Iron Versus Clay Chiminea: Pros and Cons

A clay chiminea on a wood deck.

Chimineas are just one of the many kinds of portable fireplaces available for outdoor use. With their tall profiles, excellent smoke drafting, efficient burning, Southwestern good looks, and availability in a variety of colors and designs; they are among the most popular outdoor fireplace models. They come in a variety of materials, but iron and clay are the top two choices of most consumers.

Cast iron chimineas and clay chimineas both have their pros and cons, but which is best? It depends on your preference. Cast iron requires much less maintenance and care than a clay chiminea, but they're heavier and more difficult to move around. They also tend to spot or discolor the surface underneath the fire box. Clay is less expensive and easier to move, but may crack or break without warning. This could potentially cause a fire and will certainly leave a big mess to clean up.

Traditional chimineas have tall chimneys, giving them a natural drafting action that causes them to burn and act more like a regular fireplace. The air is drawn into the fire through the mouth and then out through the neck. That makes either iron or clay chimineas a great choice for entertaining on patios and around yards since the smoke doesn't hover around the head level and become annoying. Fire pits and campfire shaped pit designs tend to smoulder and smoke.

Better quality control in the manufacture of clay chimineas means less shattering in the clay than in years past. Proper maintenance and proper burning of fuel helps to ensure that clay will last longer. Both chimineas must be placed on level surfaces with a fire pad, or concrete or stone base to prevent fires and burning of the surface. Both must be leveled and instructions must be followed to ensure safe use.

Now, here is a list of the other pros and cons for both:

Cons of Iron Chimineas

  • They will rust if not maintained properly.
  • They must be assembled since they come in pieces.
  • They tend to stain the surface beneath it.
  • They are heavy and hard to move from place to place.
  • This type is expensive.
  • They will break if dropped.
  • They get extremely hot and need greater clearance around them than clay chimineas.
  • Hazards of hot iron and potential fire and burning danger are greater.

Pros of Iron Chimineas

  • They are durable and long lasting when cared for properly.
  • They are less likely to tip or turn over.
  • They are lower-maintenance than clay.
  • They heat up quickly.

Cons of Clay Chimineas

  • This type may crack, break, or shatter without warning when there is a fire in the firebox.
  • This type requires more care and maintenance than iron chimineas.
  • They need to be warmed up for at least half an hour before being used in cold temperatures.
  • They don't get as hot or warm as effectively as cast iron chimineas.
  • They should be sealed at least twice a year to keep them from cracking.
  • The life expectancy is shorter than that of an iron chiminea.

Pros of Clay Chimineas

  • The material is much less expensive than iron.
  • One-piece construction means no assembly required.
  • They are easy to move and relocate.
  • They cool off more quickly than cast iron.
  • This type is less likely to cause as severe burns as iron.

Now you can make an informed decision about whether to buy a clay or iron chiminea.