How to Clean a Fireplace

A clean fireplace is safer and produces less smoke.

A working fireplace adds warmth, ambiance, and style to a home. Often the focal point of a room, a fireplace requires regular cleaning both for appearances and safety. By learning how to clean a fireplace the right way, you can reduce dust and particulates in the air, lessen smoky odors, and reduce the chance of accidental fire damage.

While frequently used wood-burning fireplaces require more maintenance, even gas-powered fireplaces should be cleaned regularly. Turn off the gas at the main valve and vacuum away dust and cobwebs from the firebox. Inspect the unit for any cracks or scorched areas and call a certified gas technician if you see problems.

To thoroughly clean a wood-burning fireplace, follow the steps below. When you're done, you'll be ready to snuggle up around the fire.

How to Clean a Fireplace Firebox

After enjoying a fire during the season, the ashes will need to be removed to make room for the next session. Spring or summer is a good time for a thorough cleaning of the firebox so it is ready for the first chilly autumn evening.

  1. After every fire, allow the embers and ashes to cool completely. Spread a drop cloth or an old rug in front of the firebox to help contain any spills.
  1. Use a shovel or trowel to scoop the ashes into a metal—never plastic—bucket. Dispose of them in a metal trash can or add the ashes to your garden soil to enrich it.
  1. Remove any andirons or metal grates from the firebox.
  1. Use a shop vac to suction away any stray ashes. This is also a good time to vacuum and dust the hearth, fireplace surround, and mantel.
  1. To remove built-up soot on the firebox bricks, you can use a couple of different methods, described below. Wear rubber gloves and be ready to get a good arm workout because you'll need to scrub, scrub, scrub.

Method #1: Dishwashing Liquid, Salt, Vinegar, and Water

  • Fill a spray bottle with cool water and two buckets with one gallon of warm water each. To the first bucket, add two tablespoons of grease-cutting dishwashing liquid. To the second bucket, add one cup of distilled white vinegar.
  • Spray a small area of the firebox with water. Dip a stiff-bristled scrub brush in the soapy solution and sprinkle it with regular table salt. The abrasive salt will help loosen the soot.
  • Scrub the dampened area and use a sponge to wipe away the soot. Dip a second sponge in the vinegar solution and rinse the cleaned area. The vinegar helps cut through any remaining residue and reduces smoky odors.
  • Continue scrubbing, rinsing out the brush and sponges often, until the firebox is clean. If the fireplace is large, you may need to mix a second batch of fresh cleaning solutions.

Method #2: Dishwashing Liquid, Ammonia, Pumice, and Water

If the dishwashing liquid and salt didn't produce the desired results, ammonia is more effective in cutting through the soot. Ammonia fumes are very strong and can be dangerous, so make sure the room is well-ventilated and wear eye protection.

  • Fill a spray bottle with cool water and two buckets with one gallon of warm water each. To the first bucket, add two tablespoons grease-cutting dishwashing liquid and one-half cup of household ammonia. To the second bucket, add one cup of distilled white vinegar.
  • Spray a small area of the firebox with water. Dip a stiff-bristled scrub brush in the soapy solution and sprinkle it with finely-ground pumice, an abrasive, available at home improvement stores or online.
  • Follow the same scrubbing and rinsing steps listed above. Make sure the room is well-ventilated the entire time.

How to Clean Fireplace Doors

Glass fireplace doors can accumulate soot that should be removed regularly to prevent permanent discoloration. When you're ready to clean the glass, also wipe down and inspect the door's rubber gasket for cracking. The gasket can be replaced if needed.

  1. In a spray bottle, mix one cup distilled white vinegar, one tablespoon household ammonia, and three cups water. Again, when cleaning with ammonia, ensure the room is well-ventilated.
  1. Spray the solution onto the glass and wait at least 30 seconds before wiping away with a cloth or squeegee. Buff dry with a lint-free microfiber cloth.
  1. If the soot is especially heavy, spray the glass with the vinegar and ammonia solution and then dip a sponge in dry baking soda. Working in a small area, scrub the glass with the sponge. The baking soda will act as a mild abrasive to cut through the soot. Wipe away the loose soot with an old rag and buff the glass with a lint-free cloth.

When and How Often to Clean a Chimney

A clean chimney helps your fireplace burn more efficiently and helps prevent chimney fires caused by the accumulation of combustible creosote. The best time to clean a chimney is in the late spring or summer after the fire-burning season is over. If you wait until the first sign of cold weather, booking a chimney sweep is much more difficult.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends a yearly inspection of the chimney and fireplace to check for "soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances." The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that the chimney be cleaned if there is 1/8-inch or more of creosote buildup lining the fireplace system.

If you are a heavy fireplace user or see soot and creosote falling into the firebox, you may need to have the chimney inspected and cleaned more often. Burning artificial logs or green and unseasoned wood can also cause creosote to build up quickly.

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