How To Clean Your Burn Barrel

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One Scoop at a Time

Why would anyone need to know how to clean a burn barrel? Isn’t it obvious?

Apparently not. On my burn barrel page, one reader asked how we handled the buildup in the barrel over time. Today, I did some of that…hence this hub..

Two days after the last bag of trash was tossed into the barrel for burning, things had cooled enough. Time to clean out the barrel, get it ready for the next batch.

Time to clean out the barrel....

Time to clean out the barrel….

    1. The first step is to separate the burned tin cans from the actual ashes. One shovelful at a time, the remaining debris inside the barrel is brought to the top of the barrel, the tin cans are picked out one by one, and the remaining ash is dumped into a five gallon bucket.

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Wearing gloves for this is recommended. Even good leather can go from buckskin to gray in a hurry, but that’s a lot easier to deal with than scrubbing ground-in ash from your skin later–not to mention the broken glass and sharp tin safety factors.

My wife, Pam, is quite impressed with the high temperatures attained inside this particular barrel design. In many cases, even lightweight metal (such as a cat food can) comes out partially burned away.

Maybe some cans are even totally burned away, but how would you ever know for sure?

One shovelful at a time....

One shovelful at a time….


The tin cans are picked out one by one....

The tin cans are picked out one by one….


Even good leather can go from buckskin to gray in a hurry....

Even good leather can go from buckskin to gray in a hurry….


Maybe some cans are even totally burned away, but how would you ever know?

Maybe some cans are even totally burned away, but how would you ever know?

    2. Once the barrel is empty, it’s time to crush the burned cans. I do this with the butt end of a spud bar. At first, it was mildly frustrating every time the round end of the bar would get stuck in a can, but then realization dawned: Why not leave the stuck can on the bar and just keep on crunching? It worked beautifully, even after a second can got stuck over the first can that was stuck over the bar–the photos will explain.

How much remaining debris after burning 62 bags of trash? (We had around ten months worth of trash on hand when we first set up the barrel.) Not bad at all: A plastic tote about two thirds full of burned cans plus ten gallons of ashes.

Before burning: Somewhere around 300 cubic feet of household trash (which had been temporarily stored in a shed).

After burning: Approximately eight cubic feet of ashes and cans.

Once the barrel is clean...

Once the barrel is clean…

With the barrel clean, the questions remains: What to do about the gunk on the ground?

For us, it goes like this:

    1. The clean ashes (after making sure all tin cans and stray pieces of foil have been sifted out of them) can be scattered in the “back forty”…if money is short and trips to the county landfill are momentarily out of the question.

    2. Likewise, the burned cans can be crushed (I use the round end of a spud bar) to take up less space.

    3. However, now that our finances will allow it, everything goes into heavy duty black plastic trash bags (without crushing anything), double bagged, and hauled to the landfill the next time we’re headed that way.

That said, we should be done for the day, right? Well…almost. After all, this is a burn barrel we’re talking about.

Done for the day?  Well...not quite.

Done for the day? Well…not quite.


After all, what's the point in cleaning the burn barrel if you're not going to burn anything?

After all, what’s the point in cleaning the burn barrel if you’re not going to burn anything?

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