Scrub the interior with a solution of 1-part muriatic acid and 9-parts water.
- Rinse with water and allow the pit to dry for 2 to 3 days.
For a steel or metal fire pit:
- Remove ash and debris from the bowl.
- Wet the bowl and wash it with a soap and water solution.
- Turn the bowl upside down and allow it to air dry.
For a cast iron fire pit:
- Remove ash and debris from the bowl.
- Scrub the bowl gently with steel wool.
- Rinse with water and dry with a rag.
For a copper fire pit:
- Remove ash and debris from the bowl.
- Spray the pit with a hose, and clean with soap and water.
Copper fire pits can get soot buildup over time, and they may tarnish. You can purchase cleaners to get rid of the buildup and tarnish, or you can make your own cleaner with 1 cup of salt for every 1 gallon of vinegar.
For a gas fire pit:
Gas fire pits are fairly low maintenance, but they require upkeep regarding their gas lines and the burners. First, keep the burners clean. Clean burners allow the gas to travel through them without any issue.
Second, check the gas lines on a regular basis to ensure they are operating properly and safely.
Tip #4 – Keep Your Fire Pit Out of the Elements
Fire pits can be used year-round and for a variety of occasions, but, when they are not in use, they should be properly stored. Leaving your fire pit out in the weather when it isn’t in use is one of the fastest ways to ruin your pit.
There are a few ways that you can keep your fire pit safe from the elements.
Purchase a Fire Pit Cover
Many people think of the “mesh” lids that come with some fire pits when they think of fire pit covers. However, those are not proper covers for a fire pit. The (usually) stainless steel mesh are actually just safety screens that can be placed over a fire while it is burning to prevent flying ash and debris.
There are two kinds of protective covers for fire pits: snuffer covers and fabric or vinyl covers.
Snuffer covers are made of heavy duty metal – like copper – and fit securely on the top of a fire pit. They have two purposes:
- To help extinguish the fire by eliminating air flow to the dying fire and to make sure that no sparks fly out during this process.
- To help prevent rain from falling into the fire pit.
There are two styles of snuffer covers, normally. It is best to always get a solid cover with a cone- or dome-shaped lid that has sturdy handles. Make sure there are no holes in your snuffer cover for best quality.
There are snuffer covers that are flat with “cut-outs” instead of handles. Do not bother with these.
If your fire pit does not come with a snuffer cover, it is worth your while (and your investment) to purchase one for it. They can be found at home and garden stores or online.
These covers have one purpose – to protect the fire pit from the elements. They can be made of weather-proof canvas, nylon, plastic, or vinyl. These protective covers are very much like grill covers in that they help to protect your fire pit from damage caused by rain and debris during inclement weather.
Good protective covers will have a special PVC-lined fabric that can keep moisture out even when it’s extremely cold. They will also have built in vents to prevent condensation underneath the protective cover.
Protective covers help to prevent against rust and tarnish and will keep your fire pit looking and working like new!
Store the Fire Pit When It Isn’t in Use
Unless your fire pit is one that is built into your yard or patio, you can simply store the fire pit in an enclosed space when it is not in use.
You can store your fire pit in a garage or a shed at your home. Some may even store it in a storage shed away from their home during the months that they will not actively use it.
One thing to be sure of when storing your fire pit in an enclosed space is that the fire pit is completely cooled down and that it is not in danger of rekindling a fire in any way, shape, or form.
Be Aware of Where You Live
If you live next to a beach – or anywhere near saltwater, your fire pit will need extra care. Salty sea air can cause metal to degrade at a much faster rate than regular air.
It is very important to take extra steps to protect your fire pit from a salty sea climate. Make sure that you have a heavy-duty protective cover. It is also not a bad idea to place the protective cover on your fire pit and also store the pit in an enclosed area to lessen the salty air that it is exposed to as much as possible.
Tip #5 – Clean Your Grate Before and After Cooking
Not everyone uses their fire pit for cooking, but, for those that do, it is very important to clean your fire pit directly after cooking.
If you normally cook on your fire pit, grate maintenance is necessary. You should use a wire brush, just like the one you use for a regular grill, to clean the grate before and after cooking.
One tip for making the fire pit grate easier to clean and for extending its life is to add vegetable oil on it before you add your food. The oil will “season” the grate and lessen the chances of the grate rusting and corroding.
Fire pits are great additions for any household. Whether you use them for bonfires with the kids to make s’mores or you gather around a fire when it’s cold with adult friends drinking hot cocoa with Bailey’s, the atmosphere and ambiance around a fire is always relaxing.
James R Waugh says
How can you prevent the mesh cover of a firepit to disintegrate?
Jena Slocum says
Hi, thanks for your question. Depending on how thick the mesh is related to how long it will last. The very thin materials will degrade fairly quickly if it gets rusty. You can prolong the life of the mesh cover by keeping it clean and dry and purchasing a thicker mesh material.
Thank you so much for this very interesting and useful article!