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what wood not to burn in fire pit

What Wood Not to Burn in Fire Pit: Backyard Safety 101

Gathering around a fire pit is a fantastic way to unwind, but choosing the right wood is crucial. Not all wood is safe to burn, and some can even be dangerous. Let's explore which woods to avoid, ensuring your cozy evening doesn't go up in toxic smoke.

What wood not to burn in a fire pit?

Do not burn treated, painted, or pressure-treated wood, toxic species like oleander or yew, driftwood, green or unseasoned wood, plywood, engineered wood, or moldy/rotting wood in your fire pit. These can release harmful chemicals or excessive smoke.

Key Takeaways:

  • Use seasoned hardwoods like oak, hickory, and maple for best results.
  • Avoid treated, painted, pressure-treated, and engineered woods.
  • Don't burn toxic woods, driftwood, or green/unseasoned wood.
  • Softwoods are okay for kindling but not as primary fuel.
  • Consider environmental impact when selecting firewood.

Understanding Wood Types for Fire Pits

Hardwoods vs. Softwoods

Hardwoods vs. Softwoods

When it comes to fire pits, hardwoods are your best bet. They burn longer, hotter, and cleaner than softwoods. Oak, hickory, and maple are excellent choices that'll keep your fire going strong.

Softwoods like pine and cedar might seem tempting, but they're not ideal. They burn quickly and produce more smoke and sparks. Save these for kindling, but avoid using them as your main fuel source.

Seasoned vs. Unseasoned Wood

Seasoned wood is the gold standard for fire pits. It's been dried for at least six months, resulting in lower moisture content. This means it burns more efficiently and produces less smoke.

Unseasoned or "green" wood is freshly cut and still full of moisture. It's hard to light, burns poorly, and creates excessive smoke. Stick to well-seasoned wood for a more enjoyable and safer fire pit experience.

Remember, the right wood choice can make or break your fire pit gathering. Opt for seasoned hardwoods to keep the good times rolling and the smoke at bay.

If you don't have an existing fire pit in your backyard, you can check out our collection here and get it delivered to your home with free shipping.

Woods to Avoid in Your Fire Pit

Treated or Painted Wood

Painted Wood

Stay clear of treated wood or anything that's been painted when choosing fuel for your fire pit. These materials often contain nasty chemicals like creosote that release toxic fumes when you burn them.

That old painted fence might look like easy pickings for your campfire, but it's not worth the risk – the irritation to your lungs and eyes can be serious.

Instead, stick to natural, untreated wood for your outdoor fires. If you're not sure about a piece of wood's history and still want to burn it, remember it's better to err on the side of caution.

The last thing you need is to turn your relaxing evening around the fire pit into a health hazard because of some unknown irritant. Your lungs (and the environment) will thank you for being picky about what goes into those flames.

Pressure-Treated Lumber

This wood is toxic to burn due to being treated with chemicals that protect against rot and insects.

While these properties make it ideal for outdoor structures, they render it a dangerous pollutant when burned. Pressure-treated wood releases harmful substances like arsenic into the air when heated, posing serious health risks.

If you have excess pressure-treated lumber from a construction project, resist the temptation to use it in your fire pit, even if it seems convenient. Instead, find alternative uses or dispose of it properly.

The same caution applies to certain wood pallets, which may also be treated with chemicals. Always prioritize safety and choose appropriate firewood to ensure a clean and enjoyable outdoor fire experience.

Poisonous Woods

Some trees are naturally toxic, and burning their wood can be dangerous. Oleander, yew, and manchineel are prime examples. These woods can release irritating or even poisonous smoke.

Do your research on local tree species before collecting firewood. When in doubt, stick to well-known, safe options like oak or maple. It's always better to play it safe when it comes to what you're breathing around the fire.



Beach bonfires might seem romantic, but driftwood is not a good choice for your fire pit. As it floats in salt water, it absorbs salt and other minerals. When burned, it can release toxic chlorine gas.

