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I just returned from a five day trip during which we used a friend's Solo Stove (wood burner). My pots are now covered with a thick, sticky, black layer of creosote.

I've tried steel wool and soap, but this is a HUGE amount of work (20+ minutes per pot). What is the easiest way to remove this gummy mess?

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Unfortunately this advice may a bit late for you now, but if you cover the outside of the pots in washing-up liquid before putting them on the fire/wood burner and clean it after use. The washing-up liquid should stop the soot sticking and it should wipe of fairly easily.

This approach is best if you are at a fixed campsite where you can easily wash your pots after use and the extra washing liquid is not too much of an issue. If you are backpacking it means you have to carry a large amount of washing liquid and/or carry sticky washing liquid covered pots neither of which are great ideas.

If you've already got your pots in a mess your options are limited. You'll probably need to do a lot of scrubbing, like you are. If you haven't already soaking your pots in soapy water overnight may help but I doubt it will solve the problem entirely.

  • I've heard this before, but have been cooking over campfires for years and have never really had a problem like this. An ounce of prevention... Thanks. – Jeff W Jul 28 '15 at 16:12
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Heat up the creosote covered pan. This softens it. Then pour some denatured alcohol on it and scrub it off. I used a scotch bright pad to scrub with the alcohol, and then wiped the now liquid creosote off with a rag. It will make the rag black and perhaps ruined but it will come off slick and easy. Do this in a well-ventilated area!

  • I've found heat to be the most effective means of cleaning wood tar from pans - a small blowtorch is helpful, along with a paint scraper. No need to get the pan completely shiny - a black stain is fine if it's no longer sticky when cold. – Toby Speight Aug 21 '18 at 16:11
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Unless the black stains bother you for visual reasons, let them be. Wash the pan off with normal dishwashing methods. This will take care of the stickyness and most contamination from pan to clothes/fingers etc and having a black layer on your pan does not harm its performance. In fact, where I am from, sporting a shiny clean kettle will get you a few scornful laughs, and people will complain about the food / coffee not tasting as it should =P

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According to this page on DollarStretcher:

Simply apply ketchup (any cheap brand) to the pan and scrub with a steel wool pad. Sometimes it takes a little elbow grease, but it works great! The acidity of the ketchup works wonders and steel wool is a great shiner. I've also used this technique on brass and chrome with great results.

(However, this is just a general dishwashing tip, rather than a specific technique for creosote.)

  • Would anything mildly acidic work -- vinegar, Coca-Cola? – ab2 Oct 30 '15 at 18:21
  • I think the advantage of the ketchup would be that it is thick and clings. The others might simply run off. I'll have to give this a try next time... – Jeff W Nov 1 '15 at 1:12
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    Similar trip this past week, same stove, same creosote build-up. I tried the ketchup and let it sit for an hour, but almost no effect. I had better luck with baking soda paste (+water and some castle soap), but even that did little to help. – Jeff W Jul 1 '16 at 1:17
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I haven't tried this on woodsmoke creosote, but in general I've found that dishwasher powder or tablets do a much better job on organic gunk than standard dish soap. I would try dissolving a hefty amount (maybe half a cup) of dishwasher detergent in a sinkful of hot water and leaving the pots in it overnight before scrubbing. You'll probably still need the steel wool but you might cut down the scrubbing time a bit.

Safety note: dishwasher detergent is pretty caustic stuff. Make sure to wear thick rubber gloves when working with it.

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