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Why Can't I Burn Certain Paper/Cardboard in My Stove???

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by BurnIt13, Nov 13, 2012.

  1. BurnIt13

    BurnIt13 Minister of Fire

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    This is my second year burning full time on my own stove. I consider myself a safe burner and try my hardest not to do anything stupid. I love to throw a few pieces of paper and cardboard in when I'm starting a fire in a cold stove to get some hot flames and to get the draft going. I always read not to burn these things:

    - Glossy paper
    - Glossy cardboard
    - Egg Cartons
    - Paper plates

    Why? What is the scientific reason for this? Its not like we are throwing whole magazines in our stoves to try and get it up to 800 degrees. Nor are we making a fire only out of these items. It is a hand full of these items just to help get the fire started.

    I've done a quick search and find plenty of threads with people asking if they can burn these things and plenty of people telling them not to, but no one really saying why. The closest I got was some web article saying that most cardboard is made in China and is probably loaded with lead. Riiiiiiiight.

    Why are these bad for starting a fire? Someone please tell me! Seems like such a waste of good BTU's! :p

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  2. Grisu

    Grisu Minister of Fire

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    I do not put cardboard in as it often does not burn up completely before the flakes go up the chimney potentially clogging the screen in the chimney cap. They can also be a real hazard if you have some creosote in your chimney and they ignite it. Some of that glossy stuff and the paper plates can have a plastic coating or inks which will give you some nasty fumes. You do not want to pollute the air with those. People with a cat stove need to be even more careful to not kill their cat with any of those things. The only paper I am using are scrambled newspapers; the rest goes into the recycling bin.
  3. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    I sometimes burn those things, and I have also burned painted or stained scrapes of wood for fire starter with no ill effects. I wouldn't burn it exclusively, but a little bit once in a while does no harm.
    It's like eating ice cream, a little bit once in a while won't hurt you, but do it all the time and you'll probably start to notice some negative side effects.
  4. pip3398

    pip3398 Member

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    If your stove is catalytic it can ruin the combustor.
  5. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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    The last 3 chimney fires that happened to folks I know personally, all began with them burning something on your list in their stove.

    For a non-catalytic stove, using a small amount should pose no real risk. However, even a shoe box or the cardboard from a case of beer can burn hot and fast enough to shoot flames up a chimney and ignite any creosote that may be there.

    The real problem is when folks believe they can use their stove to dispose of these items, essentially using their stove as a burn barrel. A classic is burning christmas wrapping paper in the stove and starting a chimney fire.

    pen
  6. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    I would think that the "real problem" is having enough creosote deposits in your chimney that you would get a chimney fire in the first place, If you are trying to play safe by not burning a bit of cardboard or paper in your stove I think you're just setting yourself up for a real problem. No?
  7. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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    The buddy that had a chimney fire after burning the cardboard from a 30 pack has burned in that stove for 5 years now (EPA unit) and has the chimney cleaned once a year by a pro who always gives him a good report.

    He didn't guess that there would be creosote in there to ignite, but it doesn't always take much.

    pen
  8. SteveKG

    SteveKG Minister of Fire

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    In nearly 40 yr. of wood-stove use, full-time heating of our home, I have always used paper and a small bit of cardboard to start fires in any of our four stoves. Usually I use regular newspaper, regular cardboard. Now and then, there will be a page or two of glossy or other paper. Cardboard egg cartons? Throw them in. Never had a problem of any kind in any way. Never seen any trouble from any kind of paper, though I do avoid burning any paper or cardboard with plastic windows or tape on them, not for the stove but for the health of the atmosphere.

    Only problems I've ever seen or heard about with my fellow wood-stove users around here are if and when one of them stuffs his stove with too much cardboard. Only takes a small piece, and it can burn furiously if there is too much. Other than that, no problem.

    Note: don't have and have never used a catalytic stove, have no idea whether things are different for them.
  9. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Ditto what others said... I avoid glossy stuff because it may contaminate the cat. Not sure it will, but I have enough non-glossy stuff laying around to start fires with, that it's a non-issue for me.

