How Do I Properly Clean a Wood-Burning Fireplace?

Time and elbow grease are the main ingredients

When the heating season is finished and you don't expect to use your fireplace for a while, there comes the unpleasant task of fireplace cleaning. Although there are many people who love fireplaces, there are not as many who relish the task of cleaning out several months' worth of ash, soot, and smoke build-up. That being said, effectively cleaning a masonry fireplace and the lower part of your chimney and flue is not a particularly challenging or time-consuming task. It may take a couple of hours, but no more than that, putting it roughly on par with any other household cleaning task.

The first step is to ensure that the fireplace itself has cooled along with the ashes inside of it. You can shovel, sweep or vacuum (with a specialized ash vacuum) the ashes out of the firebox. Once this debris has been removed, you can get to the actual cleaning of the firebox, damper, and lower part of the chimney. If you have a fireplace grate or andirons, remove them and bring them outside to scrape the soot and grime off of them with a wire brush. Set them aside, and if they are brass or silver, you may choose to polish them with a specialized cleaning material for that type of metal.

You can then take a wire brush to the damper itself as well as the lower part of the chimney, scraping off any built-up creosote and tar. Shovel or vacuum this out of the firebox when you are finished, and then move on to the last step – the firebox.

When you get to cleaning the firebox itself, there are a number of possible substances to use, including specialty fireplace cleaning products – the choice is largely up to you. Some of the more popular options include washing soda, vinegar, or Tri Sodium Phosphate (TSP) with warm water. Some people use a mixture of warm/hot water with chlorine bleach. Warning: whatever you do, don't mix vinegar with bleach or ammonia, as this will yield a toxic gas which can cause harm or death. You will want to use a stiff-bristled brush (but not a wire brush) on the inside of the firebox after allowing the cleaning liquid of your choice to soak for a while. If using hot water and vinegar or washing soda, scrub the liquid into the firebox before taking a break and letting it soak for fifteen minutes to half an hour. Then come back and scrub the fireplace with generous applications of your preferred cleaning liquid. Rinse with warm water when you feel that the fireplace is sufficiently clean. At this point, you're done! Let the firebox air out, drying off for a while. Then close the damper to prevent the fireplace from sucking air out of your home through the summer, and close up your fireplace windows for the off-season.

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