Skip to main content

Are Wood Stoves Bad for Your Health?

Kristie Leong M.D. is a family practitioner who believes in the power of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to prevent and fight illness.

Some people use a wood stove to heat their home because they’re economical. Wood is also a renewable source of fuel, and you can harvest dead trees as wood for your woodstove and replant them.

But using a wood stove could be harmful to your health. According to a study published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, tiny particles that come from burning a wood stove or a wood-burning fireplace could damage your lungs.

Using a Wood Stove: Is It Bad for Your Health?

Burning wood using a wood stove or fireplace produces wood smoke that contains microscopic particles called particulate matter, which can be inhaled into the lungs. Studies looking into the effects of wood smoke and particular matter from burning wood and the effects it has on the lungs raise concerns.

Particulate matter from wood stoves is made up of particles minute enough to penetrate the lower airways of the lungs and cause damage. Wood smoke also contains chemicals called hydrocarbons that harm DNA, the genetic material, in cell cultures.

In addition, research shows smoke from wood stoves is a source of other compounds of concern including carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, formaldehyde, benzene, and aldehydes, all of which are associated with health risks. For example, formaldehyde and benzene are linked with cancer in animals and humans.

Wood Stoves Could Make It Harder to Breathe

Is there evidence of harm? Most of the evidence is observational. For example, in Nepal where people use wood stoves commonly, the incidence of chronic lung problems in adults is higher and children have higher rates of lung problems and reduced lung function.

Fireplace fumes and wood smoke from woodstoves may be particularly unhealthy for people who smoke or have asthma, heart disease or lung disease. Breathing in wood smoke and particulate matter can worsen the symptoms of these health conditions and make it harder to breathe.

Heating your home with a wood stove has other potential risks. When you use a wood stove, there’s a chance of fire or the build-up of carbon monoxide, which can be fatal – all good reasons to think carefully before using a wood stove to heat your home.

Ensure that your wood stove is properly vented to avoid this. If your woodstove is not properly installed or maintained, it can cause a fire. Make sure a professional installs your wood stove.

Also, have your woodstove inspected by a professional every year to ensure it is in good working order. Also, be sure to keep flammable materials away from your woodstove, and never leave it unattended while it is in use.

The Environmental Effects of Using a Wood Stove

Wood stoves have both positive and negative environmental effects. On the positive side, wood stoves are a renewable resource and help reduce dependence on fossil fuels. They also have a relatively low carbon footprint compared to other heating options.

On the negative side, wood stoves contribute to air pollution, particularly if they are not properly maintained. They can also release harmful chemicals into the environment, including carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

Is It Safe to Use a Wood Stove?

If you have heart or lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, or asthma, talk to your doctor about whether you should have a wood stove in your home.

If you’re healthy and can’t resist the allure of burning wood, only use clean wood that’s seasoned, never wood that’s been treated or stained since treated wood can release other chemicals into the air. Also, only use a woodstove that’s EPA certified, meaning it’s approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. (EPA)

Build as small a fire as possible and keep the door of a woodstove shut except when you’re replacing wood. Always have a smoke alarm, carbon monoxide detector, and fire extinguisher available if you burn a wood stove or fireplace. Be especially careful if you have kids since they have smaller lung volumes and are more susceptible to lung damage from wood smoke than adults.

References

  • Eurekalert.org. “Air Pollutants From Fireplaces and Wood-Burning Stoves Raise Health Concerns”
  • Pierson WE, Koenig JQ, Bardana EJ Jr. Potential adverse health effects of wood smoke. West J Med. 1989 Sep;151(3):339-42. PMID: 2686171; PMCID: PMC1026893.
  • "Wood Smoke and Your Health | US EPA." 17 Oct. 2022, https://www.epa.gov/burnwise/wood-smoke-and-your-health.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.