There is nothing like a fireplace with a roaring fire on a cold winter’s day. Despite all the advances in HVAC technology, a fireplace is still the preferred heating choice for many homeowners. But to look and perform to its best, a fireplace must be cleaned regularly. It can be a dirty and time consuming job, but not one that is beyond the capabilities of the average home handyman. If this is not a job you want to undertake yourself, professional fireplace cleaners are available.
The best time to clean a fireplace is at the beginning of summer when you know that it will not be used for several months. Delaying fireplace cleaning can lead to the soot and dirt hardening over time and becoming more difficult to remove. If you plan to have the chimney cleaned, either by doing it yourself or hiring a professional, have this done first so that the dirt that falls out does not make the recently cleaned fireplace filthy again. Having the chimney cleaned regularly reduces the risk of chimney and flue fires and blockages that cause smoke to collect in the room. The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that fireplaces be inspected for safety once a year and cleaned as often as required.
Before starting, make sure that the fireplace and ashes are cool to prevent any burn injuries. Spread a large cloth or newspapers in front of the fireplace to collect the dust and soot that may fly about during the cleaning. Make sure you are wearing protective clothing and eye protection and a respirator or dust mask before you begin. If all this sounds too complicated or difficult, you can find details of professional fireplace cleaners in your area by either asking a neighbor or hopping online and conducting a search yourself.
Cleaning the Fireplace
There is a logical process to cleaning a fireplace and if these steps are followed in sequence, you can expect the best results.
1. Use a brush with medium stiffness bristles to clean out the flue using short strong strokes.
2. Once the flue is clean, use a brush with hard bristles to clean the outside of the damper. Be careful of the creosote that comes off. It is extremely flammable and should be disposed of with care.
3. Vacuum or sweep away the soot, dirt and any debris that has accumulated.
4. Remove the grate and using a wire brush scrub the grime off. There are special solvents available that can remove stubborn dirt and grime that cannot be brushed away. Cleaning the grate can be done outdoors to prevent the dirt falling off from spreading into the rest of the house.
5. For the firebox you can use either any of the commercial fireplace cleaning products or a homemade one using warm water and vinegar or washing soda. Apply the solution all over the firebox and allow it to soak in as per the manufacturer’s recommendations. If you are using a homemade solution you can use a stiff bristled brush to scrub the solution into the grime and then allowing it to soak in for a few hours.
6. Once the soaking period is over, use a stiff bristled brush and warm water to remove all the dirt and grime. Take care to prevent the dirty water from damaging carpets or flooring.
7. If the firebox is very dirty, the cleaning process may have to be repeated or take a little longer.
8. Once the firebox is clean, give it a final rinse with warm water and then leave it to air dry with the damper open.
9. Clean up the area around the fireplace and once it is dry, close the damper.
A Clean Fireplace is a Safe One
Cleaning a fireplace is not just a matter of keeping the home clean and looking sharp. A dirty fireplace can be health hazard. How often it needs to be cleaned depends on how much it is used.
Benjamin Roussey is a Redbeacon contributer and home improvement and maintenance expert. He has two master’s degrees and served time in the U.S. Navy.