How to Take Care of a Fireplace Yourself

Owning a fireplace is a beautiful and practical way of enhancing your home. Who does not enjoy the dry crackling heat of a live wood fire on a cold winter evening? With chopped firewood logs and wrought iron tools to hand, you will feel warm, cozy, and satisfyingly self-sufficient. Whether urban or rural, an open fire brings a calming rustic ambiance to any environment in which it is found. It is no surprise that a fireplace is a welcomed addition to any home. Historically, the hearth was the heart of the American home, where the family could gather, enjoy meals, fellowship, and recreation during snowdrifts, storms or long evenings.

Great fireplace benefits for the homeowner.

Aside from the beautiful aesthetic, an authentic fireplace carries other great benefits including:

  • Sustained warmth the longevity of the heat generated from just a couple of logs can see a household through the day and well into the night, unlike electrical or gas-fired heating which has to be switched on or set to a timer.
  • Authentic energy independence, with fire in your home, there is no need for a utility bill to enjoy the warmth.
  • Cheap readily available fuel the abundance of free logs from a freshly felled tree, old wood for kindling or scrunched up newspaper. Your fireplace will make use of it. Also, you can select your wood for whether it is fast or slow-burning, for quick bursts of heat or slow warmth for a cold night.
  • The alternative heat source for cooking meaning you can enjoy endless supplies of s’mores, jacket potatoes or other fireside treats.
  • An alternative source of light during power outages which adds additional utility free resilience to your household.
  • Great smell; people just love the smell of a fireplace, especially when aromatic woods are being burned.

How to Take Care of a Fireplace YourselfFireplaces are a well-loved part of American culture but are disappearing from homes, with the US Census Bureau showing a steady decline since the 1970s of the number of working fireplaces in family homes. The advent of the home furnace and electric heating may be to blame and over time people have lost the skills needed to properly use and maintain a home wood burning fireplace. Buying and chopping firewood and a draughty chimney are just a couple of the things that put some homeowners off. Installation of a new fireplace is expensive and contemporary health and safety legislation and emissions targets mean that fireplaces are a less favorable installation in homes and are seen more like a luxury addition.

If owning and using a real wood fireplace is still for you, then you will need to know how to effectively maintain it so it remains safe, efficient and ready to use. This handy guide is a great start for covering all the basics for maintaining your fireplace.

 

Firstly, why is fireplace maintenance important?

If you want to use live fire as part of your home’s heating set-up it is essential to properly maintain the fireplace. Neglecting regular maintenance not only causes deterioration in your fireplace and chimney but is also a major cause of house fires. Maintenance keeps your fireplace in good condition and regularly going over the fireplace and ensure that it will perform safely. One of the biggest maintenance issues in a real fireplace is the build-up of creosote, a tarry, oily, black substance which is the byproduct of burning wood. This substance, derived from the wood’s combustion products, can build up all over your fireplace which not only is unsightly but also a hazard, as creosote is flammable. It ignites at only 451 degrees Fahrenheit and once lit can form an expansive foam-like incendiary mass. Indeed creosote build-up in chimneys is a significant cause of house fires which can be mitigated by properly maintaining your fireplace and monitoring creosote levels.

A poorly maintained fireplace will also contribute to inefficient wood-burning which can cause a build-up of harmful carbon monoxide and greatly reduce the indoor air quality. A neglected chimney can even play host to birds or other nesting animals. General disrepair of a working fireplace and chimney that is not addressed will eventually cause its fabrication to deteriorate causing a costly repair.

 

Best wood-burning practices save on cleaning and maintenance.

The way in which you burn wood in your fireplace has a significant impact on the creation of smoke, exhaust gases, and creosote. Implementing better burning habits means that you can generate heat much for efficiently while keeping these unwanted pollutants to an absolute minimum.

