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Can Fire Pits Get Wet (Do They Need a Cover)?

It frequently rains at my family’s cabin, and we were wondering if we should keep our fire pit covered while we’re gone. We had an idea, but I did some more research to find out more. Here’s what I found.

Fire pits either need to be covered or have proper drainage. When left wet, fire pits get rust, burner interference, dirt, algae, pests, and other issues. To prevent rust, season metal fire pits with oil. Ensure propane and stone fire pits have an area for drainage. Wait 2 hours for the pit to cool before covering.

Let’s take a look at exactly what happens when fire pits aren’t covered, how to drain a wet fire pit, and the most effective covers.

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What To Do if Your Fire Pit Is Wet

If your fire pit got wet, drain it and expose it to the sun and wind to dry. If you’re unable to move or drain your fire pit, consider using a shop vac or sponge out the water. You can also dry a portion of the fire pit and light a fire to dry the rest of it. Once it cools, season any metal and place a cover over it.

There will likely be little to no damage if your fire pit doesn’t get wet often and it wasn’t wet for long. Let it dry out and cover it to prevent further exposure (especially if you’re expecting more rain).

If your fire pit does get wet or rained on often, it’ll rust or weather quickly.

Do Fire Pits Need to be Covered?

a covered fire pit

If fire pits don’t have sufficient drainage, they should definitely be covered. Metal fire pits are the most vulnerable to water, but stone and gas fire pits also benefit from covering. Covers should be removed regularly during sunny weather to reduce moisture build-up underneath. 

A weather-proof cover increases your fire pit’s life span and helps prevent expensive repairs. Covers also protect fire pits from more than just rain and water (more about this later).

Remember to remove the cover in sunny weather for a few hours about 1-2 times a month. If a cover is left on for weeks or months at a time, high humidity or cold-rainy weather contributes to trapped moisture in the fire pit.

Even if the cover protects the fire pits from the rain, trapped moisture from the cover rusts and weathers fire pits.

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Metal Fire Pits

a metal fire pit with a hole from rust
A rusted fire pit due to water pooling up

Metal fire pits benefit the most from protection. Once metal starts to rust, it’s hard to stop it even after cleaning it. It’s best to not assume the metal is protected because it’s made for the outdoors. Take some steps to protect it.

For example, if your fire pit has a metal base and does not have holes, consider drilling some to assist with drainage. Keep in mind that ash and embers can fall through the holes, so don’t make them too large, and protect the ground or decking if needed.

All kinds of metal corrode and rust if exposed to moisture. How fast they rust depends on the type of metal as well as how long it’s exposed to moisture.

A common misconception is that cast iron fire pits are rust-proof. But even a well-seasoned piece of cast iron will rust quickly if exposed to water (this happened when I left my cast-iron pan to soak overnight).

Rust (iron oxide) requires three things to form: iron, water, and oxygen. Removing water prevents any rust from forming.

Left in a totally dry environment, iron or steel will not rust. It is when moisture is added that the oxidation process starts to occur.

Sciencing.com
a metal fire pit with snow and water in it
Move any mobile metal fire pits into a covered area to prevent rain or snow exposure.

Keep all metal fire pits dry and season them regularly to prevent rust. If your fire pit has already started to rust, use a rust dissolver such as vinegar or other acid and remove the rust as soon as possible.

Surprisingly, steel wool should not be used to remove the rust as it damages the metal and can lead to further rust problems. Instead, use a cloth and some vinegar to remove the rust.

Since fire pits can take 24-48 hours to completely cool, it’s recommended to not use water to extinguish metal fire pits unless necessary. Water sitting in the fire pit for that duration can lead to rust. Instead, monitor the fire and let it burn out, or use cool ash or sand to smother the fire.

If you use water to extinguish your metal fire pit, make sure it has a place to drain. If it doesn’t have drainage, empty it once the fire pit is cool (including the ashes and embers).

Brick, Stone, or Concrete Fire Pits

a brick fire pit

Brick, stone, and concrete fire pits don’t need to be covered as long as the water isn’t pooling. However, they do get dirty and erode if left uncovered.

Rain, sun, wind, and snow contribute to erosion. But the most eroding force is freeze/thaw cycles which penetrate small cracks in the material and lead to larger cracks.

While stone fire pits take longer to damage, they’ll eventually wear without proper protection. A fire pit cover also helps keep the stones clean. It’s amazing how quickly the stones accumulate dirt and algae, requiring pressure-washing or other methods to clean it.

Propane Fire Pits

a gas fire pit

Most propane fire pits are designed to be durable in the elements and typically have a place to drain. However, their burners, lighter, and other equipment still rust, so they benefit from a cover. This significantly extends their life span.

