A smelly wood-burning stove can sour your enjoyment of using it, although the source of unusual smells might not be your stove.
Damp and musty smells are usually from moist wood or moisture in the firebox, easily fixed using seasoned/kiln-dried wood and running the stove for an hour.
If your stove is new and has a chemical/plastic smell, these are remnants of the manufacturing process and will burn off as the paint/coating cures with heat and the chemicals evaporate.
However, if your stove has an eggy or cheesy smell or floods your house with a smoke smell, there are other possible reasons.
This guide explains twelve reasons your wood-burning stove might smell, with fixes so that you can burn happily in the future.
1. It’s Brand New
The smell: Chemicals
Newly manufactured stoves have coatings that are not fully cured out of the factory. Only during combustion inside the firebox do these coatings cure, a process that sees chemicals and moisture in the coatings evaporate.
This process is known as ‘off-gassing.’ It is systemic of all products made with chemicals, from PVC gutters and mattresses to stoves.
The fix is to run your stove for a few nights and leave it be – the chemical smell will dissipate over time (usually within a few days).
2. The Fire isn’t Burning Hot Enough
The smell: Smoke
Wood smolders when the fire doesn’t burn hot enough, producing more smoke that can flood your house with a nasty, smoky smell.
All stoves have an optimal operating temperature range which signifies the safest and most efficient temperatures to run them at.
The fix is simple – keep your wood-burning stove hot and use a temperature gauge to know when to add more fuel/air.
Also, ensure that the wood is sufficiently dry because moist wood reduces the temperature of the fire.
3. The Flue (or Chimney) is Blocked or Damaged
The smell: Smoke
A blocked or damaged flue (or chimney) can keep smoke inside the firebox too long, which will leak out through the vents into your home.
The smoke/gases from combustion must have a clean exit up the flue, or else you can get unpleasant smells and smoke escape. Another problem is the fire can fizzle out as carbon dioxide builds up inside the firebox.
Ask a chimney sweeper to inspect your chimney and flue to rule out this problem. If it hasn’t been inspected/cleaned in around sixty uses, this is also a good sign that the flue requires general maintenance.
4. The Flue (or Chimney) is Too Narrow or Too Short
The smell: Smoke/mothballs
Another common problem with flues/chimneys is incorrect design relative to the stove installation. A flue that is too narrow or short won’t carry enough smoke/gases, and the gases it does carry will stay in the flue too long.
Smoke/gases that spend too long in the flue will coat the lining in a thick layer of soot, which, if left to bake, turns into creosote, which smells like mothballs.
The only way to know if your flue/chimney is sufficient is to ask a stove installer to size it up and compare it to industry standards.
5. The Damper is Closed
The smell: Ash/smoke
A damper’s job is to retain heat that escapes up the chimney or flue while allowing passage for smoke.
If it is partially closed, it can stop waste gases/smoke from exiting the flue, making your room smell like ash or smoke.
Keeping the damper open is crucial for heat preservation and airflow, especially during the combustion stage (when the logs are in flame).
You can partially close the damper when the logs glow red and the flames die down, maintaining steady heat until the embers die.
6. The Logs Aren’t Sufficiently Dry
The smell: Mold, dampness, smoke
Logs need to have between 15-20% moisture for an optimal burn – too dry, and they burn too quickly to heat up the stove; too wet, and they struggle to get up to temperature, and moisture in the logs gives off a stench.
Wet-burning wood crackles and smokes to high heaven, and as moisture evaporates, it can fill your room with a musty smell.
The fix is easy – use seasoned and kiln-dried logs. Avoid green wood, wet wood, and pellets stored in basements and outside.
7. It’s Wet Weather
The smell: Mustiness
Some wood-burning stoves have a musty/damp smell after wet weather because the flue/chimney lets down a small amount of rain.
If the inside of your chimney/flue is wet, soot and creosote deposits smell worse, and the inside of the firebox can smell cheesy.
Water penetration is typical when chimneys have no rain cover/cap to protect them from rain. The solution is to install a rain cap (total cost of around $100) and burn off the moisture inside the chimney on wet nights.
8. It’s Windy
The smell: Smoke/ash
Windy weather can force smoke back down the chimney and flood the firebox, which will escape through the tiniest gaps. While your home won’t be smoky, the smell of smoke will travel, and the fire can be disturbed.
Chimney caps help stop downdrafts, but it is better to avoid using your stove in highly windy weather if it causes a problem.
9. It’s the Vents
The smell: Burning wood
Insufficient airflow to the fire reduces its ferocity and temperature by depriving the fire of the oxygen it needs. The smokey, woody smell comes from a smoldering fire - where the logs burn slowly without flame.
To sustain a good fire, keep the primary vents open when starting the fire and keep the top or bottom vent open to sustain flames. Every wood-burning stove is different, and it may take a few seasons to get the hang of it.
10. It’s the Room
The smell: Damp, mold, mustiness
A stove’s ambient heat will strip moisture from surrounding materials, including floors, walls, ceilings, clothes, and furniture. Any dampness in the room will dry out to an extent, and this evaporation can make your room smell.
The fix is to eradicate dampness in your home and keep moisture away from the stove. An outside vent (such as on windows) can also reduce moisture build-up.
Here are some common questions we get asked all the time, and of course the answers too.
Why Does My Wood Stove Smell Like Burning Plastic?
Wood stoves have an internal and external coating (matt or metallic heat-resistant paint) that is not cured at the factory. The paint cures when you use the stove, burning off chemicals that smell like burning plastic.
The solution is to run your stove for a few nights to burn off the chemicals, after which you shouldn’t smell burning plastic again.
Why Does My Wood Stove Smell Like Smoke?
While wood stoves always have a certain smokiness, it isn’t normal for the smell to flood your room or home.
The most common causes of a smoky smell include smoldering fire, a blocked or damaged flue, and a flue that is too short. Heavy wind and rain can also increase the smell of smoke, with a rain cap usually solving the problem.
Why Does My Wood Stove Smell Like Burning Wood?
A burning wood smell is usually from leaving the vents open after the flames die, causing the firebox temperature to go too high.
A smokey, woody smell can also come from minor flames and smoldering fire – try partially closing the vents and see if this helps.
Another possible cause is damp/wet wood, which will smolder and smoke. Use seasoned or kiln-dried logs for best results.
Why Does My Wood Stove Smell Like Burning Metal?
The first few times you use a stove, a burning metal smell is common due to thermal expansion and off-gassing from the paint.
An etched interior or baffle (a metal plate that sits at the top of the stove) can also give off a metallic smell at high temperatures.
How to Prevent Your Wood Stove from Smelling
Most smells are temporary and get burnt off with extensive use, but there are also several ways to prevent stoves from smelling in the first place:
The bottom line – when wood combusts, it produces smoke, ash, and gases that produce smells.
Sometimes, a stove can smell because of moisture in the firebox or flue, and it can also be because the vents are left open for too long.
Unusual smells are not usually a sign of a significant problem, but smoke escaping your stove/flue and flooding your home is.
If you see smoke inside your home, cease using the stove immediately and seek professional advice.