Cleaning the Chimney on Your Wood-Burning Fireplace

Why Should I Clean the Chimney of My Wood-Burning Fireplace?

Wood-burning fireplaces are incredible and when properly maintained they can provide warmth and coziness during cold winter nights. However, when left neglected they can build up soot and create a potential disaster. It only takes a small amount of creosote buildup to create a deadly house fire. But what, you may ask, is creosote? Good question! Creosote is an extremely flammable substance that builds up inside your chimney due to burning wood. Depending on how often you use your fireplace and how often you clean it, the rate of creosote accumulation will vary. Different types of firewood also create different amounts of creosote when burned. For example, pine is a terrible choice for firewood because it can quickly cause creosote buildup in your chimney.

Keeping the chimney of your wood-burning fireplace regularly cleaned will help prevent any excess creosote from building up and causing a possible fire hazard. If you regularly use your fireplace but can’t seem to remember the last time you cleaned your chimney, then it’s probably overdue for a cleaning. In most instances, removing chimney soot is pretty simple and you should be able to clean it yourself. However, if there appears to be a heavy buildup of creosote, then you’ll have to call a professional to clean it.

What Happens If I Don’t Clean the Chimney of My Wood-Burning Fireplace?

When the chimney of a wood-burning fireplace is not regularly or properly cleaned, disaster can strike. While creosote buildup may not seem all that dangerous, in reality, it is extremely hazardous. If accidentally ignited, it can expand like insulating foam and has the potential to consume your entire chimney and destroy your home. Nobody wants their home destroyed simply because the chimney wasn’t cleaned.

Even if you are persistent and clean your chimney regularly, it is still recommended that you should have it inspected by a professional chimney sweep around once a year. Chimney sweeps are expertly trained to assess your chimney’s condition, recognize any form of chimney deterioration, and identify any possible venting issues.

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Step-By-Step

  • 1. Wait Until the Fireplace Cools Completely
    • Ok, let’s start with something simple. You should always wait until the fireplace has completely cooled before attempting to clean the chimney. Even if the fireplace has cooled down, there may still be hot ambers so always be cautious. Don’t want somebody getting hurt just because they were impatient.

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  • 2. Remove the Ashes from the Firebox
    • The firebox, or interior of the fireplace, is where the fire actually occurs and is one of the most important parts of the fireplace. This is why it is so essential that you make sure to clean it thoroughly. Use a metal scoop to remove the ashes from the stove and put them in a metal bucket. Never use a plastic container because wood ash will melt the plastic leaving gaping holes in the container and a large mess of ashes on your floor. This same reasoning is why you should never place ashes in your household garbage. That’s a mess no one wants to clean up!

      Once the ashes have been removed from the firebox, strap on goggles (safety first!) and remove the grate. It is important that you open a window and wait a few minutes before attempting to open the damper. You need to equalize the pressure inside the fireplace, or the pressure differences could cause a heat explosion. Once this is complete, open the damper and wait a few more minutes. This allows time for excess heat to rise and escape from the house.

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  • 3. Vent to the Outside
    • This step is essential so that you do not have soot reenter your home while you clean the flue. Before you start cleaning, you should protect your home’s interior with poly sheeting and a shop vacuum. Tape a layer of poly sheeting over the opening of the fireplace and insert your shop vacuum hose. Make sure to seal everything off with duct tape. Then connect the hose to your shop vacuum outside. You will need to run the vacuum while you clean the flue so that any debris is caught. Since some soot will not get trapped by the shop vacuum filters but rather blow out the exhaust port, it is wise to make sure the vacuum is outside during this step.

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  • 4. Clean the Chimney
    • In order to clean the chimney, you must first start with the flue. Take your cleaning brush and push it up and down the small section of the flue several times. You can check your handy work with a flashlight. Then, turn on the shop-vac and begin cleaning the rest of the fireplace from the top of the chimney. Ram the cleaning brush up and down the chimney until you are not able to feel any resistance anymore. This means you can now come down from the chimney and it’s time to clean the smoke chamber.

      With the shop-vac still running, remove a small corner of the poly sheeting and clean the smoke chamber. Use the noodle brush to scrape off all the soot from the smoke shelf. Then, switch to the long-handled brush to remove any soot from the sides of the firebox. Once you are finished removing all the soot, vacuum the entire fireplace, then remove the poly sheeting. Lastly, put away the shop-vac.

      Note: If you don’t think you can correctly clean the chimney then pay a professional to do it. Creosote can be highly flammable!

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