Heating with a wood stove or fireplace means ashes must cleaned out on a regular basis. Although this can be done with a shovel and bucket, a faster, more efficient method is with an ash vacuum. A home vacuum shouldn't be used due to concerns about fire safety from hot embers and because the filter may create a larger mess by expelling ash from the exhaust.
Great Ash Vacuum Brands
The first decision to make is whether you want to purchase a warm or cool ash vacuum. Even though a warm ash vacuum works on cool ash, an added safety measure is its ability to handle warm - but not hot - ashes. Introducing warm ashes into a warm ash vacuum will not ruin it. It is best if the ashes have cooled for several hours - and when possible - several days. Both warm and cold ash vacs tend to have safety devices, like shut off switches, to prevent a unit from catching on fire. Both types can burn or smolder when hot embers are suctioned into the unit.
All but the first two brands below can handle warm embers, but it is always safer to vacuum cool ashes. The number of ash vacuums manufacturers is relatively small. The ones listed here have at least 50 customer reviews and a minimum ranking of four out of five stars.
The Snow Joe company has two divisions -- Sun Joe and Snow Joe -- and they manufacturer tools and products to "keep your home looking beautiful throughout the year." They have established a solid reputation through their products which includes fire pits, snow blowers, power washers, cordless electric mowers.
The company sells the Snow Joe Ash Vac 4.8 Gallon Ash Vacuum. At less than $60, it is an inexpensive model. They occasionally sell refurbished models which can shave off a few more dollars. This vacuum is large enough for most jobs. Its greatest fit is with outdoor fire pits and smokers since it it a cold-ash vacuum and is not designed to handle hot or warm embers.
- Advantages: Customers at Amazon praise the unit for its compactness, simplicity of use, and the ease of emptying the canister once filled.
- Disadvantages: The only complaint a few customers express is they were expecting a more powerful unit.
- Bottom line: Inexpensive, bare-bones, durable cold-ash vacuum with a dual-filter system that effectively suctions up ash without blowing it back out in the air. Unit includes hose and aluminum nozzle.
Shop Vac has made a name for itself over the years for its industrial vacuums used in workshops and garages across the country. They are so well-known that their brand name that just like Kleenex, people confuse the product (facial tissues) with the brand. Their industrial vacuums are a mainstay in many homes. The company also sells a stainless steel vacuum, model number 4041300, which is the newest version of 4041100 that is now being replaced. The model has high customer satisfaction ratings at Amazon.
- Advantages: One of its distinctive advantages is its stainless steel design which, besides looking nice, resists rust, and is easier to keep clean. This model is also an excellent choice for indoor use because its dual-filter system includes a washable HEPA filter which cuts down on allergens -- and expensive since the filter lasts longer.
- Disadvantages: Just like the Snow Joe vacuum, this is a cold-ash model and cannot be used for warm or hot embers, so keep this in mind when shopping. The most common customer complaints are the electrical cord and the hose are too short.
- Bottom line: Although this retails for about $140, it can often be purchased online for less than $100. It has strong suction, includes a thermal shutoff for safety, and a HEPA filter to reduce allergens. It comes with hose and metal nozzle.
PowerSmith is a rare company that only specializes in a couple of products. They manufacture LED light systems, ion battery systems, and two models of ash vacuum cleaners. Both models are loaded with accessories; the PAVC101 is slightly smaller at a three gallon capacity and the PAVC102 has a four gallon capacity. Their looks differ slightly, with the PAVC101 coming in a green color while the other maintains the steel look. The PVAC101 is more readily available than the other option.
- Advantages: Unlike the previous two brands, the PowerSmith models are designed with ease of use in mind. They come with a wheel-base so owners do not have to lug around a heavy cannister filled with ash. Besides the standard metal hose and nozzle, they include accessories like extension wands, a brush nozzle (great for the hearth), and a turbo nozzle. Home Depot customers note the durability and power for the price of the PAVC101.
- Disadvantages: A few complaints by customers for the PVAC101 is that it can overheat and get clogged.
- Bottom line: Customers love this inexpensive unit -- praising its lightness and its powerful suction. However, keep an eye out for the few problems noted by customers.
This company set the standard for high-end ash vacuums since opening in the late 1980s. The company offers three price points for its warm-ash vacuums, ranging from around $100 to $300. Love-Less has built its brand around the strength of its two-stage filtering system. Their models are designed to work with warmer embers, which is a bonus for homeowners who heat with wood and do not have the luxury of waiting until all the ash is cold. Their dual-filter, heat-trapping system couple with specially designed hoses greatly reduce the risk of fire or damage due to heat. When used as directed it is virtually impossible to damage the unit even with moderately warm embers.
The Cougar has a six-gallon canister which makes it ideal for larger cleaning jobs. The unit has a dual-filtering system that effectively traps fine dust particles. It comes with a hose and nozzle. The Cougar also has attachments including a pellet stove cleaning hose, a crevice tool and a brush attachment.
- Advantages: Love-Less vacuums are the only ones on this list that come in a variety of colors. They even offer a couple festive looks. The common theme among satisfied users, like those who purchased the Cougar from Amazon, is their units contain dust and ash very well.
- Disadvantages: The most common complaint against the company is the narrowness of the nozzle which can make vacuuming a slow process. The nozzle is narrow by design to reduce the risk of hot embers being suctioned into the machine.
- Bottom line: Purchase the Lynx if you need a HEPA filter or want a lower-cost unit. If you are looking for a longer lasting, high-efficiency machine spend the extra money for the Cheetah (about $250) or the Cougar (around $300).
Things to Look For in Vacuum
A well-built ash vacuum can simplify the ongoing task of cleaning out a stove or fire place. A poorly built one will create more dust than it picks up. When purchasing an ash vacuum get one that includes as many of these amenities as possible:
- HEPA filter: Wood ash can produce allergens -- reduce the impact with a HEPA filter.
- Attachments: Two must-have attachments to reach corners and large areas - such as the hearth - are a brush and a nozzle.
- Washable filters: Wood ash is messy and washable filters can improve the efficiency of a unit and keep the suction strong.
- Quiet motor: A stronger motor usually means suction, but since the unit is used indoors, lower decibels are easier on the ears.
- Fire retardant material: Despite your best efforts, at some point a hot or warm ember will be suctioned into the unit, make sure the vac is made with fire retardant or fire resistant material.
- Casters: The last thing you want to do after cleaning out your fireplace is lug a heavy container outside. A unit with wheels is easier on the back.
How Often Should I Vacuum?
One of the questions that homeowners who heat with wood face is how often should the ashes be removed. Although opinions vary, one approach is to keep about one inch of ash in your stove. For long narrow stoves, it is best to first remove the ash from the front. Regardless of how often you vacuum, read the manual to learn the best approach for suctioning with the unit you are using. Knowing if it is a cold or warm-ash is essential to safety, but also knowing whether the vacuum will suction up larger chunks may prevent dealing with a clogged hose or filter.