Tips on Cleaning and Maintaining a Fireplace

Cleaning and maintaining a fireplace can be a DIY job, but before the chimney is cleaned, key areas must be checked. Use these tips to ensure fireplace and chimney safety.

Open, Contemporary Living Room Features Natural Stone Fireplace

Open, Contemporary Living Room Features Natural Stone Fireplace

The Queen's (Linda Cobb) royal road trip this week is to a family with a fireplace that needs cleaning.

Photo by: Jacob Bodkin

Jacob Bodkin

The warm glow of a fireplace is one of nature's simple gifts. To keep things simple and safe, clean the fireplace regularly and know that it is well built. It's also a good idea to have a professional initially inspect the fireplace and chimney even if you plan to clean and maintain it yourself, according to Ken Robinson, of the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

When the chimney is cleaned by a technician he will lay down a drop cloth, place lights, plug in a vacuum system, and have an array of tools and brushes at hand. But before the chimney is cleaned, key areas of the chimney are first checked.

The lintel, which is the steel bar that supports the top of the opening up to the first combustible, should be at least 12 inches high.

The bricks need to be inspected. Regular bricks can't tolerate the higher temperatures that fire bricks are able to tolerate. The regular brick will begin to crack and the mortar will crumble. If you have regular brick, it's best to chisel out the old mortar and replace it with high-temperature cement.

Before cleaning, put on a respirator because it's unhealthy to have continued exposure to creosote dust. Creosote is unhealthy for the chimney as well since it's a combustible material up in the venting portion of the chimney. In that part of the chimney, everything above the damper is designed for hot gasses but not actual combustion. If a combustible substance overheats and catches fire, it can cause serious damage to those areas.

If you clean your own fireplace, the ashes and creosote can be sprinkled on flower beds, since they are a source of calcium and other nutrients.

During cleaning, the damper should be checked for correct positioning, ensuring energy conservation and fireplace safety.

With the vacuum running, a stiff brush is used to clean the fireplace walls. The damper ledge should always be cleaned, since creosote dust builds up there also.

The outside of the chimney should be checked for obstructions and wear.

A chimney cap, which has an important function in the proper functioning of a fireplace, should be installed if one isn't already in place. It keeps animals, rainwater, leaves and debris out of the chimney, and the mesh around the cap sides acts as a spark arrester.

Trees that overhang the chimney should be trimmed back; falling branches could cause damage to the chimney.

When burning wood, make sure it is seasoned -- not green wood.

When hiring a chimney sweep, look for a certified sweep, one who has taken a test on the standards and codes and knows how chimneys are suppose to be built. He should also have insurance and workman's compensation in case of an accident.

The Chimney Safety Institute suggests cleaning the chimney when creosote is 1/4 inch or thicker on the chimney walls. Schedule the cleaning at the end of the season, as acids in the creosote can damage fireplace mortar and when humidity combines with creosote, strong odors can result.

Next Up

Indoor Spring Cleaning and Home Maintenance

The warm weather has finally arrived. Throw open the windows and get started on these chores that head off potential problems and help prevent costly home repairs.

Cleaning Outdoor Furniture

Learn about the best ways to clean outdoor cushions, canvas seats and chair backs, and white and colored plastic.

Easy Maintenance Tips for Grills

Keep your grill burning bright for years with this simple cleaning and care guide.

Autumn Maintenance Tips

Use these must-do fall maintenance tips to keep your house in shape and help keep you warm this winter.

Homemade Cleaning Products

Concocting your own cleaning products is economical and eco-friendly.

How to Maintain Garden Hoses, Sprinklers and Watering Accessories

Here's the dirt on garden hoses, specialized attachments, sprinklers, watering accessories, and how to tame an unruly hose.

Tips for Watering Lawn in Summer

Watering the lawn efficiently and appropriately involves more than simply watering every day.

6 Must-Do Outdoor Spring Home Maintenance Tasks

Preventive maintenance is crucial to the value of your home. Keep your place in tiptop shape with regular check-ups to save you the headache and cost of emergency repairs.

How to Clean Wood Cabinets

Learn how to care and clean wood cabinets in the kitchen or bathroom. 

How to Care for Lawn and Garden Tools

Get tips on keeping your garden tools rust-free, sharpened and mechanically sound.

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Discover Made + Remade

See the latest DIY projects, catch up on trends and meet more cool people who love to create.

Make It. Fix It. Learn It. Find It.