What Can I Burn in My Pellet Stove?

Pellets in hand in front of stove

When your pellet stove has finally been installed and vented properly, you will need to start the next few steps, and you’ll need to do the important first burn. But choosing what to burn the first time is as important as choosing what to burn for the 1000th time you are using the pellet stove. Many things claim that you can use in pellet stoves, and knowing which ones are true is vital to increasing your stove’s overall effect. 

You can burn wood, biomass, self-made, and even waste pellets in your pellet stoves, with pure softwood pellets being those that burn with the least amount of waste. The pellets you are burning must be dry, having virtually no moisture content in them with self-made, biomass, and waste-centric pellets usually burning at a much lower efficiency than those you would buy in-store.

Many other things will burn in pellet stoves, with some desperate people around the world starting to use corn. However, you need to know how to burn these substances, how to make perfect pellets if you are making your own, and what are the dangers and problems when not using the best quality pellets. 

Why can normal pellet stoves not burn anything but pellets?

Normal pellet stoves are not made to handle the added moisture and soot produced when burning anything other than pellets. This is because the most normal alternative, corn, inherently burns a lot dirtier and with moisture than normal pellets. Because of this, you need to ensure that your pellet stove is rated to use organic materials such as corn. 

While all biomass-burning pellet stoves can burn normal pellets, the same cannot be said for all other pellet stoves. Using biomass, usually corn, to be burnt in a normal pellet stove will cause it to function with less heat, burning a lot dirtier than it normally would. This causes a combination of things to happen inside the pellet stove that means you will have to do a lot more maintenance. 

One of the first things you may notice is smoke coming from the pellet stove when burning biomass. Secondly, the biomass will not burn all the way through. As the auger turns, there will be more pellets pushed in to burn. The pellets that should have burned up will be pushed into the ash bin, smoldering and causing more ash to build up than usual. 

How does a pellet stove burn pellets?

Pellet stoves start their fire using an electric heating device, together with a fan that pushes in the air. The pellets start to smolder and then quickly are set alight.  This process becomes automatic as the pellet stove continues to burn. Instead of the electric burner igniting the pellets, the fire from the pellets lights the next batch. The fan is constantly moving to ensure that the process has enough oxygen to burn at a high temperature. 

As the pellet stove burns for longer, this process should become more efficient as the heat becomes more and more. However, if the pellets are wet, the fan is slow, or the temperature is just too low, the process can be hindered. Many older pellet stoves start using excessive electricity as the electric heating element needs to run for longer. These are the first signs that the pellet stove needs to be serviced. 

Burning the wrong pellets can further increase the time and temperature needed to initially light the pellets, causing you to use more energy. Fortunately, it can take a while for a used pellet stove to get to the level where it needs to be serviced to ensure proper burning. A pellet stove will happily keep burning for several days if it has been cleaned and prepared before initially being lit. 

How efficient are pellet stoves?

Normal pellet stoves are considered to be above 75% in efficiency with transferring heat into a room, using above 90% of the heat generated from the burning pellets to heat itself. With most of the energy lost in the process of venting dirty air through the vents of the pellet stove. This is why you will see most pellet stoves with longer vents sticking out of them. 

Pellet stoves heat a room by the heat produced and absorbed into the pellet stove itself, working almost like a giant heated element in the room they are in. This causes the stove to take a lot longer than normal heating systems to heat a large area. However, it also does not irritate allergies or asthma

The pellet stove heats the air without moving around dust or other particulates, with all of the dirty air and CO2 being pushed out through the vent system. A pellet stove running at peak efficiency will usually have most of the heat produced flowing into the area installed. Only when the pellets are running low, or there is something wrong, will the pellet stove become inefficient. 

What kinds of pellets are available?

Four types of pellets can traditionally be used in your pellet stove; however, each type has limitations and can only be used with specific pellet stoves from around the world.  Many pellet stoves cannot use anything other than pellets, while a select few that have been built and designed with extra features can burn anything pellets shaped.

Understanding what makes each type of pellet or pellet replacement special is vital for a system that works better and burns at optimal efficiency. While pellet stoves can burn multiple types, the inefficiency and waste caused by doing this causes a massive amount of damage to the stove itself and can cause a build-up of CO2 as the extra smoke starts to leak out of the pellet stove. 

  • Wood: The most common type of pellet you can find, wood pellets burn efficiently and comes in all shapes and sizes. It is important to remember that softer wood pellets burn hotter and cleaner than hardwood pellets and will be prized by you and the community of pellet stove owners in your area. 
  • Biomass: Usually, the only biomass that is thrown directly into a pellet stove is dried-out corn, which can burn just the same as pellets. However, a higher-pressure fan system is required along with electric elements that can be left on for a lot longer, with a few extra sensors in the pellet stove to ensure everything is burning properly. A normal pellet stove cannot burn normal biomass. However, some plants process down waste biomass into pellets.
  • Self-made: If you are in a more remote area or just simply feeling up to the task, you can produce and create your pellets to be burnt. As long as you use the right bonding agents, woods, and drying techniques, these pellets are excellent to use on any pellet stove. These pellets burn just as hot, if not hotter than the pellets you can buy at any store or supermarket.
  • Waste: A more unique and rare type of pellets is created from the wood waste that can be found around the world. Anything from plant matter to furniture companies that give their shavings, these pellets are not always able to burn clean. They can cause a bit of a challenge as they may burn at different temperatures depending on the batch you have received. 

Why should you never use anything but pellets in the pellet stove?

The simple reason is that pellets stoves are not made to burn anything else. While wood stoves can burn anything that can be set on fire, pellet stoves are particular. Pellet stoves use augers, electric elements, and fans, along with only a small lit-up area. This means that even if you find something that can be burnt like a pellet, it may still cause problems.

Biomass burners have been built specifically to burn a larger selection of things, burning either hotter or colder, while having an auger system that can handle strange shapes. A vital thing to remember is that all pellet stoves use a high-temperature level to burn the pellets, ensuring that all of the burnt pellets are converted to heat or some ash.

If you use something that cannot burn like this, the pellet stove becomes inefficient, requiring more work and heat to continue operating. This is why you will see that biomass pellet stoves use more electricity than normal pellet stoves, even when they burn normal pellets. 


Pellet stoves can burn anything pellet-shaped that you may throw in them. However, as you use more and more foreign pellet material, the stove will lose its signature efficiency. Sticking to the pellets that you know work is the best way to ensure that your home is hot and ready to go will change how you relax in the cold, even in the heart of freezing winter.

Whichever pellets you do end up using, just be sure that the pellet stove is capable of using them efficiently. 

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