Smokeless Fire Pit Maintenance Tips

Learn how you can keep your smokeless fire pit in top shape for years of enjoyable, smoke-free gatherings.

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In recent years, smokeless fire pits have gone from a niche item favored by outdoor enthusiasts to popular must-haves. If you’ve seen a smokeless fire pit in action, this surge in popularity will come as no surprise. Campfires are far more enjoyable without shuffling around to avoid a face full of smoke!

But smokeless fire pits take slightly more maintenance than conventional designs. And because they’re not cheap, you may be wondering how to keep one clean and functional to ensure years of enjoyable, smoke-free gatherings.

We’ll go over some handy tips that apply to portable or in-ground fire pits, as well as the types of fuel you might use. (Note: We’re only talking about pits that burn logs, wood pellets or charcoal. Gas-fueled fire pits are naturally smokeless and come with their own maintenance tricks.)

Differences From a Traditional Fire Pit

Smokeless fire pits present a two-walled design, with intake vents on the bottom of the exterior and output vents at the top of the interior wall. The air that rises between the walls vents into the top of the fire, fueling a secondary combustion that burns at extremely high temperatures. That blazing heat is the secret; it consumes smoke particles before they escape.

For that secondary combustion to work, air must flow freely through the gap between those two walls. It’s essential the vents and the gap itself remain free of obstruction.

Apart from that, a smokeless fire pit cleans up much like a traditionally built fire pit. It requires only maintenance of the structure itself and removal of the ashes at the bottom.

Remove Ashes

Discussions about smokeless fire pits usually center around the secondary combustion, but there is also the primary combustion — the main fire that occurs at the bottom of the pit, contained by the interior wall. Just like a traditional fire pit, accumulated ashes need to be cleaned out to avoid clogging air vents or making a mess.

Luckily, the higher heat of the secondary combustion burns off a good deal of ash waste from the primary combustion, so there is less ash to remove than in a traditionally built fire pit. But whether you’re burning logs, wood pellets or charcoal, there will always be some ash.

In-ground smokeless fire pits should usually be cleaned out every three or four uses. If you have a portable smokeless fire pit, always dump the ashes before packing up.

Most portable fire pits can simply be turned upside down and shaken, then whisked out with a broom or vacuumed with a wet/dry vacuum. Permanent in-ground fire pits aren’t so easy to empty. Some manufacturers provide specialty shovels to reach around their specific bottom structures. A good example is the Breeo ash shovel, with its angled handle and short dustpan.

Clear Bottom Vents

Vents on the bottom of the fire pit provide oxygen to fuel the primary combustion. Not all fire pits have bottom vets, but if yours does, the best time to make sure they’re clog-free is after removing the ashes. Look for chunks of ash or debris. If the vents are clogged, slip on some gloves and clean them out by hand or with a brush.

Smokeless fire pits that burn logs usually have larger vent holes than those burning wood pellets. If you’ve used wood pellets in a log burner, pay special attention to the vents. Pellets are small enough to fall into the vent holes and create a clog.

Wipe the Sides

Wipe down the sides of the fire pit with a rag or paper towel. This prevents mud from clinging to the side of the fire pit and introducing moisture, which can accelerate rust. This is especially important with portable units. You’ll likely move them from location to location anyway, and it’s less messy to transport a clean one.

Brush Side Vents

Also check the vents in the outer and inner wall. The high heat of the flames usually burns off debris from the inner wall, but the exterior wall vents are prone to clogs. Go over them quickly with a brush or rag, knocking off any debris.

Note: If you’re building a DIY smokeless fire pit, it’s smart to dull the metal after you drill the vents. Many hole saws leave a sharp rim that can snag fabric or cut a finger.

Clean Cooking Surfaces

If you prepare food on your smokeless fire pit, wipe down all cooking surfaces to remove excessive grease. Make sure any oils left on the grates or other cooking implements don’t become rancid or lead to rusty surfaces.

Most cooking surfaces will clean up without much problem. For tougher jobs, bring them into the kitchen and soak them in soapy water, or even run them through the dishwasher.

Attack Rust

Excessive exposure to moisture often leads to fire pit rust. It can also be caused by burning ocean driftwood, which leaves a ring of salt along the interior.

If you notice rust developing, go over those spots with a stiff wire brush, pulling away oxidized material until you have clean metal underneath. (Here’s an in-depth look at how to remove rust by hand or with chemical help.) Stainless steel fire pits can be left as bare metal.

Touchup Coating or Paint, as Needed

Many fire pits come with a coat of high-temperature paint or a protective coating. If that wears away, the underlying metal may rust. If so, remove any rust accumulation as directed above, then treat the clean metal with a touch-up coating or high temperature paint as needed. Check with the manufacturer to see what they recommend.

When in doubt, go with a simple spray-on, high-temperature paint such as this one from Thermalux. Always use high-temp paint. Regular paint won’t stand up to the extremely high temperatures; it will flake away and potentially give off dangerous fumes.

Clean Masonry Walls

Exterior walls of in-ground smokeless fire pits are usually brick or stone. Cleaning these from time to time keeps them looking their best, and makes it easier to notice and repair cracks.

The proper cleaning method will depend on the kind of wall. Brick, concrete and different types of stone have specific requirements. When in doubt, start with water and a brush, then refer to the Family Handyman archives for more details on how to clean specific surfaces.

Optional: Polish Stainless Steel

If your fire pit has stainless steel walls, you’ll likely notice it develops a patina over time. The slight shift in color is a reaction to the high temperatures of the fire. It won’t impact the fire pit’s lifespan.

If you prefer the “fresh from the store” look, use a stainless steel cleaner cream or powder to buff it back to its original appearance. To avoid scratches or a foggy appearance, look closely at the metal, identify the grain and buff in the same direction.

Protect It From the Elements

Smokeless fire pits are built to withstand heat and water. But even the most well-designed fire pit can be vulnerable to excessive moisture. Consider buying a cover or a waterproof tarp to protect it when not in use.

Dan Stout
Ohio-based freelance writer and author Dan Stout is a former residential remodeler, commercial site supervisor and maintenance manager. He’s worked on nearly all aspects of building and DIY including project planning and permitting, plumbing, basic electric, drywall, carpentry, tiling, painting and more. He also publishes noir fantasy thrillers, including The Carter Series, from Penguin imprint DAW Books.