7 Materials to Avoid Burning in a Backyard Fire Pit

Nothing beats building a roaring bonfire on a warm summer evening. The sweet smell of wood smoke, the sound of popping embers, and the delicious taste of freshly roasted marshmallows are the stuff that fun memories are made of.

But what do you do when the wood pile dwindles? It’s tempting to look around for alternative materials to keep the fire burning, but there are some materials that should never be used as fuel for a backyard fire pit.

This article will tell you which materials to avoid and which materials to burn safely in your fire pit.

7 Materials You Should Not Burn in Your Wood-Burning Fire Pit

  1. Plastic

Plastic is everywhere and has a tendency to collect in our homes. Burning it may seem like a convenient way to get rid of those old containers that have been piling up in your recycling bin, but when burned plastic can release a variety of toxic chemical fumes.

Not only are these fumes harmful for your health, they are also bad for the environment. Plus, melted plastic is difficult to remove and may damage your fire pit in the process. Instead of burning them, find new ways to repurpose your plastic bottles and containers or take them to your local recycling center.

  1. Treated/Painted Wood

I know what you’re thinking. Why is burning treated or painted wood so bad? It is wood, after all. This is true, but treated and painted wood products are covered with a variety of chemicals to prevent the wood from rotting or color the material.

Like plastic, burning these items can release toxic fumes into the air. Depending on how old the wooden item is, it might even contain arsenic. Yikes!

If you are confident that the lumber left over from your latest woodworking project is untreated, go ahead and toss it on the fire, but if the wood might have been treated or painted, toss it onto the scrap heap instead.

  1. Trash

It can be tempting to simply get rid of your trash by starting a fire, but burning trash is actually quite dangerous.

Not only is burning trash illegal in many areas, burning trash can also release toxic chemicals into the air as well as large amounts of black smoke and a nasty smell. Plus, throwing a bag of trash onto the fire without seeing what is inside first can lead to dangerous scenarios if it contains something combustible.

  1. Cardboard and Paper

Cardboard and paper seem fairly safe to burn at face value, but burning them can create huge flakes of smoldering ash and release them into the air. If one of these flakes land in the wrong place, it can lead to injuries or potentially light other objects on fire.

Brightly colored items like magazines or wrapping paper also contain a lot of ink which can release harmful chemicals when burned. It’s better to simply recycle these materials.

  1. Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Sumac

These pesky plants contain oils that can cause an irritating rash when they come in contact with your skin. Burning these plants releases those same oils into the air which can lead to respiratory problems, lung irritation, and other allergic reactions.

According to this article by BalconyGardenWeb.com, poisonous plants can be identified by glossy green leaves (typically in groups of three), white or yellow berries or a milky sap substance.

Try to avoid any plants that match this description, both in the woods and in your fire pit.

  1. Accelerants

Items like lighter fluid or gasoline allow you to light up a fire quickly, but using these materials can be extremely dangerous.

Accelerants are unpredictable and can cause a fire to quickly flare beyond your control. Plus, they can lead to explosions.

You are better off starting a fire the old-fashioned way with firewood and kindling. For additional tips for starting a fire without accelerants, check out our article, How to Start the Perfect Fire in a Fire Pit.

  1. Green or Soft Wood

Unlike the other items on this list, burning green or soft wood is not damaging to your health or dangerous, however, it does have a tendency to produce large amounts of smoke that will make it very unpleasant to sit around the fire.

What Can You Burn in a Backyard Fire Pit Other Than Wood

Now that you know which materials to avoid, there are also several alternatives to wood that you can safely use in your fire pit.

  1. Wood Bricks

Wood bricks are made from recycled sawdust and woodchips that have been compacted into a brick shape and dried in a kiln. These bricks are easy to store and burn cleanly making them a great option for roasting marshmallows and hot dogs.

  1. Wood Pellets

Similar to wood bricks, wood pellets are also created from recycled sawdust and are rolled into small pellets. These pellets can also be easily stored in a bag and create less char than firewood.

Unless you have a fire pit that is designed to accommodate wood pellets, you will need to use a metal basket to store the pellets inside the fire pit as they burn.

  1. Switchgrass/Soy Logs

Another non-wood option is switchgrass and soy logs, these logs are a 50% blend of soybeans and switchgrass with natural wax as a binder. These logs are safe to burn and do not leave any residue in your fire pit. Plus, it leaves a sweet scent as it burns.

  1. Recycled Coffee Grounds

A surprising fuel option for your fire pit is old coffee grounds. Burning these coffee grounds will give your fire a faint coffee scent as well as help keep materials out of landfills.

Make Safety the Top Priority with Your Outdoor Fire Pit

Whether you choose traditional firewood or one of the recommended alternatives, safety is the most important thing when building a fire. In addition to choosing the correct materials to fuel your fire pit, being aware of a few simple safety tips will ensure that everyone enjoys their time spent around the fire.

To learn more about how to safely burn a backyard fire, check out our article, 14 Must-Know Backyard Fire Pit Safety Tips for Your Next Fire.

With so many options available, you’re sure to find the best materials to fuel your fire pit and keep the fun going for hours.

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About the Author

Josh House
Josh House
Josh House is a digital marketer who has a passion for video production and a soft spot for a good pun. During a cool evening, you’ll find him aspiring to build the perfect fire while strumming campfire songs on his guitar all night long.

1 comment

teddi Moore

We don’t want to burn trash as a fuel for our social fire pit.. Just want to know if using the same fire pit burn fire wood when we sit around the fire pit and trash on trash day.

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