How to keep a fire pit from rusting is a question many pit owners ask. Unfortunately, many wait until the rusting has started, causing damage and more work correcting the problem. Keeping your fire pit from rusting, maintaining its original look, and ensuring it operates efficiently, will take some work. Any metal fire pit needs to be periodically oiled to preserve its finish and prevent rusting. If the fire pit is painted or treated with a heat-resistant coating, it still needs to be re-coated as directed by the manufacturer, or else exposed metal can quickly rust. And all metal fire pits need a sturdy structure to support them, so make sure the area where it sits is built to do so. One of the most important ongoing maintenance chores for any metal fire pit is keeping it clean. The ash produced by burning wood tends to leave behind a fine residue that can prevent paint and protective coating from adhering to the metal.
Why is My Fire Pit Rusting?
Signs of rust in wood-burning fire pits are almost inevitable. Steel fire pits won’t rust right away, but over years, you will eventually see damage across the entire fire pit.
The main reason a pit bowl rusts is that its protective coating gets worn down over time. Years of exposure to weather damage scrape away paint and chemical coatings, leading directly to rust.
Some cleaners, such as soapy water, can also promote rust if you use them on the surface of your entire fire pit too many times. Make sure you’re careful with cleaners when trying to stop fire pit rust.
Is There a Maintenance-Free Fire Pit?
No. Most fire pits use 304 Stainless Steel, which has about 10% nickel and 20% chromium by weight. This type of stainless steel usually has a few other alloy elements, but the essential detail is that it’s sturdy and offers outstanding corrosion resistance.
“Resistance” is the operating term here. Even the most durable types of stainless steel eventually rust, especially if you leave them uncovered and exposed. Places with less rainfall and moisture in the air won’t see rusting happen as quickly, but it will still occur.
While there are no truly maintenance-free pits, there are some low-maintenance pits that serve as the next best option.
How Can I Make My Fire Pit Last Longer?
Here are several things you can do to limit rust and help your outdoor fire pit last longer.
Method #1: Clean it After Use
Try to clean your fire pit after each use. You don’t need to clean it out the same night you use it, but get to it the next day if you can. Leftover ash and other debris left inside the pit can attract moisture and cause chemical reactions against the pit’s lining, rusting it out over time.
Do not use sandpaper or other abrasive cleaners on your fire pit. Those will scrape off the protective layers in mere minutes, especially if you have heat-resistant paint on the inside of your pit.
Method #2: Be Careful What You Put in
Try to burn only well-dried wood. As manufacturers are happy to explain, dry wood burns hotter and easier than wet wood. If you have too much moisture in your wood, you’ll just end up steaming the inside of your fire pit.
Adding hot moisture to metal for extended periods is a great way to create rust, so the drier, the better.
If you’re drying wood yourself, remember that it takes about one year per inch of thickness to dry out the wood adequately. You can also buy kiln-dried wood in essentially any quantity, which is a good way to get a smaller amount of wood for personal use.
Similarly, avoid any extra chemicals unless you must use them. Don’t put in trash or lighter fluid, both of which can release toxic chemicals and harm the lining of your metal fire pit.
Method #3: Get a Lid
One of the most effective ways of protecting your fire pit is putting a lid over it. Make sure you cover both the inside and the outside, though, or rain will still eat through the outside of your fire pit and compromise its structural integrity.
Alternatively, put your fire pit under a roof somewhere. This isn’t practical at every house, but just putting a tarp over the pit can help keep most moisture away from it.
This is also the best way to prevent a fire pit from filling with water when it rains.
Method #4: Add Fire-Resistant Coatings
Some manufacturers ship a wood or gas fire pit with a protective interior coating that helps resist heat. None of these coatings are perfect because the fire inside the pit will burn them off over time. However, you can add additional layers to stop moisture from getting in.
Make sure you only use coatings that are appropriate for use in fire pits. Otherwise, they could release toxic fumes as they burn off.
If you add coatings, make sure you cover the entire surface of your fire pit, inside and out. Each product will provide instructions for the exact process to use.
Is a Rusty Fire Pit Safe?
While fire pits can be safe if they only have a small amount of rust on them, they are not safe if the rust is on any protruding areas or created holes that fire, embers, or ash could fall out through.
Holes can come in many sizes, but it doesn’t take much to ignite any flammable material below the pit itself.
Is There Anything Else I Can Do?
There are several other things you can do to stop fire pit rust. One option is buying a thicker fire pit. It takes rust much longer to eat through thicker metal, so you can get a pit thick enough to last your entire life. The downside to this attempt to stop fire pit rust is that it will be much harder to move a thicker fire pit around.
You can also add sand to the bottom of most fire pits, but check the manufacturer’s instructions just to be sure it works. Fireproof silica sand is a particularly good choice because it spreads heat around and has enough airflow to help evaporate any water that manages to get inside.
Can I Repair a Rusted Fire Pit?
Yes. It’s possible, with some work, to repair a rusted fire pit. If you have the right tools, you can essentially weld any holes shut, or even add new layers of metal on top of damaged areas. This may not look great, but it is functional.
If your fire pit doesn’t have holes going all the way through, you can also use anti-rust cleaners that are safe for the fire pit. Most manufacturers sell specialized cleaning products, and always use those as your first choice.
Try to add extra protective layers after repairing your fire pit, though, or it will only get damaged further over time. Regular cleaning and maintenance are the keys to maximizing the longevity of your fire pit.