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One of the regular maintenance tasks that comes with having a fireplace or wood stove is cleaning out the ash. Don’t be scared: This is a straightforward job—all you really need is a metal shovel and a metal ash bucket. However, many people think to make the job easier by reaching for a household or shop vacuum.
Don’t. Please don’t.
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Neither a shop vac or a household vacuum—or a robot vac, for that matter—is safe to use with ash, for a variety of reasons. If you’d like a vacuum to replace your shovel and bucket, which is a great idea, invest in a good ash vacuum. Ash vacuums are made to deal with the unique combination of heat and super-fine dust found in ash.
Ash vacuums are designed to withstand heat
Anytime you clean up ash during the burning seasons, you run the risk of hot coals hiding in the piles. According to Chimney Care Company, a chimney and fireplace servicer in Ohio, hot coals from your fire can linger for up to four days. If you suck those hot coals into a plastic vacuum with paper filters, you run a very high risk of starting a fire or melting parts of your vacuum.
Ash vacuums are primarily made of metal—they have a metal bin, a metal hose, and a heat-resistant filtering system. When hot coals pass into the machine, they simply sit in the rest of the ash until they finally extinguish.
This doesn’t mean you want to suck up hot coals with an ash vacuum. Wait for the coals to cool before cleaning. These heat-resistant systems are in place just in case you accidentally clean up something hot.
Most traditional vacuum filters can’t handle the dust
Traditional vacuum and shop vac filters, even certified HEPA filters, may not be enough to fully filter out ash dust.
Ash breaks down much finer than most other particulates. According to AirNow.gov, particles in ash and smoke can be as small as 0.4 to 0.7 microns. Most standard vacuum filters won’t capture particles of that size, meaning they get blown back out into the air where you can breathe them in. While some upgraded filters can go down to that level, they will not have the heat resistance required to survive contact with hot materials.
No ash, no fire—no problem
This filtering is where ash vacuums shine. A good ash vacuum will be able to both filter out those particles and do so without the risk of fire. In addition, the filtering systems protect the vacuum motor from dust better than a traditional vacuum will, so there’s less of a chance of destroying the machine.
Dust management is also where ash vacuums are better than a shovel and bucket. Shoveling stirs up a lot of dust. Breathing those airborne ash particles can have serious health impacts, like “irritation in the lungs, runny noses, burning eyes, and aggravate existing heart and lung problems such as emphysema, asthma, and congestive heart failure.”
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