    I also avoid cardboard, because big chunks of partially burned material can go flying up the chimney, either sticking to the liner or clogging the cap. Likely not a problem if you do it once, but if it's a daily habit, I could see some remote potential for problems. Moreover, a lot of the cardboard I get around here has seems to have been treated with a chemical to prevent it from burning easily, perhaps for the purpose of warehouse safety. I've tried using it for starting brush fires countless times, and it often seems to self-extinguish, particularly cardboard from Europe (I used to work for a Germany company).

    Your last statement must have been made in jest... you're not burning more than a few sheets of paper to start a fire, right? A sheet or two of glossy paper here and there is not likely to matter much in the grand scheme of things, but are you that hard up for firestarter that you can't find some plain paper to use?
  10. David Tackett

    David Tackett Member

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    I had thought of this same question. I figured the companies are just trying to avoid people from burning trash in their stove.
  11. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    Glossy paper makes poor fire starter anyway, but as for the other stuff, the OP is only talking about using a little bit of paper or cardboard to start the fire, not stuffing the box full trying to turn his chimney into a roman candle. Seriously, If little fire from a hand full of paper and cardboard is going to be enough start a chimney fire what is a full load of dry wood going to do?
  12. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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    Exactly.

    However, rather than quantify how much a small amount of cardboard is when using it to start the fire in the manual, it's a lot easier (and prolly makes the attorney's happy) to just say not to use it.

    pen
  13. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    Gee i have been using junk mail to start my stove for years. Usually it takes only a few AARP letters a or i especially like to use political mailings to get er goin.
  14. billb3

    billb3 Minister of Fire

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    Not "burning" these things includes using your stove as a garbage incinerator.
    You'll be advised by most not to do that for a varying number of reasons
    (from metals in inks to chemical additives/ coatings that may or may not have been used)

    Using a tiny bit as a fire starter is a tiny subset of "burning".
    You do want to be careful of/with flying ash and can be quite unsafe.

    I wouldn't use a tiny bit of paper/cardboard I wouldn't also feel comfortable putting in the compost.

    Egg cartons are often made of recycled paper of unknown origin and composition.
    Those that do know what gets tossed in the pulp oven aren't talking ... , so don't be burning.

    The clear plastic windows in envelopes are most often cellulose film.

    waterproofing coating on paper /cardboard can be anything from wax to PE.
    same with coatings on papers to control the printing process, especially for colored inks, even soy-based.
    The ink may be safe to burn / compost , but any coatings /processing to the paper / cardboard to control ink bleed /absorption may not be.
    Because of this they are best recycled despite all the green compositions.






    With so many paper products these days made of percentages of "post consumer waste" do you really trust them to be free of things that should not be in there ?
    It may truly be best to exclusively leave recycled paper for the paper recycling stream and keep it as far from the rest of the environment as possible.
  15. tlc1976

    tlc1976 New Member

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    I seem to be against the grain here but I burn it all, cardboard, paperboard, junk mail, newspapers, wrapping paper. Plastic works well to get a really finicky fire going but I rarely use that. I figure might as well have good firestarters and put the heat in the house rather than either burn it in a burn barrel, or drive it to the dump. Another reason is it's so easy to eliminate one of the possible sources of identity theft by just burning the old paperwork.

    Based on the thread I read about the Kent stoves, mine is ideal for this. It has the upper chamber with small holes in a baffle to filter out most particles etc. and keep things from going direct up the pipe, but does not have catalyst to go bad. But you have to do it smartly anyway. Just loading up the stove with junk and letting it go with the flue open is asking for problems. I have a large burn box and use a bunch of it to start each fire, and open the flue just enough to keep an updraft while it gets going, then once it's going good I shut the door and the flue.

