How to Burn Wet Leaves?

Leaves pile high in the fall, and when it comes to dry leaves, raking and bagging are the typical go-to methods for lawn litter removal. A leaf blower, mulcher, and other tools can greatly aid in the disposal of leaves, but what options do you have when the leaf pile is soaking wet? 

If there are still some predicted days of sun and warm weather before winter sets in, I might try to knock the piles flat. When the leaves are dried, I proceed with clean-up as usual for dry leaves in the lawn. When there isn’t enough sunshine left to get dry leaves or if I don’t have time to pick them up with the lawn mower, I get out my burn barrels and pile up my wet leaves. Read on to find out how the burning of leaves is a great way to clear wet leaves outside of large city limits. 

Can Wet Leaves Be Burned?

Wet leaves will burn if the fire is hot enough and there is enough fuel to initially burn off the moisture. Once the initial water on the leaves has burned off, there will be excessive smoke and some carbon monoxide based on what organic matter is in a burning barrel, and then it should be a normal flame. When the leaves dry out and blaze hotter, leaf smoke will reduce, but the fire could get out of control. 

When the burn pile starts to grow, you can add another pile of leaves to control the flame height and prevent incomplete burning by adding more fuel. You can adjust the number of moist leaves based on how many feet wide your fire is and how wet the damp leaves are. In this way, you can get rid of lots of leaves without making and piling random bags of leaves. 

Should You Burn Wet Leaves?

Burning Leaves

Whether or not you should burn moist leaves is another question entirely. In most circumstances bagging leaves, chute chipping leaves, or even just leaving leaves can be a better option. But, if you need to remove them and none of the other options are possible, then burning leaves can be an excellent alternative.

In some dry areas, an accumulation of lots of leaves and grass clippings can be safe to burn wet but not dry, and to take advantage of the season where burning is allowed; you have to create leaf bonfires while it is still safe. Make sure to use a safe method of leaf burning to prevent fires from spreading and getting out of control. Dramatic leaf burnings can be done to create smoke signals or to smoke food, but those are usually hedge leaves and other flavored or scented litter. 

Reasons to Burn Wet Leaves

Leaf collection is a good reason to burn leaves. If you don’t have the space to dispose of leaves and want a better option, you can pile and scorch them as long as you check the legality of leaf burning in your city and make sure no neighbors or people nearby will suffer any health effects from the smoke pollution than burning can be fun and effective. Below are some of the main reasons to burn a pile of leaves. 

CookingSmokes meat for flavor and preservationCollect wet leaves from appropriate trees and burn them in a vented box where meat can be exposed to the smoke
SignalCreates smoke that can be seen above tree canopiesPile leaves and create a small fire with kindling. Add the leaves to the fire until it is all burnt Fastest Leaf CleanupRaked leaves that are burned are removed faster than other leaf removal methodsPile wet leaves and start a fire, sleep adding leaves and control the fire until the leaves are burntNutrient Rich CompostCompost can become full, but leaf ash can add a lot of nutrients to the pile without taking up much spaceBurn leaves until they have greatly reduced in size, then toss them into the compost pile


Burning the correct amounts of leaves to smoke food takes practice but if you have fragrant hedges or leaves that would be better-used flavoring food than they would be as compost, then try this out. Meats and fish, as well as most vegetables, can be smoked and will have a better flavor for cooking.

Signal Fire

Burning leaves to demonstrate how to build a signal fire or make smoke signals can be a good use of that pile of leaves that won’t fit anywhere else. A fire can be started, and then wet leaves can be added to produce thick white smoke. This smoke has a greater possibility of being seen than a person on their own and can be used in rescue situations. 

Fastest Leaf Cleanup

Burning a patch of leaves is much faster and more enjoyable than having a manual leaf pick-up program. As long as your leaf pileup is burned safely, you can get through the leaves with several fewer steps. The only thing easier than this would be to dump it directly into a compost heap or leave it where it lies. 

Nutrient Rich Compost

A pile of composting leaves is a great thing to have. You rake and dump your clumps of matted leaves into a heap, and in a few months, you have lawn fertilizer. But when you don’t have any more space but still have a pickup of leaves full to get rid of, it might be burn time.

Burning wet leaves slowly at the hottest temp that is able to roast them will reduce the mass of the leaves but retain most of the nutrient content. Adding this to your lawn will greatly improve plant health.  

How to Burn Wet Leaves Safely?

Burning Leaves in a Barrel

If you have decided to burn leaves, then you will want to do it safely. The main thing to check is that it is, in fact, legal to burn leaves in your area. A large plume of smoke in an area where fire watchers are vigilant will most likely result in a fire truck showing up at your house and possibly a large fine from the city. Following are some steps to keep your leaf burn piles under control.

Propane Burner

Avoid the use of toxic accelerants, kerosene, or gasoline as they increase the amount of airborne smoke pollution and have higher levels of carbon monoxide. A propane burner will ignite wet leaves and the proper kindling and keep your fire at the right temp to get through the pile effectively.

Metal Drums 

Burning leaves inside of a metal drum is a safe and practical way to control the fire and reduce embers from leaf fires. Slits or breathing holes should be in the side of the drum to allow airflow to burn all the leaves heavenly. A blower can be used to stoke the fire and burn up stubborn leaf clumps.

Water Buckets 

Any loose flames need to be contained, and leaf litter can blow and spread embers. In order to keep spontaneous flare-ups under control, choose a day with no or very little wind. If small fires do start or your main leaf fire begins to burn out of control, you can use buckets of water or a garden hose to keep everything wet and contained.

Clear Area of Flammables

A poorly thought-out burn pile can result in property damage and even criminal charges. Make sure you keep your burn piles as close to 40 ft from trees and structures as your property allows. Never let a burn pile grow higher than your knees and if using a drum, have a way to immediately douse the flame to avoid a flareup and vortex of swirling embers.

Spray the surrounding area with a hose before burning, and move any flammable objects out of range of errant embers. Then you can burn all the wet leaves you want.