Anyone who has many campfires has come across a rotten piece of firewood, or many! The question is, do you keep that rotten firewood and throw it in the fire ring, or do you chuck it in the woods?

Technically, you can burn rotten firewood, but it isn’t ideal. Rotten firewood doesn’t burn nearly as hot as less decayed wood, and it also has the potential to be wet which makes it harder to light in the first place. Also, if people around your fire are sensitive to fungal spores, there could be cause for concern if burning moldy wood.

Read on to get more details and to get more answers about what to do with your rotten firewood!

How rotten firewood burns

rotten piece of firewood

Rotten firewood is simply wood where more of the material has decomposed away, so naturally, if there is less material there, it is less dense. There is just less “stuff” in rotten firewood.

So, with less material, rotten firewood will not burn as long on a campfire or as hot as firewood that is much less decomposed.

Also, many times the wood has become rotten in the first place because it has been exposed to too much moisture. With a higher moisture content than dry and less decayed wood, it will also not burn as readily as firewood that is fresher.

What the professionals think about rotten firewood

To find answers about using rotten firewood from people who literally sell firewood for a living, I checked with the loggers of the YouTube channel, That Chipper Guy to get their take.

They don’t sell it and they don’t mess with it.

When loggers from That Chipper Guy come across rotten wood they will not process it into firewood for the exact reasons listed above, it doesn’t burn well, and they added that if someone were to use their product in a fireplace, no one wants to bring rotten wood into their home.

Get their take on rotten firewood in the video below:

Health implications of burning moldy firewood at your campfire

One thing that is worth mentioning is that there could be health implications for burning moldy firewood.

The journal Atmospheric Environment published a study in 2003 that looked at how mold spores behave on biomass when burned.

What they discovered was that, not only can bacteria and mold spores travel thousands of miles in the air, but more importantly to our topic, mold spores and bacteria from burned biomass, such as firewood, can definitely remain viable, or alive, during and after the burn. (Mims, 2003)

Know that all biomass has mold on it, including fresh firewood, but obviously a moldy log is going to contain many more mold spores than a fresh one.

When you burn that wood, the mold spores will remain viable and travel outward with the smoke.

What that means for us is two things:

  1. You should never burn moldy firewood indoors and it will pollute your air with viable and respiratory-irritating mold, and
  2. If someone near your campfire has respiratory problems or is highly allergic to mold, you shouldn’t burn that rotten firewood.

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So can you burn rotten firewood or not?

Campfire burning

The fact of the matter is, many people use rotten firewood any time they have it and don’t think twice about it. It WILL burn, you just have to know what you are dealing with and make sure it is smart for your situation.

If you are just having a fun campfire and don’t really care about how much BTUs it puts out, burn away.

But, never use rotten firewood when starting a fire and never add it to a small campfire as the lower density and higher moisture content will make your life, and your burn, more difficult.

If you are going to use rotten firewood, only add it to a fire that is already roaring and mix it up with firewood that is more fresh so it doesn’t kill your fire.

Also, make sure no one at your campfire has respiratory problems or mold allergies, and if they do, toss it!

What to do with rotten firewood that you don’t burn

So you obviously have some rotten firewood on your hands, and if you aren’t going to burn it, what do you do with it?

If you own land, you can lay it out of the way somewhere to finish rotting, or lay it by your compost pile.

Otherwise, dispose of it in the local habitat from which it came. You shouldn’t be transporting firewood far to begin with, as you could disrupt the ecosystem with bugs and disease brought in with the wood, and you should also not dispose of it outside of its natural ecosystem.

If it’s local, just toss it in the woods (not on a trail, obviously) to finish decomposing. Done!

If that isn’t an option, follow your city’s local guidelines for how you would dispose of tree limbs.

Thanks for reading, and have fun at your next campfire!

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Mims, S. A., & Mims, F. M. (2004). Fungal spores are transported long distances in smoke from biomass fires. Atmospheric Environment, 38(5), 651-655. doi:10.1016/j.atmosenv.2003.10.043

Cat is a nature lover who wants to help you make the most of your family and friend time in the great outdoors by offering helpful tips about fire pits, backyard activities, and camping. Learn more about Cat here.