How To Safely Burn Paper

Even if you don’t have a paper shredder, there are other ways to eliminate sensitive documents with personal information like bank statements and social security cards. People used to burn documents in the past before paper shredders were invented. Interestingly, it is considered one of the best methods of getting rid of papers.

However, burning can cause problems such as smoke which can disturb you and the people around you. Plus, there is a possibility of fire hazards. With the help of this article, you will be able to deal with the problems and how to safely burn paper effectively and safely.

Where to Burn the Paper?

safely burning paper on container

If you plan to burn your papers, consider using a burn barrel to avoid some papers not getting burned completely. Air gets into the barrel freely, making the burning process efficient. In case you don’t have a barrel in your backyard, you can get one from home improvement stores.

You can also choose other places to how to safely burn paper, such as a BBQ grill, bonfire, and burn cage.

If you are planning to how to safely burn paper, you need to research regulations involving outdoor burning and smoke. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law, ensure you check the HOA rules stating about burning papers. If burning is prohibited, you can use alternative ways of destroying the papers.

How to Assemble the Burn Barrel?

The burn barrel needs to have air holes around to allow air in for effective burning.

  • At the bottom of the drum, drill 4- ½ inch holes to allow any rainwater to get out quickly.
  • Drill around 20 holes on the sides of the drum at varying heights.
  • Make a fire cover using an old grill top and bend it to fit loosely.
  • Cut the steel siding or roofing as cover from rain and strong wind.

After assembling the barrel, open the top. Place the barrel’s edges on the blocks to allow air to flow smoothly and help with drainage.

When How to Safely Burn Paper at Home?

Safely Burning Paper at Home

If burning is accepted in your area, then use these guidelines to how to safely burn paper at home. They include:

a) Choose a suitable day.

Make sure you choose a calm day when there is no wind and no rain because it leads to the fire getting extinguished. Wind can also put out the fire or blow away papers from the pit. You will burn your documents effectively on a calm day.

b) Choose the Location

Consider locating your barrel down the prevailing wind of the house, free from trees and other flammable materials. Some people dig up sand to control the fire from spreading accidentally.

c) Take precautionary measures

It is advisable to get a fire extinguisher and keep it close while burning the papers. In case fire catches something accidentally, you can use it to put out the fire quickly.

You need to ensure no plastic or rubber pipe, cans of gas or oil, a pile of firewood, or anything that can easily catch fire near your burning area.

Additionally, ensure no flammable things near the burning spot, especially if it is an outdoor burning.

You can pour sand or stone around the fire to build a perimeter. The measure helps to confine the fire in one spot hence preventing spread to other areas.

d) Don’t put plastic or rubber in the fire.

You can only burn ordinary papers, documents, or newspapers that are printed with standard ink. Some documents like glossy magazines and newspaper inserts are covered with plastic to improve appearance and preservation. Don’t put these papers in the fire as they emit dangerous fumes.

e) Put the papers and stay close.

Next, put the documents and stay close to keep watch as an animal can knock down the barrel or wind blow the papers. Also, kids can come and decide to play with the can. You can control the fire easily if you keep a close eye.

You can start burning the driest papers as they burn fast and efficiently. Put a small number of documents, one by one. Add small pieces of wood to get the fire-consuming.

f) Keep adding the papers.

If you have a vast amount of papers to burn, putting them all is not right. Put a small amount at a time to create an aeration room hence reducing smoke.  Put a bunch of documents in the fire and let it burn entirely before adding the next bunch.  Use a stick to poke the papers to help the fire burn wholly and efficiently.

Suppose the papers are burning slowly; you can add lighter fluid to fasten the process. Be careful not to pour much liquid to create a massive burst of flame.

g) Collecting and disposing of the ash

After burning the papers, stir the remains to ensure no unburned pieces are left. If all the papers burnt completely, collect the ash using the spade and transfer it to the composting pit. You can also consider using it to revitalize your plants.

Dangers of Burning Paper in the House

Don’t burn colored paper and glossy paper as they release toxins when burned. The chemical pigments found in colorful paper turn toxic when burned, and cardboard is also treated with chemicals.

Moreover, paper tends to burn faster and produces flames that shoot up and ignite creosote in the air hence becoming a flue fire risk. Pieces of burned paper may also float out in your fireplace, thus causing a fire hazard to the surroundings.

Alternatives Ways of Destroying Papers

shreding paper by machine

You don’t need to pile unnecessary documents in your house. You can look for alternative ways to destroy the papers without investing in a personal paper shredder.

Cutting the Papers

You can consider destroying the sensitive parts of the document using a paper punch. On the other parts of the paper, you can use a pair of scissors to cut into small pieces.  It does not work well for huge documents. Despite the method being time-consuming and tiresome, it is effective if done carefully.

Damaging Using Acid

To make sure all your papers have been destroyed, you can use muriatic acid. You need safety goggles, a large metal or plastic bucket, and rubber gloves. Put the papers in the bucket as you pour the acid over them while wearing the goggles and rubber gloves. The papers will get destroyed; however, you need to dispose of them in the toxic waste site.


If you soak the document for a longer time in the water, they become unreadable. You can place a few sheets of paper inside a plastic bag filled with water for a small scale, while you need to soak in a bucket for a large scale. Leave the papers to soak for hours to days, depending on the quantity. Dispose of the destroyed documents in the usual way. Although this method works, it is time-consuming and can get messy quickly.

Hiring a Shredding Service

You can choose to hire a paper shredding service if you have a massive amount of paper. It takes less time and effort to destroy hence giving you great results. However, you will need to pay some fees to get their services. You are guaranteed that all your sensitive papers have been eliminated safely and spare you time and effort.  It is a convenient method in which you will not deal with the documents yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you burn paper in the garden?

Yes. Burning paper in your garden is allowed if only it doesn’t cause harm to the people around. Make sure the paper is dry and the fire is adequately aerated to reduce the amount of smoke.

Is burning paper outdoors legal?

Burning paper outdoors depends on where you live. It is accepted in some areas, while in others, it is prohibited. You can check the HOA laws state or talk to a member of the board about the issue.

Can I burn any paper?

No. You can only burn ordinary papers like the one used in making newspapers, books, mails, and envelopes. Never burn paper that looks glossy as it is coated with plastics that release dangerous fumes.

How can you burn paper in your backyard?

You need to select the place you want to burn sensitive papers. It can either be a fire barrel or a spot for lighting the fire. Use dry wood sticks to make fire and place the documents in it. To avoid blocking fire’s aeration, add papers little by little.

What alternative ways can you use to destroy papers?

Although burning is the most efficient way of destroying documents with sensitive methods, there are also other ways, including cutting, using water, paper shredder, etc.

Final Thought

More and more people are returning to the traditional way of destroying papers. If you look at their backyard, you will find burn barrels, a pit, and a bonfire. You can be assured that it is an efficient way to destroy paper up to date. 

Make sure you consult your local authorities and your HOA before burning. If it is prohibited, you can consider other methods of destroying sensitive papers. 

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