What to Burn in a Fire Pit?

What to Burn in a Fire Pit?

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Fire pits are a wonderful addition to any outdoor space, offering warmth, ambiance, and a gathering spot for friends and family.

However, not all materials are suitable for burning. To ensure safety, efficiency, and an enjoyable experience, it’s important to know what to burn in a fire pit.

This guide will walk you through the best materials to use, as well as those to avoid.

What to Burn in a Fire Pit?

This guide will walk you through what to burn in a fire pit covering the best materials to use, as well as those to avoid.

First we’ll start with the best things to burn in a fire pit and follow up with things to avoid.

1. Seasoned Hardwood

Seasoned Hardwood

Seasoned hardwood is wood that has been cut and left to dry for at least six months, reducing its moisture content.

This drying process allows the wood to burn more efficiently and produce a higher heat output.

Hardwoods also tend to produce fewer sparks and less creosote, a tar-like substance that can build up in chimneys and cause fires.

Oak is known for its long, slow burn and consistent heat output, making it ideal for a fire pit that you want to enjoy for several hours.

Maple and ash are also excellent choices because they are easy to split and burn cleanly.

Hardwoods are dense, burn longer, and produce less smoke compared to softwoods. They provide a steady, hot fire, perfect for lasting warmth and cooking.

2. Softwood

Softwoods are typically less dense than hardwoods, which makes them easier to light.

They are ideal for starting a fire but should be used in combination with hardwoods for a longer-lasting fire.

Softwoods can produce more smoke and sparks, so they should be used with caution. Pine, for instance, is great for starting fires because of its resin content, which helps it catch fire quickly.

However, the resin can also cause popping and excess smoke, so it’s best used in small amounts.

Due to the higher resin content in softwoods, they can produce more creosote and should be used primarily for starting fires rather than maintaining them.

Pine is deal for starting fires due to its resin content. It burns quickly and hot but can create creosote buildup if used exclusively.

Fir is similar to pine, fir ignites easily and is great for kindling. It’s often used to get a fire started before adding hardwood.

Cedar produces a pleasant aroma when burned and is good for kindling. However, it can spark, so use with caution.

Spruce burns quickly and is useful for kindling, but it tends to produce more smoke than other softwoods.

3. Manufactured Logs:

Duraflame Manufactured Logs

Manufactured logs are made from compressed sawdust, wood chips, or other wood by-products, often with the addition of wax or other binders.

They are engineered to produce minimal smoke and ash, making them a cleaner option for fire pits.

They are particularly useful for those who want a hassle-free fire with predictable burning characteristics and are especially useful when you need a quick fire and don’t have time to prepare traditional firewood.

Many manufactured logs are made from recycled materials, making them a more eco-friendly option compared to some other fuels.

These logs are designed to burn cleanly and efficiently. They are convenient, often easy to light, and provide a consistent burn.

Duraflame Logs are convenient and easy to light, these logs are great for quick, hassle-free fires. They burn consistently and cleanly, making them suitable for both warmth and ambiance.

Compressed Sawdust Logs offer a steady burn and are ideal for situations where a controlled, predictable fire is needed, such as in campgrounds or rental properties.

4. Natural Fire Starters

Natural fire starters

Natural fire starters can help get your fire going without the need for chemical fire starters. They ignite quickly and can provide the initial heat needed to burn larger logs.

Collecting natural fire starters from your garden or surrounding areas can be an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to start your fire.

These materials should be dry to ensure they catch fire easily and help ignite larger pieces of wood.

Pinecones are excellent natural fire starters due to their structure and resin content, which allows them to catch fire quickly and burn hot.

Dried leaves and small twigs are also effective and can be easily gathered during garden cleanup.

Keep a small bucket or container of natural fire starters near your fire pit for easy access. Ensure all materials are dry and stored in a moisture-free environment.

What not to Burn in a Fire Pit

There are certain materials to avoid when looking for things to burn in a fire pit.

Some can be hazardous to you and the environment so please make sure you take note.

1. Green Wood

Green wood is wood that has been recently cut and has not had time to dry out.

The high moisture content makes it difficult to burn, and it can produce a lot of smoke, which can be irritating and unhealthy.

Burning green wood can lead to incomplete combustion, resulting in more smoke and potentially harmful emissions.

It also leads to the inefficient use of energy, as much of the fire’s heat is used to evaporate the water content in the wood.

A freshly cut log from a tree can contain up to 50% moisture, compared to seasoned wood, which has about 20% moisture.

Additionally, burning green wood can lead to the buildup of creosote, a flammable substance that can cause fires.

2. Treated or Painted Wood

Burning treated or painted wood releases toxic fumes that are harmful to both humans and the environment. Avoid these materials to ensure a clean burn.

Treated wood, such as pressure-treated lumber, and painted wood often contain chemicals like arsenic, copper, and other preservatives or paint compounds that release toxic fumes when burned.

These fumes can pose serious health risks and contribute to air pollution. For example, burning pressure-treated wood that contains chromated copper arsenate (CCA) can release arsenic into the air, a toxic substance that poses health risks.

Do not attempt to burn it in your fire pit, as the risks far outweigh any potential benefits.

3. Plastic and Rubbish

Burning these materials releases hazardous chemicals, pollutes the air, and can cause unpleasant odors.

Plastic and other synthetic materials are not designed to be burned and can release harmful chemicals, including dioxins and furans, when incinerated.

