Photo: Glenda Taylor for Bob Vila
A crackling fire adds coziness and ambience, but the resulting ash cleanup is unpleasant. Traditional hearth cleaning involves a broom, a dustpan, and clouds of ash particles floating through the air.
There has to be a better way—and there is: the ash vacuum. According to Rich Mullins, mechanical expert and owner of H2O Plumbing in Corydon, Indiana, ash vacuums are “game changers for homeowners who want a clean and hassle-free way to maintain their fireplaces.”
Since these specialized vacuums are relatively new, we wanted to put them to the test on our own fireplaces and fire pits. We researched more than 24 different ash vacuums before choosing several top models for hands-on testing.
Keep reading to learn what to look for when shopping for an ash vacuum, and find out how the following ones earned a spot in our lineup of the best ash vacuums for most users.
- BEST OVERALL: PowerSmith PAVC101 Ash Vacuum
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Snow Joe ASHJ201 4.8-Gallon Ash Vacuum
- BEST MULTIUSE: Earth Sense Energy Systems Pellethead Ash Vacuum Pro
- BEST LIGHT-DUTY: Porter-Cable PCX-18184 4-Gallon Ash Vacuum
- BEST HEAVY-DUTY: BacoEng 20L Advanced Ash Vacuum
- BEST PORTABLE: Shop-Vac 4041300 Stainless Steel Ash Vacuum
Photo: Glenda Taylor for Bob Vila
How We Tested the Best Ash Vacuums
Before hands-on testing, we carefully analyzed over two dozen ash vacuums, considering build quality, materials, cord and hose length, and stated noise levels, before choosing the highest-rated models for testing in our fireplaces.
In actual testing, we used the vacuums to suck up ash dust and small wood particles from fireboxes, fire pits, and chimenea bowls. We noted suction ability, portability, ease of use, and whether the internal filters kept ash dust from recirculation in the air as we worked. We also certified sound levels with a decibel tester.
Each ash vacuum was scored using a rubric—the better a model did on a specific test, the more points it received. After testing, we averaged the points to determine the best performers and help categorize the ash vacuums by their pros and cons.
Our Top Picks
Most of the following ash vacuums (not all) are designed to withstand sucking up warm ashes (up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) thanks to their flexible metal hoses, heat-resistant filters, and steel canisters. Collection capacity varies, as does cord length, hose length, and sound level, but each one earned a spot on this lineup by effectively and safely vacuuming up ashes in our tests—without spewing them into the air. One is sure to be a good choice for your fireplace ash cleanup needs.
This powerful 10-amp ash vacuum by PowerSmith comes equipped with a 16-foot cord and a 50-inch hose. The canister has a 3-gallon ash capacity, a locking airtight lid, and a user-friendly on/off button on top.
The PowerSmith was a joy to test, starting with caster wheels that snapped on quickly. The vacuum rolled smoothly, which is a nice convenience, but it also has a top handle, and at just 10.8 pounds, it’s relatively simple to carry.
When turned on, the PowerSmith generated about 82 decibels, which is about as loud as a standard vacuum cleaner. We found the noise level quite comfortable. We vacuumed a significant amount of wood ash (from three consecutive fires) with the PowerSmith, which amounted to about 2.5 gallons of fine ash.
The ash vacuum comes with two extensions and a brush nozzle that was handy for brushing ashes out of crevices in our travertine-stone hearth while vacuuming them up. It also features a turbo nozzle that doubles as a floor brush, which we found well suited to cleaning up the flat hearth after removing the bulk of ashes.
The PowerSmith comes with a fire-resistant filter that keeps all the ashes from recirculating in the air. If there’s a downside to the PowerSmith, it’s the mess that can ensue when dumping the ash canister. We found accumulations of fine dust on the filter that we had to shake out to clean it. For this reason, emptying must be done outdoors and, for the best results, we recommend shaking the filter downwind if possible.