    I also clean my chimney often like every 2-3 weeks, but it is not a big deal. Don't have to play Santa or even go outside. Slide the stove sideways to get the house pipe section out, then feed the brush up the rest of the pipe, and feed it through the house pipe, then clean up with the junk shop vac. I've found that it's not the junk that dirties the chimney. It's throttling it down for the night that makes all the difference in creosote buildup.
  16. FanMan

    FanMan Feeling the Heat

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    I've found egg cartons make a good firestarter, but glossy paper is hard to ignite. I think most things in firestarter quantities should be OK (in a non cat stove, at least).

    Some years back I acquired one of those old 1970s stoves that look like an inverted funnel with a hole in the side. I had thought of installing it in my screen porch, but never did. Anyway, at one point I had a bunch of cardboard boxes to dispose of, so I burned them in this stove sitting in the back yard, with about 8' of stovepipe on it. The results were quite spectacular to say the least, with flames shooting up well beyond the pipe. Flaming pieces of cardboard, too, but as it had just rained and wasn't windy I wasn't too worried about it.
  17. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

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    Most glossy paper is actual a blend of at least 50% paper fiber and 50% fillers. Some of the fillers can get carried up into heat transfer areas and form clinkers. In industry, the filler is called "ash" as it doesnt burn and turns into ash. There are some fillers that could screw up a catalytic combustor. Some of the big fillers are clay and titanium dioxide but there are a lot of other things in small quantities. Egg cartosn are usually made with the dregs of the papermaking process that cant be recycled for much else. There will be plenty of fillers and other junk mixing in with the combustables.

    Probably the biggest issue is that paper and other junk has a lot of surface area and burns quickly, throw enough of it in a stove and the flames can carry out into the chimney and possibly ignite any creosote casuing a chimney fire. In some cases the ashes can carry up the stack and land somewhere either as ash or as an ember.

    Air emissions are also an issue, some folks confuse burning paper with trash. Just a little bit of PVC plastic can crank out a lot of dioxins. I have seen reports that a single one family burn barrel used normally can put out more dioxin that the output of a biomass power boiler. Unfortunately the fine ash caused by fillers can cause submicron particulate (PM 2.5) which is a significant problem with those who have breathing issues.
  18. James02

    James02 Feeling the Heat

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    There are people here that make fire starters with the paper based egg cartons, not the plastic...
  19. Sprinter

    Sprinter Minister of Fire

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    Yeah, I guess they work pretty well, too. Usually made by mixing sawdust (cedar preferred) with some melted paraffin wax and poured into the carton. Like homemade Super Cedar's.

    I wouldn't burn anything that's glossy. Paper plates are often plastic coated and are usually glossy in that case. Magazine paper doesn't use plastic, but the fillers are problematic as mentioned above. I don't know of anything wrong with paper egg cartons. I think they're kind of a paper mache.
  20. DIY_HOME

    DIY_HOME New Member

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    The best thing to burn in your stove is good, dry wood. Many other types of materials have more of a tendency to leave creosote buildup. If you need a good recommendation for a firestarter, I swear by cedar firestarters. I bought them online once just to try out last year and I haven't used anything different since then.
  21. FanMan

    FanMan Feeling the Heat

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    Reminds me of some years back when renovating my old cabin, I burned a bunch of cheap old paneling (in an outdoor firepit). Smelled nasty, and the ash left behind was a bunch of almost glasslike chips that had a "tinkling" sound when pushed around.

    As mentioned above, a common homemade firestarter is to pack dryer lint into a paper egg carton and add melted wax.
  22. Sprinter

    Sprinter Minister of Fire

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    Dryer lint. Now that's true recycling!
  23. oldogy

    oldogy Member

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    I've been using pressed paper egg cartons for years. Franklin, box, pot belly, open field stone fireplace and now the Jotul 500. I figure if my eggs come in the carton, it probably isn't too badly polluted. All time favorite fire starter is fat pine.
  24. bag of hammers

    bag of hammers Minister of Fire

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    I seem to recall some home improvement show talking about the fire hazards associated with dryer vent ducts that were not periodically inspected / cleaned. Apparently because dryer lint is extremely flammable. I've been throwing it in the trash, never even thought to drop some in the stove on a cold start. Might have to give that a try....

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