These substances can be hazardous to health and the environment. Always dispose of household rubbish through proper waste management systems.

For example, burning a plastic bottle can release toxic chemicals like styrene and benzene, both of which are harmful to human health.

Never burn household trash in your fire pit.

4. Magazines and Coloured Paper

The glossy finishes and coloured inks used in magazines and some papers often contain heavy metals and other toxic substances that can be released into the air when burned.

These fumes can be harmful to breathe and contribute to environmental pollution.

The ink in glossy magazine pages can release toxic chemicals like heavy metals and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) when burned.

Use plain, uncoated paper or natural fire starters to ignite your fire. Recycle magazines and coloured paper instead of burning them.

Seasoned Firewood

We’ve already briefly covered the topic of seasoned fire wood but what exactly is seasoned firewood and how do you know if firewood is seasoned?

How to Determine if Your Firewood is Seasoned

When purchasing firewood, a reputable supplier should be able to inform you about the age and seasoning duration of the wood. If they cannot provide this information, it might be best to find another source.

If you prefer to check the seasoning status yourself, there are several indicators:

Weight: Seasoned wood is significantly lighter than freshly cut wood due to moisture loss.

Appearance: Well-seasoned wood looks different from unseasoned wood. The bark tends to be brittle and may peel off easily, and the wood often has visible cracks.

Sound: When two pieces of seasoned wood are struck together, they produce a distinct knocking sound, unlike the dull thud of wet wood.

Stihl moisture meter

Another effective method to verify if your firewood is adequately seasoned is by using a moisture meter. These devices are relatively inexpensive and can provide a quick and accurate measurement of your firewood’s moisture content with the press of a button.

What is the Optimal Moisture Content for Firewood?

To ensure your firewood is dry and ready to burn, it’s crucial to understand the optimal moisture content. Ideally, firewood should have a moisture content between 10% and 20%, with the lower end being preferable. Moisture levels below 10% can cause the wood to burn too quickly, while levels above 20% can result in inefficient burning, poor heat output, and excessive smoke.

How Long Does Firewood Take to Season?

The time it takes to season firewood varies significantly depending on the type of wood. Softwoods, when dried properly, can reach an acceptable moisture content in about 6 months. In contrast, hardwoods like oak may require a much longer seasoning period, sometimes up to 2 years.

Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Fire Pit Experience

1. Proper Ventilation:

Ensure your fire pit is placed in an open area with plenty of ventilation to disperse smoke and fumes. Avoid using a fire pit in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces.

Proper ventilation is crucial for both safety and comfort. It helps to prevent smoke from lingering around the fire pit area, which can be unpleasant and harmful to breathe.

Choose a location that is away from buildings, overhanging trees, and other structures that could trap smoke or catch fire and make sure you don’t cause annoyance for neighbours.

For example, placing your fire pit in an open area of your garden will allow the smoke to disperse naturally and reduce the risk of accidental fires.

2. Use a Spark Screen

Fire Pit Spark Screen

Spark screens are mesh covers that fit over the top of the fire pit. They are designed to contain sparks and embers that could otherwise escape and potentially start fires.

Using a spark screen adds an extra layer of safety, especially in areas with dry vegetation as it can prevent flying embers from igniting dry grass or leaves nearby.

Regularly inspect your spark screen for holes or damage. Replace it if necessary to ensure it remains effective in containing sparks.

3. Keep Water or a Fire Extinguisher Nearby

Always have a means to extinguish the fire quickly in case of emergencies. Having a bucket of water, a hose, or a fire extinguisher nearby can help you quickly put out the fire if it gets out of control.

This is especially important in dry conditions where fires can spread rapidly because if a gust of wind blows sparks into nearby dry grass, having a water source or fire extinguisher on hand can help you quickly douse the flames and prevent a larger fire.

Before starting your fire, make sure your water source, fire extinguisher, or sand bucket is easily accessible. Familiarise yourself with the operation of your fire extinguisher and check its expiration date.

4. Don’t Overload the Fire Pit

Avoid piling too much wood in the fire pit. A moderate, well-maintained fire is safer and more enjoyable.

Overloading the fire pit can lead to excessive flames and heat, which can be difficult to control. It can also increase the risk of sparks and embers escaping.

Build your fire gradually and add wood as needed to maintain a steady, manageable fire. For example, start with a small amount of kindling and a few logs, then add more wood gradually as the fire builds.

5. Supervise the Fire

Always keep an eye on the fire to ensure it remains under control. Unattended fires can quickly become hazardous, especially if the wind picks up or if there are flammable materials nearby.

Make sure the fire is completely out before you leave the area or by dousing it with water and stirring the ashes to ensure no embers remain. You can also use sand to put out the fire as water can damage some fire pits.


Choosing the right materials to burn in your fire pit is crucial for a safe, enjoyable, and eco-friendly experience.

Stick to seasoned hardwoods, softwoods for kindling, and natural fire starters while avoiding green wood, treated materials, and household waste. By following these guidelines and safety tips, you can make the most of your fire pit, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for all your outdoor gatherings.

Whether you’re roasting marshmallows, enjoying a cosy evening with friends, or simply relaxing by the fire, choosing the right fuel to burn and how to manage your fire pit will enhance your overall experience.

Remember to prioritise safety and respect the environment to ensure that your fire pit remains a source of joy and comfort for years to come.