- Cord/hose length: 16-foot-long cord, 50-inch-long hose
- Ash capacity: 3 gallons
- Weight: 10.8 pounds
- Heat-resistant metal hose and canister construction make it safe to vacuum up warm (not hot) ashes
- Comes with multiple extensions and nozzles to suit various tasks
- Fire-resistant filter system for trapping fine dust particles and preventing airborne dust
- Comfortably quiet at about 82 decibels (manufacturer cites 79 decibels) when running
- Care is required when emptying out the canister and shaking ash dust from the filter
Get the PowerSmith ash vacuum at Amazon, The Home Depot, Wayfair, or Walmart.
There’s nothing extravagant about the Snow Joe ash vacuum—it doesn’t boast any bells and whistles, and its budget-friendly price reflects that. Still, in our tests, this basic ash vacuum did a great job of sucking up ashes from fireplaces, fire pits, and chimineas.
The Snow Joe ash vacuum uses a 4-amp electric motor to pull ash into a 4.8-gallon canister, and it weighs just 8.8 pounds. The manufacturer didn’t do much to insulate the vacuum’s motor, and so this model is quite loud. It’s listed at 92 decibels, but it registered 95 decibels in our tests. Fortunately, unlike cleaning a fully carpeted home, vacuuming a hearth only takes a few minutes; some folks may find a louder operating noise a good tradeoff for a cheaper price point.
Unlike the other ash vacuums in our lineup, the Snow Joe is designed for cold ashes only; in fact, vacuuming warm ashes is considered a fire hazard, even though the vacuum has a flexible metal hose and a steel ash container. The dual-filtration system keeps cool ash dust at bay very well. We tested this vacuum on an outdoor chimera and an indoor fireplace and didn’t notice any dust particles in the air. Though this model does not have wheels, it does include a carrying handle that makes it easy to tote. This Snow Joe ash vacuum has an 8.5-foot-long cord, a 3.9-foot-long hose, and an 11.8-inch-long nozzle.
- Cord/hose length: 8.5-foot-long cord, 3.9-foot-long hose
- Ash capacity: 4.8 gallons
- Weight: 8.8 pounds
- Lightweight, compact construction is easy to tote around the house
- Comes with cord-winding prongs on the top of the vacuum for storage
- Built-in dual-filtration system captures even fine ash particles
- No wheels included; needs to be carried, which might be difficult when full
- Relatively loud—in tests, the vacuum registered 95 decibels
- Not designed to collect warm ashes; vacuum cold ash only
Get the Snow Joe ash vacuum at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Walmart.
With an ample 10-foot cord plus a 7-foot hose, the Earth Sense Systems Pellethead ash vacuum offers versatility and allows users to plug into outlets farther away from the firebox or fire pit that requires cleaning. We tested the Pellethead indoors and out, and it was great to have a long cord that let us work without an extension cord.
Like most ash vacuums, the Pellethead is designed to suck up ashes as warm as 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It features a sizable steel ash canister with a 5-gallon capacity and comes with several attachments, including a crevice tool for reaching into tight spots and a brush tool that allowed us to remove packed ashes from between cinder blocks on our fire pit. When vacuuming without any attachments, using just the aluminum tube, we could suck up pieces of burned wood up to about 1 inch in diameter.
The manufacturer doesn’t list a decibel level, but the Pellethead registered 87.5 decibels during operation in our tests, which is not as loud as some models, but not as quiet as others. We didn’t find the level of noise to be uncomfortable.
The model takes its name, Pellethead, from its ability to vacuum on a pellet stove, and while we didn’t have a pellet stove for testing, we believe it would do a great job of cleaning them. It has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter that traps extra-fine ash dust particles to keep them from recirculating in the air. It’s a tad heavier than some at about 13.5 pounds, but it has a wheeled base for easy rolling on a hard floor.
