Burning paper in your fireplace may sound like a good way to go green and save money, but it isn't usually the smartest thing to do. In fact, there is a chance of releasing toxic chemicals into the air or setting your -- or your neighbor's -- roof on fire with the burning embers, according to the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District. If you're going to burn paper in your fireplace, do it right.
The main benefit of using paper is that it is quick to ignite, which can help you get your fire started, assuming you're primarily using wood in the fireplace. Arrange a few wood logs in the fireplace, then crumple up a few pieces of plain, black-and-white (not colored) newspaper and stick them in between the logs. Then light the paper, which will ignite the logs as it burns.
If you don't have plain newspaper on hand, it's safe to burn uncoated papers, such as printer paper, in your fireplace. You can use a few sheets as a starter, similar to newspaper starters, or you can burn a few pieces for disposal in lieu of shredding it. Note, though, that these should be black-and-white papers without a glossy coating.
Paper and Practices to Avoid
Any paper that has a glossy coating, such as wrapping paper, magazines and newspaper inserts are inappropriate for burning in a fireplace. The processing of these types of paper involves toxic chemicals that are released when burning. Only use plain newspaper or uncoated paper in your fireplace, and use it sparingly. Burning a lot of loose papers at one time can release flying paper embers up onto the roof, which can cause a house fire. It can also create tall flames that could ignite creosote and other residue in the fireplace flue.
Create or purchase paper logs to supplement your wood. These are tightly-rolled logs made from newspaper. Some contain wax to prolong the burning period. Take care if you are making your own, as ones that are too loose will burn quickly. You can dip homemade paper logs in melted paraffin wax to help them burn longer. If using these logs, use half paper logs and half real wood.
- Santa Barbara County Air Polution Control District: Safer, Cleaner Fireplace Burning
- Green Living: What to Burn in Your Fireplace
- The Straight Dope: Why Is It Dangerous to Burn Wrapping Paper
- Girl Scouts of Southern Appalachians: Troop Camp Basics Part 7: Fires -- Fire Starters
- The Craft Remedy: Newspaper Logs
Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.