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Saturday, December 15, 2012

My totally awesome, fabulous firestarters

I really wanted to put together some very pretty firestarters to put in a basket next to the fireplace for this winter. But that just didn't happen. Yet, here we are, the season of home and hearth, and I need easy to light fires (oooh, maybe that sounds like we need an intervention or something, but really just lighting fires for the purpose of heating the family room).

Here's my quick and easy firestarter . . .

a cardboard egg carton filled with cotton-based dryer lint (from laundry not exposed to fabric softeners -- bad chemicals to burn). Not terribly pretty. Not something I'd fill a basket with and place by the hearth. Not something I'd brag about. But it gets the job done.

I've been saving a container of cotton dryer lint and a stack of egg cartons all fall. And now they're getting some use. A one match fire is something my husband and I compete to achieve. We will boast about our fire-making abilities in terms of how many matches we needed to use.

What's more, I save my breath. No more sitting at the hearth huffing and puffing, trying to give oxygen to the tiny, trembling flames.

So, to make a totally awesome and fabulous (tongue in cheek here) firestarter of your own, fill one cardboard egg carton with all-cotton dryer lint, leaving bits poking out of a couple of the egg carton holes. Light match, apply to dryer lint, and there you have it, one-match fires. I quickly pile on some kindling of sticks and twigs. Once those are ignited, I add the seasoned firewood. 

The egg carton is a step above crumpled paper, in that it burns longer, giving the rest of my material more time to catch fire.

Perhaps the very pretty firestarters will make an appearance later this winter, when I have more time. I'd wanted to make some stick/raffia/lint and wax bundles to sit in a basket by the hearth. We'll see how much time I have in January. 

Beyond the starter: Burning responsibly

First of all, it's always the homeowner's responsibility to check if there is a burn ban in their area. We keep the phone number for the hot-line for our area right by the phone.

Damp material leads to more air pollutants than dry materials. Burn seasoned wood that's been kept under cover, like a tarp.

The fireplace or stove should not be used as a dispose-all. When burning paper/cardboard, Irestrict it to small amounts used in starting the fire. I like to switch over to dry twigs and sticks as soon as the fire starter is lit.

Modern wood stoves are preferable to fireplace inserts, and fireplace inserts are preferable to open fireplaces, in regards to both heat and emissions.

What's okay to burn? This is a question which merits attention. With regards to dryer lint, it burns well (rapidly), good for starters. But for your own respiratory health, it's best to burn only cotton, linen or wool lint, that has not gone through a recent wash cycle with fabric softener.

In a search of about 25 sites, egg cartons came up on one don't burn list, but multiple okay to burn lists. So, I can't conclusively say they are fine to burn. I could not find a reason not to burn them (most items on the don't burn list also had an explanation of what could be released into the air if burned). It could be concern over the inks used on the surface. But almost all food manufacturers have now switched over to non-metal inks in favor of soy-based ones. Or it could be because egg cartons are made from recycled paper. There's no way to know what could be in the recycled paper. But this is speculation, nothing conclusive. 

Bleached paper products, including cardboard boxes that are white on the inside, will release carbon compounds containing fluorine and chlorine when burned.

Glossy papers, such as magazines should not be burned (but can be composted). 

Don't burn anything synthetic, like styrofoam, plastics, synthetic fibers, rubber, and the like. We all know this, right? 

Also, don't burn treated wood products, plywood (glues between layers), particle board, painted or varnished wood. Pallets are okay if they are not made with treated wood.


  1. I don't know if this is on the do not burn list, but we always made these for primitive camping trips with a little wax in the egg well. That worked wonderfully as a waterproofer. When it's been raining and all of your wood is wet, they work great.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I didn't see wax on any do not burn list. I think if it was candle wax or paraffin, it would be totally fine, especially in small amounts like in a firestarter. Not much different that lighting a candle.


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