Frequently Asked Questions About Ash Vacuums

Below, we’ve assembled some of the questions our readers commonly ask regarding ash vacs.  If you don’t see the answer to your specific question below, don’t hesitate to contact us and we’ll be happy to assist you!
 

Why does the nozzle of my ash vacuum keep clogging?  What can I do to prevent this?

Most often, this is caused by improper use of the ash vac.  For best results, you want to place the nozzle on the firebricks themselves, creating only a very small opening through which ash can flow into the unit.  Move the nozzle around slowly, cleaning small sections at a time.

Almost all clogs are caused by holding the nozzle directly above a pile of ashes, which causes too much debris to be sucked into the nozzle at once.  If this should happen, do not stick your fingers into the hose, as the ash may still be quite hot, and this could result in serious injury.

Instead, gently tap the nozzle against the firebricks or the base of the stove/fireplace to unclog it, and then proceed as described above.  Remember, larger pieces of debris are not designed to be removed by the ash vac.  Leave these where they are and remove manually later, once you’ve cleared out all the ash surrounding them.

How-to-hold-the-ash-vacuum-nozzle

 

Why can’t I remove larger pieces with my ash vac?

There are a couple of reasons it’s not a good idea.  First, strictly from an engineering point of view, the ash vac was designed with ashes specifically in mind.  It’s great at handling and filtering fine ash particles, but less equipped to handle other types of debris.

The second point is a matter of simple safety.  Larger pieces of debris may contain hot embers toward their centers, and even though all ash vacs are designed to handle high temperature particles, longer term, these larger hot particles can shorten the useful life of your machine.

 

Over time, I’ve noticed a loss of suction in my vacuum.  Why does this keep happening?

Far and away, the most common reason for lack of suction is poor ventilation.  This is caused when a layer of ash builds up on the outside of the unit’s primary filter.  The buildup of ash prevents proper air flow, which limits the amount of suction you’ll get out of the device.

Every ash vacuum is different, so there’s no generic way to tell you how to clean the primary filter of your particular brand, but the user manual that came with the unit when you purchased it will have complete instructions specific to your device.

Another common problem with loss of suction occurs when you maneuver your ash vac in such a way that a kink forms in the hose.  This happens less frequently than the first issue, described above, but is worth mentioning.  Just do a quick inspection to be sure the hose has no kinks in it before investigating further.

 

Why is my vacuum hose so stiff?

If this is your first ash vacuum, then probably the first thing you noticed was the difference in stiffness between the hose of an ash vac and the hose of a conventional vacuum cleaner.  This is an unfortunate side effect of engineering the ash vac to be fire retardant.  Unlike conventional vacuum cleaners, the ash vac was designed with hot ash particles in mind, and in order to protect the hose, it had to be fashioned from materials that could withstand the temperatures ash vacuums frequently encounter in the course of doing their jobs.

 

Are my ash vac’s filters washable?The PowerSmith-fireplace-vacuum-bag-filter-is-washable

There’s no easy way to answer this question.  Some are, and some aren’t.  Even in the same machine, with multiple filtration levels, some of the filters may be washable, while others are not.  Because this varies so widely from one machine to the next, the only way to be sure is to consult the owner’s manual for your particular ash vac.  Odds are that at least some of the filters in your unit will be washable, but again, there’s no way to be certain – there are just too many on the market today to make any kind of blanket statement.

 

How often should I change my filters?

Mostly, this is going to depend on how often you use your ash vac.  A good general rule of thumb is once every hundred pounds of ash you remove from your stove or fireplace, but of course, if your owner’s manual recommends something other than this, by all means, default to the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Note that you’ll also want to change your filters any time you notice any sort of damage.

 

Why are there are holes in my primary filter?

This is a sure sign that you’ve vacuumed up hot coals and/or live embers.  While your ash vac is heat resistant, it should not be used immediately after you’ve used your stove or fireplace.  Give the fire time to die completely before attempting to remove the ash, and if you see holes in your filter, then it’s definitely time to change them.  Remember that the ash vacuum (and the filters in it) are fire resistant (typically to about a thousand degrees), but NOT fireproof.  That’s an important distinction, and if you try to vacuum up hot coals and embers, you’ll quickly ruin your machine.

 

How full can I fill the vacuum?

Again, some manufacturers may offer specific recommendations on this point, but if yours doesn’t, then the default fill line is when the ash level reaches the port on the side of the canister.  At this point, you’ll notice a slight reduction in the suction and performance of your unit, because the ash has so little room remaining to be sucked into.

 

Can the ash vac be used as a wet/dry vac?

No – the ash vacuum was designed and optimized for small, fine warm or cold ash particles.  It is not designed for use with liquids.  Although it might get the job done a time or two, this is a good way to ruin your machine.  For wet/dry functionality, what you’re looking for is a shop vac.

 

Speaking of shop vacs, can I use the ash vacuum in my workshop?

Actually, yes.  The ash vac is essentially a shop vac that swaps out wet/dry functionality with fire resistant functionality.  Its multi-layered filtration system can easily handle the small, dry particles (primarily dust and sawdust) generated in your typical workshop.

 

I have a boiler in my home – can I use the ash vac to pick up boiler soot?

Absolutely.  The small particles such soot is made up of makes the ash vac the perfect tool for the job of cleaning it.