A fire pit is a great way to make your backyard more enjoyable, but it can also emit an unpleasant smell. The odor of smoke from the fire pit can linger for days after the event.
A fire pit will have a distinctive smell depending on what is burning inside. In this post I will discuss the different ways in which these fumes will cause you and your clothes to smell like smoke.
Do Fire Pits Make You Smell Of Smoke
In a word, yes. Some clever technologies are allowing smoke-conscious homeowners to reduce the harmful emissions and strong odors produced by their backyard burners.
However, these new smokeless fire pits can be very pricey, and they only minimize smoky smells. They don’t entirely eliminate odors.
It’s no surprise that 57% of fire pit owners in the United States still have what’s called a classic fire pit. This is your basic wood-fueled burner that can be fashioned out of almost anything.
All you need is a heatproof bowl or container and a whole lot of kindling. It’s essentially a small, contained bonfire and it will make your clothes, hair and skin smell very smoky.
Why? Because wood consists of large, densely packed molecules and some of them become volatilized when they combust.
These molecules do not turn into small gaseous molecules (like CO2) along with the rest. Instead, they form a greasy vapor that adheres to surfaces as it cools and falls through the atmosphere.
Smoke particles literally are stickier and clingier than lots of other odor-causing substances. You’re right if you’ve ever complained about smoky fire pit smells lingering for longer than other smells. They do. But there are solutions.
Do Fire Pits Make Your Clothes Smell
We’ve established that wood-burning fire pits are pretty smelly places to spend time. But what about propane fire pits? If you’ve ever used or been close to a natural gas fire pit, you’ll have noticed they don’t produce many residues.
Even to the naked eye, natural gas pits look much cleaner and generate fewer emissions.
The difference relates to their comparative efficiency. When wood combusts, some of its molecules volatilize and escape into the atmosphere rather than being burned up.
These molecules then land on your clothes and because they’re sticky, their odor seems to follow you around for days. Propane is a clean fuel that burns with more efficiency than wood.
Almost none of its molecules are volatilized so there are no escapees to produce lingering smells. Compared with classic fire pits, natural gas pits are practically smoke-free and won’t make your clothes smell.
Do Smokeless Fire Pits Make Your Clothes Smell
In the interests of science and experimentation, I tracked down a guy from my neighborhood who’s just bought himself a smokeless fire pit. I asked if I could put it to the test and see whether its claims hold water.
With a healthy dose of skepticism, I fired it up and stood much closer than I’m sure the manufacturer advises.
The first thing to know is there’s no such thing as a completely smokeless wood burner. Even fire pits with smokeless designs produce small amounts of smoke but this is significantly less than what you’d expect from a standard pit.
I noticed a slight smell on my clothes after sitting by the fire for several hours. However, it was much less pungent and seemed to wash off my skin and hair much easier than smoke from a wood fire.
Smokeless fire pits work by increasing airflow around the wood as it burns. They use specially shaped combustion containers to maximize both oxygen and heat and this helps the fuel get closer to a point of complete combustion.
Though it can’t burn with the same efficiency as natural gas, more of the wood’s molecules get ‘cleanly’ used. Less smoke is produced, and fewer residues stick to your clothes.
How To Get Rid Of Fire Pit Smell
Having been at more than my fair share of backyard bonfires, I’ve picked up some tips for getting that greasy, sticky smoke smell out of clothes:
- Check the tags first and, if your clothes can tolerate it, machine wash them on the hottest possible setting. Hot water causes fabric fibers to expand giving all of that wonderful smelling detergent better access to the cloth and any stubborn smoke molecules.
- Add one cup of white vinegar to the smoky clothes in your washing machine. The acetic acid in vinegar degrades odor-causing molecules and can reach the toughest of residues. If you’re dealing with ‘fragile’ clothes that cannot be washed on a high heat setting, one alternative is to soak them in vinegar water for 2-3 hours.
