Can Cottonwood Be Used As Firewood?

by Derrick | Last Updated: March 18, 2021

When it comes to starting and maintaining a quality fire, not all types of wood burn the same; every kind of wood has a different number of BTUs, which is one of the most significant factors in how hot wood burns. Higher BTU firewood is essentially more bang for your buck from a heat output standpoint.

Cottonwood trees grow all over the United States; which makes it a convenient type of wood that you can find in rather large quantities.

If you are a recreational camper, looking to start a campfire I wouldn’t hesitate building a fire with cottonwood.

Why Does It Matter What Type Of Wood You Burn?

If you want to have an excellent burning fire that’s easy to light and stays burning for a reasonable amount of time, then you need to consider a wood with a higher BTU.

BTU stands for “British Thermal Unit,” which is how much energy is required to heat 1 pound of water by 1-degree Fahrenheit.

The BTU will tell you how much energy your firewood has. It is essential to pick a type of wood with a decent BTU so your wood stove can heat your whole house on those cold winter nights.

A BTU chart will help you determine which woods have a better BTU per cord, so you know which ones are good and which ones to avoid. In most cases, hardwoods are denser than softwoods; therefore, they give off more heat. A fire built with a mix of hardwoods and softwoods is often ideal as the softwoods will burn quickly, and the hardwoods will maintain a long-lasting fire. You can go to bed at night and wake up to find enough coals leftover to start a new fire for the following day.

Although not all hardwoods and softwoods are the same for firewood, we can’t just assume all hardwood is a better choice. Some softwoods can give off decent heat and can be easier to light.

Cottonwood has BTUs of 15.8-20 BTUs per cord. For reference a full cord is approximately 128 cubic feet of wood.

Compared to some of the other trees out there, Cottonwood may not seem that impressive with it’s slightly below average BTUs per cord. However, it shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to choices of firewood. When it’s handled properly, Cottonwood can give a good burn and works best when mixed with other types of firewood.

Grows Quickly

That lower BTU doesn’t mean Cottonwood is a poor choice for firewood. There are quite a few reasons why you should choose it as a source of firewood. One of the best things about Eastern Cottonwood is that they grow quickly and can be plentiful.

On average, a cottonwood tree will grow an additional 6 feet or more per year. This means that you don’t have to feel guilty about using Cottonwood because it’s a more eco-friendly choice. Not only do you get more wood from its rapid growth, but you also know another one will grow back in its place soon enough.

Easy To Cut & Split

Cottonwood is also one of the woods that are least difficult to split woods to cut and split. Some people find difficulty with the splitting if the wood hasn’t been seasoned. When the Cottonwood is still green, it is too wet and stringy to split easily. If you allow the wood time to season, then it will be nearly effortless to split.

If you cannot wait for the wood to season, you may have an easier time splitting it if you stack freshly cut wood off of the ground with plenty of airflow to give it some time to dry and season.

Few Sparks and Decent Coaling

For wood with a modest BTU, Cottonwood has excellent coaling qualities, this is great if you are building a fire to cook on as longer lasting coals make holding a consistent temperature easy. It also has a rather clean burn that produces little sparks, minimal sparking is great if you are doing a more traditional campout sleeping by the fire where you don’t want spark holes to get in your gear or clothing.

Large/Quick Growth

Finding an old stand of Cottonwoods the trees will often be rather thick, it is not uncommon to find trees that are 20 inches or more across. When compare to other trees that grow slower, a stand of large Cottonwoods will allow you to collect more firewood which having to fell less trees. Therefore, it is slightly more efficient on average when gathering the wood.

Lower BTU Than Other Trees

Compared to the BTUs of other trees you can use for firewood, Cottonwood ranks low on the scale. It has less than 10 BTUs than the Mulberry tree, which has a BTU of 25.8. Although Cottonwood makes decent firewood , there are so many other trees you can choose for a more efficient heat source in the winter.

How Long It Takes To Season Cottonwood For Firewood

Cottonwood is useless if it hasn’t been seasoned, it can and does contain lots of moisture. It takes at least six months if stored indoors, or up to 2 years if stored outdoors to dry out Cottonwood properly.

When it’s still wet, it is heavy to work with and green cottonwood barely burns.

This may make you wonder how you can tell if Cottonwood is seasoned or green?

Green Cottonwood releases an odor similar to cat urine when it’s wet (This smell doesn’t occur when the wood has been seasoned).

You could also use a moisture meter, which would let you know how much moisture is in the cut Cottonwood.  To be considered seasoned the moisture meter should read below 20% moisture content. 

Many people try to cut it the season before, so it has more than sufficient time to dry.

Just be careful if you try and burn Cottonwood that isn’t fully dry indoors, it can cause creosote to buildup inside the chimney and increase the risk of a chimney fire tremendously.

Burning Cottonwood Can Require Frequent Wood Stove Trips

Since Cottonwood generally burns faster than some higher density woods if you are relying solely it to heat your home you may find yourself visiting the wood stove frequently.

Best If Mixed With Other Woods

Cottonwood thrives when being mixed with other higher BTU wood such as oak or hickory. For a better fire on freezing nights, you will need to pair it with another wood. For every negative, there is a positive; this could be useful for you. If you have some better-quality wood that was more expensive, you can make it last longer by mixing it with Cottonwood.


Although it may not have the highest BTU, Cottonwood is still a decent choice for firewood. Since it is one of the fastest-growing trees in North America. The excellent coaling qualities help you get a long-lasting burn to keep your house warm throughout the night, but you may need to throw in the additional support of wood with a higher BTU if it’s not quite warm enough. At the end of the day Cottonwood isn’t the best firewood, but isn’t the worst either, it is a middle of the pack on most recommended firewood lists.