If you're thinking about what kind of paper you can burn in your fireplace, stop. The truth is that you should never burn any paper in your fireplace. That doesn't mean you can't get away with using a few specific types of paper as a fire starter if you need to, but don't turn to your fireplace as a way to avoid shredding sensitive documents or cleaning out junk mail. Doing so is not safe.
Why Paper Is a Problem
Burning paper is an issue for a number of reasons. The first is that it flutters. Paper creates lots of lightweight embers capable of traveling further than most people think. When it does so in a fireplace, it often flutters up the chimney and then outside, possibly landing on your roof. Once there, the hot paper embers can set your roof on fire.
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It's also noteworthy that paper creates taller flames than wood logs. In a fireplace, these flames can easily get tall enough to reach any creosote present on the chimney walls. Creosote is flammable, and exposing it to the high flames can start a fire in your chimney, creating another unsafe condition. Not only are these flames dangerous but they really won't provide any warmth. Paper burns too quickly to generate any noticeable warmth.
Burning paper can also expose you to toxic fumes. The inks used to print on paper and in magazines often contain unsafe chemicals that release fumes when burned. Glossy and waxy paper can also release toxins, as can dyed papers. Cardboard creates the same issues as paper and is also considered unsafe to burn.
Paper You Can Burn
Even if you were the master of the one-match fire as a Scout, sometimes fireplace logs can be a little stubborn about igniting. In this case, you can use a little paper to get things going, but you must do so safely. Choose a blank piece of white paper or brown kraft paper. The paper should have no coating of any kind. You can also use an old newspaper but make sure it has only black printing on it and not any color.
Tightly roll the paper lengthwise, shaping it into a type of baton or wand. Take the rolled paper and set it between the logs you wish to ignite, tucking it in firmly. Alternatively, scrunch the paper into tight balls and tuck them under the logs. Whether you roll or squish, the goal is to get the paper tucked firmly around the logs so that it doesn't flutter as it starts to burn.
Paper You Can't Burn
Unfortunately, the list of papers you can't burn is much longer than the list of papers that you can. It is dangerous to burn colored paper or paper with colored ink. Cereal boxes, pizza boxes, gift wrapping paper, junk mail, coupons, and cardboard are all on the do-not-burn list. You should also avoid burning magazines and other glossy papers.
Although not paper, there are a few other popular fire starters you should never use in your fireplace. Dryer lint, for example, makes an excellent fire starter outside but contains fumes you don't want confined in your fireplace. You should never use gasoline, lighter fluid, or other accelerants in your fireplace. Avoid burning driftwood indoors as well. The high level of salt in the wood can damage your chimney and flue.