- If you don’t have vinegar to hand or can’t stand to use it because of the strong smell, swap it for the same amount of baking soda. Baking soda works similarly to vinegar but, if you’re putting it in a washing machine, it’s best to add it mid-cycle. You can also use lemon juice if you haven’t got vinegar or baking soda. There’s a good reason so many cleaning products are lemon-infused.
- If you’ve tried everything and you still can’t get that lingering smoke smell off your clothes, you might want to look for a bio-enzymatic cleaning solution. They’re widely available online and use ‘good’ bacteria to digest the organic compounds in stains and other residues. They’re typically found in pet supply stores because they’re good for eliminating strong odors like urine. They have no problem tackling smoke smells.
- This next tip is a bit of a DIY last-resort strategy so it’s ideal for those times when you can’t get to a washing machine. Say you’re out camping in deep woods, lighting fires every night, and you’re starting to smell pungent. One quick solution is to soak your smoky clothes in a 1:4 vodka/water solution. Even if you do this in a pot over a campfire, the alcohol should work to dislodge lingering smoke molecules. Thoroughly rinse the clothes in clean water before you dry them.
- I’d recommend the previous methods over this one but, sometimes, you’ve got to work with what’s around. In a pinch, washing smoky clothes and hanging them up to dry in strong sunlight can help to reduce odors. It’s not the most effective strategy but the UV light will destroy some of the smoky compounds and get your clothes smelling a little fresher.
What Does A Fire Pit Smell Like
When I discussed this topic with friends, I wasn’t surprised to find that opinions differ on how annoying fire pit smells can be.
It got me thinking about what smoke actually smells like. What do fire pits smell like? The answer depends on what’s being burned in them. Fire doesn’t have an odor, all of the smells come from the combusting materials.
It means fire pits can produce many different types of smell. Paper has a slightly sweet undertone. Dry leaves and desiccated wood can produce a syrupy odor a little like brown sugar.
Generally, fire pit logs have a deep but smooth odor. It’s important to note that every type of wood will have a unique smell. There is no “one fits all” odor for backyard fire pits.
If you want to experiment with different burning smells to find out if some are less smoky than others, I recommend trying a variety of woods. They’re all going to produce smoky odors, but some will be less pungent than others.
Do Gas Fire Pits Smell
Natural gas fire pits produce virtually no smoke making them odor-free. Natural gases such as propane get much closer to achieving complete combustion than wood ever can as wood is a surprisingly inefficient fuel source.
More gas molecules get used up in the burning process so there are fewer left to enter the atmosphere and to rise, fall and settle on your clothes later.
If you have a smelly propane fire pit, there may be something wrong with it. You shouldn’t experience any strong odors of smoke or gas with a propane burner.
Anything stronger than a brief whiff of propane after you first light the pit is abnormal and should be investigated. Extinguish the fire. Check thoroughly to make sure there isn’t a gas leak before you light it again.
If there are no obvious leaks but you can smell a strong odor of gas, leave the pit cold until you can get an expert to service it.
Do Wood Fire Pits Smell
Unlike natural gases, wood produces a lot of waste material as it combusts. Soot and smoke are two examples that can wreak havoc with clothes, skin and hair.
They’re products of incomplete fossil fuel burning, residual substances that get thrown into the air and attach themselves to people and fabrics when they fall.
It’s the main reason wood fire pits are so smelly. You may not be able to see them with the naked eye but you’re being covered in a fine shower of smoke molecules every time you sit close to a wood fire.
The best way to reduce these smoky odors is to use a fire pit that’s designed to maximize airflow and help the flames get hot enough to burn away more waste material.
Otherwise, you’ll have to get used to boil-washing your clothes after a backyard burning session.
How Do You Stop A Fire Pit From Smelling
There is no way to entirely eliminate the smoky odors generated by a wood fire. Even smokeless fire pits can’t neutralize all the smells though they do significantly lessen harsh, pungent odors.
