With so many inventions under his belt, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Benjamin Franklin also developed a line of cast-iron stoves in 1744. Unlike so many inventions since that time, these stoves have remained remarkably similar in design, featuring an internal chamber for wood – and perhaps a separate chamber for food – a flat surface for heating and cooking and a long ventilating pipe. Wood stoves can help heat a home as well as provide a cooking source, which is why they remain particularly popular among people who live in remote areas. Cleaning cast iron wood stoves has remained fairly consistent over the years, too.
Let your cast iron wood stove cool down before cleaning it. In fact, it should be stone cold.
Clean drips and spills from the stovetop with a sponge and a 50-50 solution of vinegar and water. For tougher stains or to remove food buildup, mix 1/2 cup baking soda with 2 tablespoons of mild dish soap in a small bowl. Add white vinegar to the mixture until it becomes creamy. Apply this mixture to the stains, then scour with a soft brush. Use a stiff brush for tougher, caked-on stains. Wipe the stovetop with a wet rag or paper towels. Follow with a dry rag or paper towels.
Lay an old towel around the wood stove before you remove ash from the interior – the messiest part of this job. Protect your eyes and mouth with a face mask. Open the chamber – known since Mr. Franklin's day as the "fire box." Scoop up the ashes with an ash shovel and small broom. Work very slowly since the ash is very light and fine and will diffuse quickly. Load the ashes in an ash can with a metal top. Let the ashes sit in the can for at least two days before disposing of them to ensure they are completely cooled off. Vacuum the chamber of remaining ash residue, if you wish.
Clean any glass on the stove door as well as the exterior of the stove with the white vinegar and water solution. Gentle but effective, the solution also should remove any soot from the door. Spray the solution on the stove, then buff it dry to prevent streaking.
Hire a chimney professional to inspect and clean the flue on your cast iron stove once a year. He also can inspect for cracks, warping, leaks or other damage that could interfere with the smooth operation of your stove.