When we need to put out a fire, we know our go-to options are usually to let it burn out or to pour water on it. But while pouring water on fire might work when you’re camping, is it good to do on fireplaces?
Water should not be poured on a fireplace because it can cause messy ash, more smoke, and potentially crack the masonry. Depending on the type of wood and the heat of the flame, using water to put out a fire can also cause smoke inhalation and steam burns. Water should only be poured on a fireplace in an emergency.
If you’re not supposed to pour water on your fireplace, what should you do instead? Are there any other methods for extinguishing it? Do you even have to put the fire out and what happens if you don’t? Read on to find out!
Can You Pour Water on Your Fireplace to Extinguish It?
Pouring water on a fireplace is not recommended because of the damage it can cause. First of all, it takes a lot of water to extinguish a fire this way and creates a mess with all the smoke and ash. Wet ashes are much harder to sweep out of a fireplace!
Many materials used in your fireplace and chimney (such as masonry and steel) are water-sensitive and can become damaged when they absorb water. This causes weakness and rust in the chimney which can be expensive to fix.
Also, when water mixes with creosote, a chemical commonly found in chimneys, it makes a strong smell that will spread throughout your home. Generally, your fireplace and chimney will last longer if you don’t expose them to water or steam.
Another problem with steam is that it can lead to steam burns. When you pour water on a fire, the water can vaporize instantly to steam, and if the fire is hot enough, it can lead to burns.
Hot steam is normally over 200°F and can cause redness, swelling, pain, and blisters if you get too close.
Finally, avoid pouring water on your fireplace because it can interrupt the ventilation and can push all of the smoke back into your home. Vapors that are supposed to go out of the chimney instead stay inside for you to breathe.
Inhaling smoke can cause breathing problems, dizziness, and even long-term health issues after enough exposure. Carbon monoxide is also released from wood-burning fires which can be poisonous in large quantities.
Now that we’ve covered the potential downsides of extinguishing an indoor fire with water, let’s explore the best way to put out a fire in your fireplace.
The Best Way to Extinguish a Fire in a Fireplace
The best way to safely put out a fire is using a poker, shovel, and baking soda. Once the fire is out and completely cooled, removing the embers is an important final step for fire safety.
To safely and effectively extinguish a fire in a fireplace, follow these steps:
- Use the poker to spread out wood and embers to let them cool
- Shovel some cool ash on top of the embers
- Sprinkle a small amount of baking soda on top for any remaining embers
- Allow ashes to cool completely overnight inside the fireplace
You may be wondering why baking soda is used to help put out the fire.
It turns out that baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is used in fire extinguishers.
How exactly does this work?
When heated at high temperatures, baking soda breaks down to carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is also a byproduct of fires, so by increasing the amount around the fire, the oxygen levels will be greatly limited (which is a main fuel source for fires). This helps smother and extinguish flames much faster.
So, using baking soda is a good way to make sure any embers you may have missed don’t catch on fire again!
Once the fire is out, it’s important to leave the ashes in the fireplace, as embers can stay hot enough to start a fire for at least 24-48 hours.
Also, keep your fireplace clean and free of unnecessary debris. The next day, sweep the cool ashes out of your fireplace and store them in a metal container away from your house and any flammable materials. Once they have been cooled for several days, it’s safe to dispose of them.
Another option is to use them in your garden! Once cooled, fireplace ashes are great additions to a compost pile or as plant fertilizer (keep in mind that ashes are very alkaline, so you may need to balance the soil’s pH if you choose to fertilize with it).
At this point, you may be wondering if you even need to extinguish the fire, or if you can just let it put itself out. Let’s explore this a bit more.
Do You Have to Put Out a Fire in a Fireplace?
As a rule, fires should always be put out to prevent any accidental fires. This includes fires in fireplaces. Unattended flames can release embers onto nearby flammable materials and start a fire. Additionally, keeping logs burning for an extended period can slowly damage the fireplace over time.
Although a dying fire may not seem very dangerous, accidents can happen.
Fires only need fuel, heat, and oxygen to burn, so not putting out a fire means that even with a minimal amount of material, there’s a chance the wood will unexpectedly relight.
Even with a grate in front of it, fires can still spit out embers onto nearby curtains and carpets.
So, any time you’ll be leaving a fireplace unattended such as leaving your house, be sure to put out the fire first! But what about going to sleep? Do you still need to put out a fire if you’re still in the house?
Can You Leave a Fireplace On Overnight?
In most cases, you should not leave a fireplace on overnight. This can result in accidental fires and smoke being blown back into the house. Some people rely on fireplaces for heat, because of this, certain fireplace models are appropriate to leave on overnight.
According to FEMA, a vital part of fireplace safety includes properly extinguishing a fire before going to sleep or leaving the house.
As mentioned earlier, leaving a fireplace on overnight can result in embers popping out and causing accidental fires.
Another problem is that when a fire dies down, smoke will stop going up the chimney and will instead be blown into the room. These fumes include carbon monoxide.
Extinguishing the embers before you go to sleep is a good way to prevent backdraft and any possible injury.
However, certain fireplaces can be left on overnight such as:
- Wood stoves
- Vented gas fireplace
- Electric fireplace inserts
These units are safer to leave on overnight because they are closed so no stray embers and dangerous fumes can get out. To be safe, it’s good to remove any nearby flammable objects.
It’s also important to make sure that the fireplace was installed properly before leaving it on for long periods. Although it’s possible to safely use these heating sources for longer than a normal fireplace, it will be expensive (by far the most economical way to heat is with a furnace. For more information, check out my post on fireplaces vs furnaces).
Leaving a gas or electric fireplace on will use a lot of gas and electricity, driving up your monthly utility bill.
With most fireplaces, it should not be left on overnight. Any time you leave a fire unattended, extinguish it properly using the method from earlier.
If you’re a visual learner or want more details, check out this video by the U.S. Fire Administration on how to extinguish a fire.