Remember, it’s not the fire that’s causing these undesirable smells. It’s the type of fuel you’re burning and how efficiently it combusts.
You can lessen the potency of smoky smells by making some adjustments to how and what you burn.
Here are some steps you can take:
- Don’t burn any green or leafy plants in your fire pit. Stick with dry, dead sticks, desiccated twigs and/or pre-prepared logs. Green leaves are wet on the inside and this moisture leads to smoldering, greasy smoke. Steer clear of greenery altogether if you want a clean burn.
- Stop adding tinder to the pit once the flames are healthy and robust. Materials such as newspaper and card are great for getting a fire started but they shouldn’t be used beyond the initial fire lighting process. Adding paper to a roaring fire won’t impair its ability to combust but it might release some noxious, acerbic chemicals that you can’t shake off so easily.
- One of the easiest ways to minimize unpleasant odors from your fire pit is routine maintenance. Every time you burn materials, you’re also creating residues that accumulate in the bottom and around the sides of the pit. Even if you can’t commit to cleaning it after every use, scrub away patches of soot and grime with a wire brush when you see them.
- Softwoods such as pine and cedar are effective fire starters. Whereas hardwoods like maple and beech are better at keeping an established fire going. Hardwoods are excellent at keeping a fire pit burning strong and true and they create less smoke than softwoods. Consider this before you toss another log on the flames.
Fire Pits That Don’t Make You Smell
Let’s take a closer look at smokeless fire pits and see what features they provide to homeowners interested in a cleaner burn.
I’ve picked one of the most popular product online, the Solo Stove Smokeless Bonfire Fire Pit, because it has hundreds of reviews and they can give us a taste of what it’s capable of.
- Size: 14-inches tall and 19.5-inches in diameter
- Weighs 20lbs
- Double-wall design w/bottom vent holes for airflow
- Constructed out of 304 stainless steel
- Made up of one single piece/part (no assembly)
- Produces significantly less smoke (fewer smells)
- Comes with a protective carry case
- No gas or propane required (just burn logs)
The question is, does it work? The Solo Stove has a very clever design. It’s got a series of air vents in its base which direct oxygen up and into the flames.
This keeps the fire burning hot enough to combust at maximum efficiency so that it burns off as much waste material as possible. This means fewer residues and far fewer smoke molecules lingering in the atmosphere.
People who’ve used this smokeless fire pit say it generates significantly less smoke than a conventional wood-burning pit. Though it seems to smoke a lot to begin with, the amount of smoke decreases once the fire is burning strong and air has started to circulate through the vents.
Most of the reviews say there’s a remarkable difference in the amount of pungent, smoky odors left lingering on clothes after use.
Helpful Tips To Keep Fire Pits From Making You Smell
- Never put green, leafy foliage on your fire pit.
- Use newspaper to get the fire started but stop adding it once the flames are burning strong.
- Scrub the base and walls of your fire pit with a wire brush to remove any residues that might ignite and cause noxious fumes.
- Use softwood as your fire-starting kindling. Opt for harder woods once the fire pit is burning because they produce less smoke.
- Wood varieties that generate less smoke and fewer strong odors include ash, maple, pecan, beech and oak.
- Alternatively, opt for a natural gas fuel such as propane which reaches complete combustion and produces virtually no smoke.
- Or invest in a specially designed ‘smokeless’ wood fire pit that has features that minimize the amount of smoke that can be produced by helping the fuel burn more efficiently. These fire pits don’t eliminate all smoky odors, but they can make a big difference particularly in smaller outdoor spaces.
Fire pits are a great way to stay warm in the winter and enjoy time outdoors with friends. However, you should be aware that fire pits do make you smell, even if it is smokeless.
There are many different types of fire pits, and they all produce a distinct smell depending on what material you are burning. The smell of smoke from a fire pit will cling to your clothes and linger in the air.