Wood Ashes - a recurring task
Cleaning out wood ashes is a recurring task with any wood heat appliance. It just can't be avoided. It's one of the "costs" of frugal living with wood heat.
If ash is allowed to accumulate, you'll be reducing wood stove efficiency by inhibiting radiation and convection inside the stove. Deep ash also allows embers and coals to burn for much longer since they are somewhat smothered.
Generally, ash is best removed with a small shovel and a metal bucket.
Ash can also be removed with a special vacuum cleaner for wood ashes, if you're absolutely certain that there are no live embers remaining. Be sure to wait at least 48 hours after your last burn dies down before vacuuming because hot coals can live for a couple of days semi-smothered in ash.
If you choose to vacuum, you must use special vacuum cleaner bags designed for ashes. Ordinary bags or a water bath dirt trap on a vacuum cleaner just won't capture the ultra-fine particles of ash. While cleaning up your wood stove, you'll be redistributing about 10% of the ash into the air that you breathe.
That's not good at all.
When removing the ash, go slow and easy to prevent it from becoming airborne as you transfer it from stove to bucket. Let it gently slide off the shovel, don't dump it in the bucket.
My approach is to shovel out whatever I can get easily with the shovel, then vacuum where necessary using a paper filter bag designed to capture ash. The stove doesn't have to be perfectly clean, just largely free of ash that would interfere with heat transfer to exterior portions of the stove.
I generally shovel the major portion of ash and vacuum only near the door so I'm not dropping ash outside the stove when I open to fill it periodically. If you vacuum all the ash, you'll be spending quite a bit of money each season for filter bags, so use the vacuum sparingly and stick with the shovel and bucket.
Another problem with vacuuming is that the narrow attachments on the vacuum and the hose can get clogged with nails, small chunks of charcoal, and other pieces of debris in the stove. If you shovel these larger pieces out first, the task of vacuuming wood ashes will be all the easier.
Whether you're shoveling or vacuuming, the ash should be removed to the outdoors immediately after the stove has been cleaned, just as a precaution. If you have a hot ember in the ashes, you don't want it smoldering in the house where it will consume oxygen and produce combustion products. You also want to avoid the potential for a fire.
Wood heat is wonderful, especially if it's free, but there is a "price" to be paid for everything, even in our world of frugal living. With wood heat, one of the prices is cleaning out the wood ashes after you've heated your home.
Done with Wood Ashes, take me back to Heating with Wood