Leave that weathered driftwood on the beach where it belongs. If you're after that coastal vibe, consider decorating around your fire pit with shells or beach-themed accessories instead.

Green or Unseasoned Wood

Freshly cut "green" wood might seem like a good fuel source, but it's actually a poor choice for fire pits. It contains too much moisture, which leads to excessive smoke and a weak, sputtering fire.

Patience is key here. Allow green wood to season for at least six months before using it in your fire pit. In the meantime, source properly seasoned wood from reputable suppliers or plan ahead by cutting and storing wood well in advance.

By avoiding these types of wood, you'll ensure a safer, more enjoyable fire pit experience. Remember, the goal is to create warmth and ambiance, not to dispose of unwanted wood.

Choose your fuel wisely, and you'll be rewarded with cleaner air, better fires, and peace of mind knowing you're keeping yourself and your guests safe.

Potentially Hazardous Woods

Pine and Other Resinous Softwoods

While not strictly toxic, pine and other resinous softwoods can cause issues in your fire pit. These woods contain high levels of sap, which can lead to excessive smoke and rapid burning.

They also tend to produce more sparks, increasing the risk of flying embers.

If you must use softwoods, mix them sparingly with hardwoods. Better yet, save them for kindling to start your fire, then switch to hardwoods for sustained burning.

Plywood and Engineered Woods

Avoid burning plywood, particle board, or other engineered woods in your fire pit. These materials often contain adhesives and resins that release toxic fumes when burned.

The smoke from these can irritate your eyes and lungs, potentially causing long-term health issues.

Stick to natural, untreated woods for your fire pit. If you have leftover engineered wood from a project, find alternative ways to reuse or dispose of it responsibly.

Moldy or Rotting Wood

While it might seem like a good way to get rid of old wood, burning moldy or rotting pieces is a bad idea. The mold spores can become airborne when burned, potentially causing respiratory issues for those around the fire.

Instead, compost deteriorating wood or use it in other garden projects where burning isn't involved. For your fire pit, always opt for clean, dry wood to ensure a safe and pleasant experience.

Environmental Considerations

When selecting wood for your fire pit, think beyond your immediate surroundings. Avoid burning wood from endangered or protected species, as this can contribute to deforestation and habitat loss.

Instead, opt for sustainably sourced firewood from common, fast-growing trees. By making eco-friendly choices, you'll enjoy your fire pit while also protecting our planet's precious ecosystems.

Safe Alternatives for Fire Pit Fuel

For a clean, long-lasting fire, stick to seasoned hardwoods like oak, hickory, or maple. These burn hot and produce minimal smoke. Cherry and apple woods offer a pleasant aroma.

For a more eco-friendly option, consider compressed sawdust logs or bioethanol fuel. Always prioritize safety and choose materials specifically designed for outdoor fires.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I burn pine cones in my fire pit?

While pine cones can be used as fire starters, they shouldn't be the main fuel. They burn quickly and can produce a lot of smoke and sparks. Use them sparingly with hardwoods for best results.

2. Is it safe to burn bamboo in a fire pit?

Bamboo isn't ideal for fire pits. It burns quickly and can produce loud pops and flying sparks. Stick to traditional hardwoods for a safer, more consistent burn.

3. Can I burn cardboard or paper in my fire pit?

It's best to avoid burning cardboard or paper. They create flying embers and excessive ash. Instead, recycle these materials and use proper kindling to start your fire.

4. How long should wood be seasoned before burning?

Wood should be seasoned for at least six months, preferably up to a year. Properly seasoned wood will have cracks in the ends and bark that peels off easily.


Choosing the right wood for your fire pit is crucial for safety and enjoyment. Stick to seasoned hardwoods and avoid treated, painted, or toxic woods. Remember, a great fire starts with responsible choices.

By following these guidelines, you'll create warm, memorable gatherings around your fire pit while keeping everyone safe and comfortable.

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