Can You Burn Rotten Wood in Fire Pit? Is It Safe? Will the Heat Be the Same?

close up of a rotten core of firewood that fell on the ground

While you might think finding firewood for your fire pit is as easy as searching the nearest woods for some broken limbs, rotten firewood can cause more problems than good. All wood is not safe to burn in your fire pit, so let’s find out which wood is off-limits. 

You should not burn rotten wood in a fire pit. This wood contains mold and microorganisms that will burn and filter into the air you breathe as it burns. Rotten wood is not safe to burn, nor does it produce a hot, long-burning fire you want when you light a fire in the fire pit. 

Fire pits naturally compel people to gravitate to the warm fire. However, burning rotten wood won’t create the relaxed, inviting atmosphere you want. Keep reading to learn the best woods to burn in a fire pit and how to identify seasoned woods that will deliver a long-burning, clean fire. 

Is Rotten Wood Safe To Burn, and Will the Heat Be the Same?

Rotten wood is not safe to burn in a fire pit because it will produce tangy, thick smoke with pollutants you will breathe. The heat is not the same as wood-burning aged hardwood since the rotten wood holds too much moisture, causing your fire to burn away the water before it produces heat. 

rotten stack of wood logs on the ground in a forest

Wood That Can Create Problems Instead of Ambient Warmth in a Fire Pit

When you set up the wood for a perfect fire, understanding that all wood is not the same will ensure you have a clean, fantastic fire every time. The best fires come from certain wood types, so it is crucial to know which woods to avoid. Here are some wood types that won’t lead to a fire everyone wants to gather around. 

Rotten Wood Is Not Good To Burn in a Fire Pit

Rotted wood has been exposed to water, at which time it begins to decompose. Microorganisms live in the wood and eat away over time to reduce it until there is nothing left. You should leave wood that has just begun rotting behind for other wood that will give you a clean burn. Here are some reasons rotted wood is not for burning in an outdoor fire pit

  • Rotten wood releases a pungent odor as you burn it due to the organisms and possible bacteria.
  • The smoke from rotten wood will irritate your respiratory tract because it can contain mold.
  • Any wood with a high moisture content will not burn well and produce robust and thick unpleasant smoke. 

Softwood Is Not Good To Burn in a Fire Pit

While they might be easy to find, tempting you to use them for a fire, all the soft tree woods will produce too much smoke, likely turning everyone away from the fire. They also burn quickly, requiring you to replace wood continuously. These are softwoods that you should avoid burning.

  • Fir
  • Pine
  • Cedar
  • Spruce
  • Redwood 

Here are the reasons not to use softwood in the fire pit.

  • These wood types contain a high resin amount, making thick, dark smoke irritating your nose and eyes. 
  • Softwood burns fast and makes adding more wood difficult because the coals burn out too quickly.
  • The point of enjoying a fire pit is to sit around for a while, but softwoods could cause you to spend all your time replacing the wood to keep the fire going. 

Green Wood Is Not Good To Burn in a Fire Pit

Burning green wood in a fire pit will lead to a fire that won’t burn because the wood is holding too much water. Green wood comes from a tree that has been recently cut and contains a high moisture content. When you try to burn this wood, the fire will not remain steady because it is battling the water in the wood. Here are some reasons not to burn greenwood.

  • Green wood is not the best choice for a fire pit because it has not had time to season. 
  • When a tree is cut down, the freshly cut wood needs six to nine months to dry out before burning. 
  • Green wood will not burn hot like dry firewood, creating less heat for your fire pit experience. 

Pressure-Treated Wood Is Not Good To Burn in a Fire Pit

Pressure-treated wood has been injected with chemicals to stop the decomposition process. The high pressure sends the chemicals into the center of the wood, preventing insects like termites and weather from reducing the wood’s integrity.  Here is why pressure-treated lumber is not ideal for burning in a fire pit.

  • The pressure treatment process delivers chemicals that remain in the wood, so burning this wood in a fire pit will send the substances into the air you breathe.
  • The ashes left behind are poisonous to the environment. 
  • Burning pressure-treated lumber produces toxic ashes that hold arsenic, and exposure to this chemical can result in serious health issues. 

Why Seasoned Hardwood Is Best for Burning in a Fire Pit

Seasoned hardwood is ideal for burning in a fire pit and fireplace. They are the best for burning since they hold the least moisture and resins or sap and will burn hotter for a pleasing fire. Seasoned hardwoods produce the least amount of smoke, so you are less likely to have to move away from the fire. Look for these hardwood logs to burn in a fire pit.

  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Apple
  • Birch
  • Ash  

Signs Hardwood Has Been Seasoned

When buying wood to burn or choosing a tree to cut down for firewood, look for hardwoods that will create the best fire pit atmosphere. You won’t breathe polluting smoke, nor will you be continually replacing the wood in the fire pit to keep the fire going. Here are the characteristics to look for in seasoned firewood. 

  • Seasoned wood has a pale color since the moisture leaves over time. The water in new wood gives it a rich tone so avoid this wood for a fire pit. 
  • Seasoned wood weighs less than new wood. Again, once the water leaves the wood, the weight of the wood reduces, causing the logs to feel lighter. 
  • You can pick away the bark from aged wood. New wood bark will not come off unless you cut it off. 
  • Aged wood will have splinters and cracks. Most new wood will be fresh-looking and have no fragments along the edges. 
  • Seasoned wood has no smell of sap. New wood has that resin or sappy aroma distinct from freshly cut wood. 
  • Dried wood will sound hollow when tapped. Because newer wood still has moisture inside, it will not make a hollow sound when you tap it or knock two pieces together. 
  • When all else fails, use a moisture meter. Firewood has sufficiently dried when the moisture meter shows less than thirty percent moisture. 

Remember that hardwoods take a minimum of six months (twelve is better) to allow the water to evaporate from the wood. When you split the logs into firewood pieces, they dry faster than an entire log.


Rotten firewood is never a good choice to burn in a fire pit. Choose more suitable hardwoods like maple, oak, or spruce for a clean-burning, long-lasting fire. Seasoned hardwoods that have been cut for more than six months are ideal to use in a fire pit. 

You can tell if the wood is rotten because you will see missing portions that leave rust or black-colored residue. You might be able to pull pieces of the wood away from the log and see small insects inside.

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