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Home & garden.

Updated: 13 Jun 2022

How to get the best from your fire pit

Get the most from your fire pit using our top tips on safety, lighting and cleaning
Jade Harding
Lighing fire pit2

You’ve chosen the best outdoor fire pit, set it up in the perfect location, and now it’s time to get in your garden and relax. But alongside enjoying the new heater, you’ll need to ensure you can light and clean it quickly – and stay safe while doing so.

Our expert guide to using your fire pit covers everything you need to know, including how to get it burning, the useful fire-pit gadgets to look out for, how to maintain your fire pit, plus top fire safety tips from the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service.

If you've still not decided what type of fire pit would suit your garden, head over to our guide on choosing the best fire pit.

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How to light a fire pit

  1. Put a few bunches of scrunched-up newspaper on the bottom of the pit
  2. Add some kindling on top of the newspaper in a pyramid shape to aid ventilation
  3. Using a long safety match or a long lighter, light the newspaper and kindling
  4. Once the fire has caught, add one or two logs to increase the fire
  5. As the fire starts to decrease, add one or two logs to keep it burning

If you’re lighting a chiminea, make sure you have a layer of sand or lava rocks on the bottom before you light the fire.

If you have a gas fire pit, all you need to do is switch it on. If the gas has run out, always read the instruction manual to find out how to replace the canister.

Lighting a fire pit

What wood should I burn in a fire pit?

Burning the correct wood in your fire pit can help it not only light quicker, but also burn at a steadier rate so it needs topping up less frequently.

You may  want to consider certain types of wood that are less likely to spit sparks or smoke too much when lit. 

Hardwoods, such as oak, hawthorn and ash, are the best types of wood for a steady, long-lasting burn. They're dense woods, and will produce less smoke and residue when lit.

A good mixture of wood can also help get your fire started. Fast-burning woods such as birch and hazel are excellent choices for lighting your fire and can usually be bought in kindling or bark form. Hazel is also unlikely to spit sparks.

If you want your fire to produce a nice aroma while it burns, you may also want to consider apple or cherry wood, though make sure these are seasoned and very dry. Pine will create a pleasant smell, though it will spit a lot and can leave behind sooty residue, so use it with care. 

Avoid damp wood. It's likely to smoke heavily, and burning wet logs will produce far more PM than dry logs, making it much worse for the environment. In fact, since 1 May 2021, wood with higher than 20% moisture content in bundles of up to 2 cubic metres should not be sold in England, but can still be sold in the rest of the UK.

If you want to keep warm but without the smoke, see our patio heater buying guide

How can I make my fire pit more efficient?

Using an outdoor fire pit

There are several steps you can take to make your fire pit more efficient and long-lasting:

  • Using seasoned or kiln-dried wood - a process of drying out wood until it contains as little moisture as possible. Seasoned wood produces less smoke and burns more efficiently, and you can buy it pre-made or make it yourself from most home and garden stores.
  • Use sand or lava rocks to protect from extreme heat damage - over time, the bottom of your suspended fire pit may suffer from heat damage, so placing a layer of sand or lava rocks can create a barrier and make it last longer. 
  • Keep it clean and dry - this will avoid you burning old fire pit debris, help protect from rusting and corrosion, and keep whatever wood is burning dry. 
  • Light it from the middle - heat rises, so you won't have too much luck lighting your fire from the top. A match or firelighter in the bottom-middle of your fire pit should disperse the flames and heat evenly.
  • Don't use flammable liquids to light it - as well as being a massive safety risk, using lighter fluid or other flammable liquids to light a fire pit can damage the pit itself and the surrounding area. 
  • Make sure the fire has plenty of oxygen - your fire won't last long without a steady flow of O2; give it plenty of space to breathe. 

Useful fire pit gadgets

Fire pit with lid accessory
  • Poker: for stoking the fire
  • Long-reach grabber: to safely add and move logs in the fire
  • Long-length fire lighter: to avoid burning your fingers when lighting the fire
  • Log rack: somewhere to store logs
  • Log carrier: a large bag with handles used to carry wood to the fire pit
  • Ash bucket: to use when cleaning your fire pit
  • Fire pit gloves: to keep your hands safe
  • Fire pit lid: to use as a snuffer, to stop leftover ash/embers from blowing out of the pit and to stop the barrel from getting wet.
  • Fire pit screen: extra protection from flying embers or sparks
  • BBQ rack: to cook food over your fire pit
  • Fire pit roasting oven: this sits on a BBQ rack and can be used to roast meat, potatoes and vegetables
  • Ash spade: to easily clear ash from the pit
  • Hanging cooking bowl: a cooking bowl that hangs from a tripod above the fire pit

Are you giving your garden a makeover? Why not add a hot tub or pizza oven

How to clean a fire pit

How to clean a fire pit

Cleaning methods all depend on the type of material your fire pit's made from. Here are our step-by-step guides to cleaning steel, copper, cast iron, brick and gas fire pits.

Steel or copper fire pit

  • Clear all the ash and debris from the inside of the fire pit. You should wait until the day after it’s been used to ensure the fire has gone out and the ash has cooled.
  • Use hot, soapy water and a soft cloth to wash down the inside of the pit.
  • Rinse the soap off and then dry the pit completely. Leaving water residue can cause the metal to rust.

Cast iron fire pit

  • Remove all the ash and debris from the fire pit the day after use.
  • Use hot water and steel wool to clean the interior of the fire pit.
  • Thoroughly dry the pit with a soft cloth to avoid corrosion.

Brick or stone fire pit

  • Remove all the ash and debris from the fire pit the day after use.
  • Scrub the brick/stone with hot, soapy water and a brush.
  • Hose it down.
  • Leave to dry completely before using.

Gas fire pit

  • Remove any debris such as leaves from the exterior.
  • Use a cloth and soapy water to wipe down the sides.
  • Dry it off with a soft cloth.

How to buy the best garden furniture and best outdoor lights - be as comfortable as possible while enjoying your fire pit. 

Fire pit maintenance

Cast iron fire pit
Looking after your fire pit will help to lengthen its lifespan. Here are a few ways to keep your fire pit in good working order:
  • Keep your fire pit covered and protected from the elements when not in use. This is especially important for cast iron, steel and copper pits. Excessive rain can cause it to rust.
  • Don’t douse the fire with water to put it out – let it extinguish naturally. The quick drop in temperature can cause the pit to crack.
  • Clean out the ash and debris after every use and give it a deep clean every three to six months.
  • Don’t use accelerants – the extreme heat can damage the pit
  • Oil your steel fire pit around twice a month
  • Don’t burn plastic in the pit. It will melt and stick to the pan.

If you’re looking for a recommended trades person you can trust, visit Which? Trusted Traders to find someone near you who has been through our rigorous background checks.

Fire pit safety

Friends gathered around a fire pit
To find out more about safety when setting up and using fire pits, we spoke to Charlotte Lee, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s East Hub Prevention Manager. Here are her top fire pit safety tips:
  1. Pick a safe location Make sure your fire pit is well away from sheds, fences, trees and shrubs.
  2. Protect vulnerable users Keep children and pets away from the fire.
  3. Choose approved items Use only approved lighters and only ever on cold coals.
  4. Be prepared Keep a bucket of water, sand, or a garden hose nearby for emergencies. 
  5. Stay put Don't leave a lit fire pit unattended.

Safety advice provided by East Hub Prevention Manager Charlotte Lee, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service

Head over to our fire pit buying guide if you're still not sure what type would suit your garden.