Creosote: The Hidden Danger Lurking in Your Smoker

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 27, 2022

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Creosotes are a complex type of chemical product having densities greater than water that are obtained industrially by the distillation of various tars, or are produced incidentally during combustion of plant-derived material (e.g., directly, from wood, or indirectly, from petroleum products); they are notably useful for their preservative and antiseptic properties.

In this article, we’ll explore what creosote is, how it forms, and ways to prevent it from accumulating in your chimney.

What is creosote

Creosote: The Sticky Substance That Can Destroy Your Property

Creosote is a natural compound that forms when wood is burned. It consists of tiny particles of matter that travel up the chimney and solidify when they come into contact with the cooler parts of the chimney. Creosote can come in different colors and textures, ranging from white and flaky to dark and sticky.

What Makes Creosote Dangerous?

The presence of creosote in your chimney can be extremely dangerous for your property. Here’s why:

  • Creosote is highly flammable and can cause chimney fires that can quickly spread to the rest of your home.
  • Creosote buildup can obstruct the flow of smoke and carbon monoxide, which can lead to health hazards.
  • Creosote can damage the structure of your chimney, making it more prone to collapse.
  • Creosote can emit a foul odor that can be difficult to handle.

What Are the Effects of Creosote?

The effects of creosote buildup can be significant and can ultimately lead to the destruction of your property. Here are some of the effects:

  • Creosote buildup can create a blockage in your chimney, which can cause smoke and carbon monoxide to back up into your home.
  • Creosote can corrode the metal parts of your chimney, causing them to weaken and ultimately fail.
  • Creosote can create a foul odor that can be difficult to handle.

How Can You Prevent Creosote Buildup?

Preventing creosote buildup is essential to protect your property and ensure your safety. Here are some tips to prevent creosote buildup:

  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood (here’s how long to season it).
  • Avoid burning softwoods like pine, which create more creosote than hardwoods.
  • Use a chimney cap to keep out rain and animals.
  • Have your chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional chimney sweep at least once a year.

How Do You Remove Creosote?

Removing creosote is a job best left to the experts. Here’s how a professional chimney sweep will remove creosote:

  • The chimney sweep will use special brushes and tools to remove the creosote buildup.
  • The sweep will also inspect the chimney for any damage or structural issues.
  • The sweep will clean up any debris and dispose of it properly.

What Should You Do If You Notice Creosote?

If you notice creosote buildup in your chimney, it’s essential to act as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Here’s what you should do:

  • Stop using your fireplace or stove immediately.
  • Call a professional chimney sweep to inspect and clean your chimney.
  • Don’t attempt to remove the creosote yourself, as this can be dangerous.

Understanding the Causes of Creosote Buildup

Creosote is a black, shiny, and greasy substance that can form in your chimney as a result of using your wood-burning fireplace. It is produced when wood is burned, and the smoke containing creosote is not able to rise fast enough, causing it to accumulate in the chimney. Creosote starts off as a normal and easy to clean substance, but if not removed, it can thicken and become difficult to fully clean.

Steps to Prevent Creosote Buildup

To prevent creosote buildup, follow these steps:

  • Use dry and seasoned wood.
  • Check your chimney regularly for buildup and clean it as required.
  • Build hot fires to help burn off excess creosote.
  • Control the airflow in your chimney to ensure proper ventilation.
  • Follow usage restrictions provided by your fireplace manufacturer.

Providing a Guide to Creosote Buildup

Understanding creosote buildup is essential to ensure the proper functioning of your chimney and prevent chimney fires. By following the steps outlined above and regularly checking your chimney for buildup, you can significantly reduce the risk of creosote buildup and ensure a safe and enjoyable fireplace experience.

Smoking and Grilling with Creosote: What You Need to Know

When it comes to smoking and grilling, creosote is both a friend and a foe. It’s an essential component in creating that smoky flavor that we all love, but it can also cause significant problems if not managed properly. Creosote is a thick, oily substance that results from burning wood or coal. It consists of a mixture of chemicals that vary depending on the type of wood or coal being burned. Some types of wood, like pine, are more likely to produce creosote than others.

The Potential Risks Associated with Creosote Buildup

While creosote is an essential component in creating that smoky flavor, it can also cause significant problems if not managed properly. Creosote buildup can significantly affect the cooking process and the taste of your food. Here are some of the potential risks associated with creosote buildup:

  • Heavy creosote buildup can cause bitter and dirty-tasting food.
  • Creosote can cause a numb feeling on the tongue when you eat it.
  • Creosote buildup can significantly affect the cooking process, causing extended cooking times and inconsistent temperatures.
  • Creosote buildup can cause a fire hazard, as it is highly flammable.