  • Your choice of wood will greatly impact the quality of the fire you produce. Not all wood is the same, and can primarily be divided into unseasoned and seasoned wood. Seasoned wood is wood that has been cut and dried for several months (known as seasoning) or kiln-dried, before burning. Unseasoned wood has not been through this process and therefore holds a lot of moisture. This type of wood, however tempting is bad for burning and generates a lot of smoke and tarry creosote. Seasoned wood will provide a dry burn which releases real heat with fair less smoke.
  • Avoid burning painted wood, driftwood, chipboard or plywood in your fireplace as these can release toxic gases into your home.
  • Look for wood choices that are well known for releasing lots of heat and burning efficiently including ashbeechcherrybirch, and oak.

 

How to clean a wood-burning fireplace.

Can I clean my fireplace myself?

How to clean a wood-burning fireplace.Yes, it is entirely possible to clean your fireplace of the ash and soot that builds up with the regular use of your home’s fireplace. The most important factor in self-cleaning is its regularity to prevent the build-up of tarry black creosote deposits on your fireplace and chimney flue. A DIY cleaning job primarily saves the money of hiring a professional and can be done with store-bought products, elbow grease and good attention to detail. At all times, pay good attention to the frequency of your cleaning which will need to increase if you are actively burning wood and if you burn unseasoned wood – which creates more ash and smoke.

To clean your fireplace effectively, you need to know and understand the parts of a working fireplace. Your fireplace is comprised of the following components:

  1. A brick, slate or stone-lined hearth, which is the location where the fire burns. The hearth is typically at floor level or slightly raised.
  2. Glass or metal fireplace doors can cover the fireplace when it is not in use. It also can be used to shut off the airflow to the fire when it is dying down.
  3. The surround is built from fireproof material to protect the fireplace walls and is spanned above by a mantel.
  4. The fire itself and smoke are contained in the interior of the fireplace which is called the firebox.
  5. The smoke chamber connects the fireplace and flue and has a smoke shelf which is designed to prevent downdrafts, soot, and debris from getting to the fire.
  6. Under the smoke shelf is the damper which is a further diving structure that stops cold air entering the property when there is no fire. There also may be a chimney damper which can prevent downdrafts by closing off the chimney by cable operation.
  7. The smoke and hot gases produced by the fire are conveyed away from the building by a flue that can be fabricated from clay or metal.
  8. The chimney surrounds the flue and operates as a barrier between the heat of the fire exhaust and flammable building material in the building structure.
  9. Over the flue, a spark arrestor, a metal mesh over the flue, stops hot ashes or burning embers going up the chimney.
  10. The fireplace may also have an ash dump beneath to store accumulated ashes for disposal.

For a properly maintained fireplace, every component will need to be addressed as part of a schedule of cleaning and inspection for proper functioning and build up. Your chimney is a critical part of your fireplace set-up. Cleaning this yourself may not be so easy as you will need roof access which must be done safely, and the expertise to ensure that the creosote deposits are effectively cleaned.

 

 

 

 

Cleaning your fireplace interior.

The interior of your fireplace requires a schedule of regular attention and also a deep clean to keep significant creosote build-up at bay. If you are tackling neglected thick tarry deposits, it may be an uphill struggle that necessitates calling in the pros. If you are cleaning yourself, you will need to firstly sweep out the fireplace interior with a dustpan and brush or use a shop vac to get up the majority of the dust and ash. Then, go over the firebox with a stiff-bristled brush to lift off as much surface dirt as you can. A simple cleaning preparation can be made by combining bicarbonate of soda and dish soap. You can also use a fireplace cleaning product. Coat the fireplace in your cleaner and leave it to sit for about half an hour for the maximum breakdown of the creosote. Follow by wiping the firebox down with a damp rag. This may need to be repeated multiple times in the case of heavy build-up.

I recommend this Amazon product for cleaning the inside of your fireplace, HERE

 

Cleaning the ash dump.

The ash dump receives ashes from the firebox through a grate on its floor. This requires regular emptying and cleaning as a build-up of ash can be a fire hazard. If you are going to clear your ash pit yourself, remember to wear a face mask to protect yourself from any harmful particulates and dust from the ashes, Take a long-handled shovel to remove the ashes bit by bit and stow them in a pail for disposal. Run your extractor fan after completing this task to remove any dust kicked up by the clearance.