- Cord/hose length: 10-foot-long cord, 7-foot-long hose
- Ash capacity: 5 gallons
- Weight: Approximately 13.5 pounds
- 10-foot cord and 7-foot hose provide flexibility, allowing users to plug into outlets farther away from the firebox
- Capable of safely handling warm ashes up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit
- HEPA filter effectively traps fine ash dust particles, preventing recirculation
- Use with or without a wheeled base, which makes it easy to roll on hard surfaces
- Slightly heavier at about 13.5 pounds than some of the other models we tested
Get the Earth Sense Energy Systems ash vacuum at Amazon.
The Porter-Cable ash vacuum is compact and lightweight yet offers robust suction for cleaning up cold ashes in small fireplaces or fire pits. It even sucked up all the ashes from three wood fires. It has one of the smaller ash canisters (4-gallon capacity) and it lacks wheels for rolling along, so it’s best suited to light-duty cleanup and frequent emptying. Fortunately, it weighs just 7.9 pounds and has a large fold-up handle.
The Porter-Cable comes with a heat-resistant filter bag, a flexible hose, a metal wand, and a steel canister. But, since it has a standard filter that is not heat-resistant, the manufacturer suggests vacuuming only cold ashes. While the heat-resistant elements would likely keep hot ashes from starting a fire, the standard filter could be destroyed if it came into contact with smoldering ash. Follow our and the manufacturer’s advice and stick to cold ashes with this one.
On the upside, this Porter-Cable is suitable for vacuuming wet ashes as well as dry, so if smoldering ashes need to be dampened to ensure they’re completely out, the whole soggy mess can be sucked up with this model.
This ash vacuum is quieter than some. It registered 88 decibels in our tests, which made it about average in terms of noise. We didn’t find it uncomfortably loud during use.
- Cord/hose length: 8-foot-long cord, 4-foot-long hose
- Ash capacity: 4 gallons
- Weight: 7.9 pounds
- Compact and lightweight—making it easy to carry and store
- Robust suction for cleaning up both dry and wet ashes
- Relatively quiet during operation; tested at 88 decibels while running
- Not suitable for sucking up hot ashes due to some nonheat-resistant components
Get the Porter-Cable ash vacuum at Amazon or Walmart.
The double-stage filtration system is a perk of this BacoEng ash vacuum that features a powerful 1,200-watt motor and a sizable 5.3-gallon metal tank to go with it. The combination of a HEPA filter and a secondary filter ensures that fine ash particles do not escape back into the air once cleaned from the fireplace, wood stove, or pellet stove. We tested the BacoEng on both an indoor fireplace and an outdoor chiminea, and it quickly sucked up all the ashes we’d accumulated with multiple fires. Plus, there was still ample room in the ash canister for more.
We really liked the rotating caster wheels on the BacoEng. Some models we tested came with roller bases that the canisters set into but were not permanently attached. That was usually fine, but when we picked up those vacuums, the roller bases were always left behind, and we had to carry them separately. In contrast, the wheels are permanently connected to the BacoEng vacuum, so they stayed put when we carried the unit to a new spot.
The BacoEng is suitable for both cold and warm (not hot) ashes. It has a 5-foot-long flexible hose and a 15-foot-long power cord, providing ample reach for most cleanup situations. With extension wands, a crevice nozzle, an upholstery nozzle, and an attachment for carpets and hard floors, this versatile vacuum can be used for more than mere ash cleanup. On the downside, this model registered 96 decibels during operation, which is quite loud, so we didn’t think we’d use it to vacuum large areas in our homes because of that.
- Cord/hose length: 15-foot-long cord, 5-foot-long hose
- Ash capacity: 5.3 gallons
- Weight: 12.17 pounds
- Features a powerful 1,200-watt motor for robust suction and heavy-duty jobs
- Multifunctional model; comes with several extensions, including a carpet accessory
- Suitable for both warm or cold ash; extremely versatile vacuum cleaner
- This is a pretty loud vacuum, registering 96 decibels in hands-on testing
Get the BacoEng ash vacuum at Amazon or Walmart.