If your propane fire pit is mobile and doesn’t have a cover, consider moving it to a covered area when not in use (and when the fire pit has completely cooled).

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3 Other Benefits of Fire Pit Covers

1. Pest Protection

a mouse near the house

Fire pits quickly become an appealing home for mice and rats. While this is worrying for a wood-burning fire pit with all the nesting materials accumulating inside, it’s even more so for gas fire pits that have rubber elements and wires for them to chew through.

Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets don’t hesitate to build nests inside your uncovered fire pit.

While this makes it risky for the next person to try and use your fire pit, these pests are also messy. The materials they use for nesting can clog the inner workings (tubes and burners) of your gas fire pit making it impossible to light until you clean and repair it.

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2. Sun Protection

Even if you live in an area with little rain or humidity, still consider a fire pit cover. The sun still damages fire pits from its UV rays. After a few months, the fire pit can take on a bleached or weathered look. Its protective and decorative paint breaks down and peels and chips away.

3. Snow and Sleet Protection

a fire pit covered with snow

During the winter, if your fire pit can’t be sheltered inside (like a shed or garage), a protective cover is a must. It’s not just about the wet but the type of wet. 

For example, snow keeps the moisture pressed up against your fire pit, keeping it soaked for months at a time. Any cracks in that corrosion-resistant paint or powder coating are found by the snow, and rust occurs and spreads.

Sleet or freezing rain means pellets of ice chip away at any protective coating providing the perfect environment for the moisture to seep into and start breaking down the metal. A cover designed for winter significantly reduces these effects.

5 Ways to Protect Fire Pits from Water

1. Season Metal Fire Pits

Providing a thin layer of oil (seasoning) means any water that lands on your fire pit’s metal slips right off. This is because oil is hydrophobic (repelling water). By seasoning your fire pit’s metal regularly you decrease the chances of rust significantly.

To season your fire pit, take a clean microfiber cloth or paper towel and use it to apply a thin layer of vegetable oil on all metal surfaces.

Make sure your fire pit is cleaned of ash, dust, and other debris before seasoning it. Ash naturally absorbs oil and can prevent it from properly coating the metal.

You know it’s time to season your fire pit’s metal when it’s dry and no longer shiny. Typically, seasoning should be done every 3-6 months. But, exactly how often to season it varies with how often you use your fire pit and how often it rains.

2. Proper Drainage

All fire pits should have drainage. This includes all types—metal, stone, and gas. If your fire pit frequently pools, provides holes or a place for the water to drain. If your fire pit has a metal base and doesn’t have drainage holes, provide some if you see fit.

Stone, brick, concrete, propane, and other fire pits should also have a form of drainage. If not holes, then a path for the water to clear from the fire pit.

3. Covered Area

a gas fire pit under a patio

One of the easiest ways to protect your fire pit is to keep it under a covered area. If possible, construct it under an area that has a roof. If it’s mobile and doesn’t have a cover, consider moving it into a sheltered area during wet weather.

Some commonly covered areas you can keep fire pits are:

  • Patio
  • Garage
  • Shed

Remember to only move and store fire pits when they’re completely cool. Generally, wait 24-48 hours for the ash and embers to cool and dispose of them before moving the fire pit. Make sure nothing flammable is in range of the fire pit.

4. Synthetic or Canvas Cover

Covers are the easiest and most effective way to protect fire pits from the elements. If your fire pit is not moveable, definitely consider getting a cover for it.

Again, let the fire pit cool completely before placing the cover on it. Cleaning the fire pit before covering it prevents water from getting trapped.

Make sure to get a cover designed for your fire pit and they’re specifically designed for this reason. Look for covers that fit snuggly and are treated for resistance against water and other elements. 

5. Tarp

If you don’t have a cover, a plastic tarp from your local hardware store works, even if it’s not as nice-looking. As with the other options, check that your fire pit has cooled completely before covering it.

How Long Do Fire Pits Take To Cool Down?

a gas fire pit with stone balls
Stone and ceramic balls are designed to retain heat

Fire pits generally take between 30 minutes to 2 hours to cool down. However, ashes and embers from the fire pit take 24 hours or more. Gas-burning fires usually cool quite quickly depending on the size of the flame and the medium in the fire pit.

For example, gas fire pits with mediums such as stone and ceramic take longer to cool than steel, brass, or glass.

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Wood-burning fires take much longer to cool as wood can burn low and slow for hours. Alternatively, gas fire pits begin to cool immediately when their flames are shut off.

Keep in mind, hot and dry weather increases the time the fire pit needs to cool.

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