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How to Clean a Chimney (Prevent Housefires)

Updated
Remove the fire hazard from your house by learning how to clean a chimney safely.

Are you worried about the creosote buildup in your chimney? Creosote is a fire hazard that can quickly ignite your house and needs to be removed from your chimney. Today we’ll show you how to clean a chimney safely and when you should consider calling a professional to clean your chimney for you.


How Often Should You Clean Your Chimney

Man inserting brush into chimney

Creosote is a gummy and foul-smelling byproduct of fires. It builds up gradually becoming a fire hazard. If it catches on fire, a house can quickly become consumed by fire.

You will need to clean your chimney regularly and inspect it once a year to prevent the creosote from building up. If you burn green or wet logs, your chimney will need to be cleaned about every 50 burns. Dry hardwoods don’t produce as much creosote, so you will only need to clean your fireplace every 70 burns.

Another way to tell whether you need your chimney cleaned is to check how much creosote is in your flue. If you have more than an ⅛ of an inch (about the thickness of a nickel) then your chimney needs to be cleaned.

Can You Clean Your Chimney Yourself?

Cleaning a chimney requires someone experienced with DIY work and the right tools, skills, and knowledge. You should also be comfortable with working safely on the roof.

In addition, check to see if you can reach into the smoke chamber or smoke shelf area. If you can reach this area and have room to maneuver a brush, then you should be able to clean your chimney yourself.

However, if you can’t reach that area or don’t have room to maneuver a brush then you shouldn’t clean the chimney yourself.

How to Clean a Chimney

Fireplace chimney cleaning begins by making sure that you have either a chimney cleaning kit or the right brushes to reach into your cavernous chimney.

  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Advanced

What You’ll Need

  • Drop cloth
  • Dust mask
  • Safety goggles
  • Safety harness
  • Ladder
  • Flashlight
  • Brushes of various sizes
  • Shop vacuum
  • Extra hose lengths
  • Duct tape
  • Poly sheeting

1. Fireplace Inspection

Put on your goggles and dust mask or respirator. Remove the ashes from the firebox and remove the grate.

Open the door and windows. Wait a few minutes before you open the damper. This will allow the heat to rise from the house.

Using your brightest flashlight and fireplace poker, lean into the firebox from the bottom and shine light into the smoke chamber and flue. Scratch the surface with the poker.

You’re looking to see what the creosote looks like. If the soot is matte black and less than ⅛ inch thick, then you can clean your chimney yourself.

2. Prepare the Area

Spread a plastic tarp or painter’s drop cloth on the floor. This will help to protect items in front and around the fireplace.

Now isolate the fireplace from the rest of the house by using duct tape to hold thick plastic sheeting over the front of the fireplace. Make sure you don’t have gaps in the seal or you may find a coating of fine dust on your furniture.

Insert a shop vacuum hose into the sheeting and seal the hose to the sheeting with duct tape. Add sections to the hose until the hose can reach the shop vacuum outside your house. Connect the hose to the shop vacuum.

The shop vacuum will shoot fine dust from the exhaust port, so it’s best to have the shop vacuum outside.

You will be running the vacuum while sweeping the chimney. Replace the filter when it clogs.

Close all the doors and windows on that side of the house to prevent any soot from re-entering your home.

Make sure you’re wearing good protective gear such as goggles with a dependable seal around the eyes, a good dust mask or respirator, and a safety harness.

3. Clean the Chimney From the Top

Use a sturdy ladder to reach the roof. Remove any hardware that is blocking the top of the chimney such as the chimney cap. Then choose the largest diameter chimney brush you have that will fit into your chimney.

Put the brush into the chimney to brush the creosote from the chimney. Work downward toward the smoke shelf which is a flat area located in the crook behind the damper. Take your time and do a thorough job.

When you have cleaned the chimney flue from the top to the best of your ability, replace the hardware. Make sure that all the fasteners are secured and descend from the roof.