From a well-known name in the wet/dry vacuum industry comes the Shop-Vac ash vacuum, featuring a shiny stainless steel canister, a 6-foot cord, a wire-reinforced hose, a metal crevice attachment, metal intake nozzle, and a pellet stove kit that includes a narrower hose attachment and various smaller accessories for reaching inside the ash box of a pellet stove.
We didn’t test the Shop-Vac ash vacuum on a pellet stove, but we see no reason why it wouldn’t do a good job—it has robust suction power, a large 5-gallon ash capacity, and a HEPA filter for ensuring no ashes recirculate in the air. The only downside we noticed was the noise level, as it registered 89.5 decibels while running, too loud for voices to comfortably talk over. It’s about as loud as our work-type wet/dry Shop-Vac. Still, vacuuming a fireplace or pellet stove is a fairly quick task, so the noise shouldn’t last too long.
Additionally, this ash vacuum is suitable for use on both wet and dry ashes, making it versatile, but it’s not for use with hot ashes, which could damage the HEPA filter. If in doubt, give the ashes in the firebox a quick spritz with water to make sure none are smoldering and then use the Shop-Vac to suck them up. No wheels with this model, but at 13 pounds, it’s probably light enough for most users to carry easily.
- Cord/hose length: 6-foot-long cord, 4-foot-long hose
- Ash capacity: 5 gallons
- Weight: 13 pounds
- Made by a well-known and respected name in the wet/dry vacuum industry
- Equipped with a pellet stove kit designed to reach into tight spaces and clean pellet stoves efficiently
- Robust suction and a large 5-gallon capacity makes it suitable for cleaning large amounts of ashes
- Versatile; vacuum can be use to clean up either wet or dry ashes
- Relatively loud—registered 89.5 decibels on tester during operation
- Not suitable for hot ashes as they might damage the HEPA filter
Get the Shop-Vac ash vacuum at Amazon or Sears.
What to Consider When Choosing an Ash Vacuum
When searching for the best ash vacuum, consider each unit’s capacity, portability, power, weight, and other essential features. “While ash vacuums are highly beneficial for anyone with a wood-burning fireplace or similar heat sources, they may not be an absolute necessity for everyone,” says Mullins. Before selecting the best ash vacuum to meet their needs, consumers will want to read on to learn what to consider.
Photo: Glenda Taylor for Bob Vila
Before shopping for an ash vacuum, consider the size of the fireplace and its frequency of use. If the fireplace produces a lot of waste because it is used regularly or it’s especially large, look for an ash vacuum with a larger capacity.
Ash vacuums range in size from small handheld models to larger shop-vacuum-style pull-around cleaners. Their storage canisters range in volume from 3 to 16 gallons. Many of the best ash vacuums have sealed canisters that not only contain the ashes but also their smell.
Frequent fireplace or wood stove users who often enjoy the warmth and ambience of fires may want to invest in a powerful large-capacity ash vacuum to reduce the necessity of emptying it often. Casual fireplace users may be happy with a small handheld model with reduced ash capacity.
Folks who have multiple fireplaces may want an easily transported ash vacuum. And since these devices look rather utilitarian and can clutter up a decorative hearth, owners may well want to tuck them away for storage.
Ash vacuums may be relatively lightweight for portability, but more powerful models can be heavy and unwieldy. Many models have some type of rudimentary handle for toting. Some also have caster wheels for rolling on hard surfaces. When factoring the need for portability, consider the distance from the vacuum’s storage space to the fireplace. If there are stairs to maneuver or it’s a trek to get to an outdoor trash can, a lighter-weight vacuum may be the best choice.
Construction and Heat Resistance
While ash vacuums resemble standard shop-type vacuums, there are a few notable differences. Shop-type vacuums are frequently made with heavy-duty plastic canisters that are not designed to hold warm ashes. In situations where smoldering ashes are vacuumed up in a shop-type vacuum, there’s a chance the plastic canister could melt and a fire might ensue.