Steps to Prevent Creosote Buildup

Knowing how to prevent creosote buildup is critical if you want to enjoy safe and delicious smoked or grilled food. Here are some steps you can take to prevent creosote buildup:

  • Choose the right wood: Different types of wood produce different levels of creosote. Generally, hardwoods like oak and hickory produce less creosote than softwoods like pine.
  • Keep your smoker or grill clean: Regularly clean your smoker or grill to prevent creosote buildup.
  • Use accurate temperature control: Maintaining accurate temperatures can help prevent creosote buildup.
  • Use an electric smoker: Electric smokers are less likely to produce creosote than traditional smokers.
  • Employ the “thin blue smoke” method: This method involves adding small chunks of dry wood to the fire to sustain a lighter, smoky flow of smoke. This will help prevent creosote buildup.
  • Consider using a creosote-reducing product: There are products available that can help reduce creosote buildup in your smoker or grill.

The Best Choice for Smoking and Grilling

When it comes to smoking and grilling, there are a vast number of choices available. However, if you want to avoid creosote buildup, your best bet is to choose an electric smoker or a method that produces a “thin blue smoke.” By understanding creosote and taking the necessary steps to prevent and address buildup, you can enjoy safe and delicious smoked or grilled food every time.

Minimizing Creosote Buildup: Tips and Tricks

  • The best way to control creosote buildup is to prevent it from forming in the first place.
  • Properly season your wood supply and use dry wood to start and maintain a fire.
  • Maintain a briskly burning fire to prevent creosote from condensing on the flue walls.
  • Regularly inspect your chimney and flue to ensure they are clean and free of any obstructions.
  • Maintain a flue temperature exceeding 250 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent creosote condensation.

Removal Methods

  • If you notice any creosote buildup, take action immediately to prevent it from becoming a safety hazard.
  • Hire a professional chimney sweep to clean your chimney thoroughly.
  • Use a creosote removal compound to break down and remove any creosote buildup.
  • Use a creosote removal tool, such as a creosote sweeping log, to break up and remove any buildup.
  • If the buildup is extremely thick and prominent, it may be necessary to have the chimney professionally cleaned.

Effects of Creosote Buildup

  • Creosote buildup can significantly affect the safety of your home, as it can lead to chimney fires.
  • Creosote buildup can also reduce the efficiency of your fireplace or stove, as it can block the flue and prevent proper ventilation.
  • Creosote buildup can create a strong, unpleasant odor and a black, tar-like substance that can stick to the chimney walls and other surfaces.

Getting Rid of Creosote: Tips and Tricks

  • Chimney cleaning is a highly recommended maintenance task that homeowners need to perform regularly to prevent creosote buildup.
  • Check the chimney for any large creosote formations or loose bricks that need fixing before cleaning.
  • Hire a professional chimney sweep to help determine the status of your chimney and perform the necessary cleaning and inspection.
  • Protech Chimney Sweep & Repairs is a helpful resource for homeowners who need assistance with creosote removal and chimney cleaning.

Creosote Removal Techniques

  • There are several ways to remove creosote buildup, including using a creosote removal log, brushing, or using a chemical creosote remover.
  • A creosote removal log is a natural and easy way to remove creosote buildup. Simply burn the log in your fireplace or wood stove, and the log will produce a chemical reaction that breaks down the creosote.
  • Brushing is a common method for removing creosote buildup. Use a chimney brush to scrub the inside of the chimney and remove any creosote deposits.
  • Chemical creosote removers are also available, but homeowners need to be careful when using them as they can be highly flammable and may cause an explosion if not used correctly.

Removing Creosote from Brick and Clothing

  • Creosote can create a glaze on brick surfaces and leave oily spots on clothes. To remove creosote from brick, prepare a paste by mixing equal parts of water and detergent. Apply the paste to the affected area and scrub vigorously with a brush. Rinse with warm water and a rag.
  • To treat soiled clothes, apply a stain remover or detergent directly to the spot and let it sit for a few minutes. Wash the clothing in a washer with hot water and detergent.


So, that’s what creosote is- a sticky substance that forms in chimneys from burning wood. It’s dangerous, but you can prevent it with the right steps. 

You can’t avoid it completely, but you can keep it under control with the right steps. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid to get a professional to help you.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.