4. Clean the Chimney From the Bottom

Wait 30 minutes to an hour for the dust to settle in the firebox. Then peel apart a small opening in the taped seal over the fireplace. Using a smaller diameter chimney brush, reach into the fireplace and scrub the chimney from the inside as far as the brush can reach.

When you’ve finished, cover the fireplace again and wait another 30 minutes to an hour to let the dust settle.

5. Remove Sheeting

Carefully peel back the plastic sheeting making sure that you don’t stir up the soot. Use the shop vacuum to clean the fireplace.

Cleaning Different Types of Chimneys

You will need a different method for cleaning various types of chimneys.

Wood Fireplaces

A wood stove chimney can be cleaned by sealing off the fireplace. First, go to the roof and clean your chimney from the top with the biggest bristled brush you have that will fit into the chimney. Work downward.

After cleaning your chimney from the top, go to the bottom of the chimney and clean it from the inside.

Gas Fireplaces

To clean a gas fireplace, first, turn off the gas. Then take the fireplace apart. If you don’t know how to reassemble your fireplace, take pictures as you take it apart.

Brush away all the dust and dirt on the various parts. Inspect them to make sure that the vent holes don’t have any buildup that may clog the flow of gas. Do not clean the parts with water or a spray cleaner.

Vacuum away any dust and cobwebs in the fireplace and use an old cloth to wipe down the pilot light and gas line.

Clean the glass doors with a non-ammonia-based glass solution or a homemade vinegar solution made by mixing equal parts of vinegar and water.

Use the upholstery attachment on your vacuum to clean both sides of the metal screen or mesh curtain. Give the mantle and hearth a quick wipe down before reassembling your fireplace.

Finish by checking the exterior vents to make sure they’re not clogged.

Oil Fireplaces

Shut down your furnace and remove all the parts that are between you and the chimney. Then use a flexible rod and scrub the chimney with the chimney brush. Use short strokes.

Start with a soft brush and work up to stiffer brushes. Keep working until no more soot falls into the chimney’s base. Vacuum up the soot and wait an hour for the remaining dust in the chimney to settle before reigniting the furnace.

Chimney Cleaning Tips

There are some tips to help you maintain your chimney even if you have a stove with a fireplace insert.

  • Make sure you only burn properly split and seasoned firewood.
  • Avoid smoldering fires that form creosote.
  • Make sure you have adequate airflow to your fire.
  • Use a newer EPA-certified wood stove that burns more efficiently.
  • Periodically add a chimney cleaning powder such as Co-Mate Chimney Cleaner to help keep creosote from building up.

When to Hire a Professional

Make sure that you have the room to reach and maneuver a brush in the smoke chamber and that you don’t have a chimney with a bend that will make cleaning it difficult. You will also need to hire a professional chimney cleaner if you’re not comfortable with working on your roof.

Fireplace chimney cleaning is a challenging DIY task that should only be done if you have the knowledge and skills to do it safely.

FAQs

What Can I Burn to Clean My Chimney?

Use a chimney cleaning powder such as Co-Mate Chimney Cleaner to help clean your chimney without a brush. These powders have cleaning chemicals that attach to the creosote and loosen it. This is great for maintenance as it makes the chimney sweep’s job easier and more effective.

However, these powders do not replace an annual cleaning and inspection of your fireplace chimney.

Do I Need to Clean My Chimney If I Don’t Use It?

Yes, every chimney should be serviced even if you don’t use it. The inspection makes sure that it’s free from damage.

What Does Chimney Creosote Look Like?

Creosote is a black or brown residue that forms when you burn logs in a fireplace. It may be crusty, flaky, sticky, shiny, or hard.


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About the Author

Sara Dennis

Sara Dennis is a coffee-loving freelance writer, homeschool blogger, and mom of six kids. In her free time, Sara loves reading books and researching more efficient and effective ways to keep a clean house, homeschool her children, and blog better while making a home for her large family.