Many ash vacuums are made with heat-resistant materials, such as flexible metal hoses, aluminum wands, and steel canisters that won’t melt or ignite. Not all ash vacuums are suitable for use on warm ashes, however. Some specify they should be used only on cold ashes. While heat-resistant materials will keep a fire from starting in the canister, cold-ash vacuums often contain filters that are not heat-resistant. These filters can be destroyed by vacuuming hot or warm ashes, but users are still afforded a measure of fire safety from the steel canisters.
Hose and Cord Length
Since most ash vacuums require external power, hose and cord length go hand-in-hand with portability. The distance between the nearest outlet and the fireplace may make the difference between easy cleaning and barely reaching. Access to the hearth or stove is also critical. Longer cords and hoses offer easier options for cleaning every inch of the fireplace.
For large fireplaces or hard-to-access wood stoves, a long hose may be necessary. Be sure to check the length of the hose before purchase. Though not all models have them, hoses typically range between 3 and 10 feet long.
Similarly, the length of the electric cord, which can range between 6 and 30 feet, is an important consideration. Some models offer retractable cords and incorporated tube-management systems.
The greater the motor strength, the more powerful the suction of the vacuum. Power for an ash vacuum is rated in amps or watts. A higher wattage or amperage translates to an ash vacuum capable of drawing in even the densest pile of ash.
Most manufacturers list the amperage and wattage of the motor in their specifications. The majority of ash vacuums plug easily into household outlets, while smaller models may be battery-powered.
Noise is another important factor in choosing the best ash vacuum. A jet engine clocks in at 140 A-weighted decibels, while a household refrigerator produces about 55 decibels. Traditional vacuum cleaners generate an average of 75 decibels, so they do create noticeable noise levels.
Not all manufacturers include decibel ratings in their product specifications, but most high-powered vacuums are louder than low-powered models. Most ash vacuums operate in the 79- to 90-decibel range. The minimal variance between high and low decibel ranges means noise may be a secondary factor when choosing the best ash vacuum for a home.
To learn more about ash vacuum cleaners, keep reading for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about these products.
Q. What are ash vacuums best for?
Ash vacuums are best used for cleaning up the remains of fires from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces.
Q. Can collected fireplace ash be used for anything useful?
Fireplace ash has been used as a resource for centuries. From cleaning up stains in the driveway to making soap, fireplace ash has many secondary uses.
Q. How do you clean an ash vacuum filter?
Clearing out an ash filter can be messy, so it’s best to do it in the garage or yard. Filters with multiple uses usually must be cleaned with soap and water and left to dry before being used again.
Q. Can I vacuum cold ashes?
For specialist ash vacuums, cold ashes are typically the easiest to vacuum. In fact, most ash vacuums are capable of handling cold ashes, but not all will be able to manage warm or hot ashes.
Remember: It is not recommended to vacuum ashes with regular household vacuum cleaners, which are not usually designed to handle fine particles like ash.
Q. Can you vacuum out a pellet stove?
Yes, you can vacuum out a pellet stove, but it’s important to use a vacuum specifically designed for ash removal.
Before vacuuming, ensure that the stove has completely cooled down and is not generating any heat. Then, carefully vacuum the interior of the pellet stove, including the burn pot, ash pan, and any accessible ash and debris areas. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using the ash vacuum and pay attention to any specific guidelines for cleaning pellet stoves.
Q. How often should I clean ashes from the fireplace?
This depends on the type of fireplace you have. You’ll want to vacuum wood-burning fireplaces after every one or two uses to prevent soot and ash from building up.
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Meet the Tester
Glenda Taylor is a product tester and writer specializing in the construction, remodeling, and real estate industries. She and her husband own a general contracting company, and Taylor is experienced in both residential and commercial building applications. She tests a wide range of power tools as well as other home improvement, household, and lawn-and-garden products.
Additional research provided by Mike Burton.