 

Cleaning the hearth and surround.

Keeping your hearth regularly cleaned will keep it in good condition and looking great. Routine cleaning tasks involve the removal of the grime and dirt from burning wood. Using a stiff brush, sweep away soot dust and ash for disposal. If you have grouted gaps, ensure those are also brushed or vacuumed thoroughly.

Fill a bucket with warm soapy water and wash down your hearth, working on the corners and edges where grime may have accumulated. Heavy stains can be lifted with a solution of hydrogen peroxide or a paste of Trisodium Phosphate. Bicarb and salt may also be used as mild abrasives. Rinse and wipe down. Once dry, the hearth can be polished with teak oil, olive oil, WD40 or mineral oil for a fine finish.

 

Cleaning your fireplace doors.

Depending on how you use your fire, the glass on your fireplace doors can rapidly become coated in layers of soot. Cleaning this off regularly requires elbow grease and the right technique. It is also a messy job. For this reason, it is well worth removing the fireplace glass and cleaning it on a flat surface. There are multiple techniques you can use to effectively clean your glass; whichever you choose, always ensure that your glass is cold before commencing. Also, avoid harsh abrasives and solvents which may etch the glass. A traditional method is the use of fireplace ashes which can be rubbed on the glass using a damp piece of scrunched up newspaper. The calcium carbonate in the ashes works as a mild abrasive to lift off the soot. For light deposits of dirt, a vinegar solution is excellent at lifting off the dirt and preventing streaks. Otherwise, you can use one of several stove glass cleaners to clean off more stubborn staining. To protect your glass for future use, a silicone spray can be used to create a protective layer.

Cleaning the chimney is a critical task as the build-up of creosote can cause devastating chimney fires Only a thorough clean will keep this risk at bay. a methodical approach to cleaning the components of your fireplace chimney provides the best chance of ensuring that all creosote build-up is effectively removed. Before starting work on the chimney you will need to prep like a pro to avoid a catastrophic mess in the area surrounding your fireplace. Section off the fireplace with plastic sheeting taped to the opening and keep a shop vac running with the hose within the firebox area to collect as much dust as possible. Ensure that the damper is wide open and the spark arrestor has been removed. Wear goggles, gloves and a dust mask for your safety as you will be handling noxious substances.

 

Cleaning the chimney or flue.

Effective cleaning begins at the top of the chimney so that all dirt will fall into the fireplace which is then cleaned last, You can only undertake this work if you have safe access to your roof. For most, this limits the task to the professionals. If you have a metal flue liner, your brush should have plastic bristles and a metal bristle brush should be used on a clay liner. Ensure you have enough rods to span your entire chimney length. Brush your flue firmly by moving the brush up and down inside it, working downwards by adding rods to the brush’s length. Once you cannot get any further down, you have likely reached the smokebox.

I recommend Chimney cleaner from Amazon, HERE

 

Cleaning the smoke chamber.

How to clean a wood-burning fireplace.From your fireplace, you will need to get your long-handled and angled brush into the smoke chamber and clean out the build-up of ash, debris, and creosote deposited there. Some smoke chambers are stepped in construction which can mean you need to take additional care to get everything out.

 

Cleaning the smoke shelf.

Dust and ash accumulated on the smoke shelf also need to be cleared with robust brushing, followed by sweeping and vacuuming. Once all debris is dislodged from the smoke chamber they need to be dragged past the shelf into the firebox area. Where everything can be vacuumed up and the fireplace can be cleaned down to finish the job.

 

Key fireplace maintenance points.

How often should I perform maintenance on my fireplace?

  • Cleaning

Cleaning your fireplace frequently will not only keep it looking good but also maintain its performance. During the burning season, your fireplace should be cleaned weekly with areas like the fireplace glass being wiped down between uses. After extinguishing your fire, you should wait 36 hours before cleaning to ensure the fireplace completely cools down. You can buy Creolsote buster logs on Amazon, HERE.

  • Professional inspection

The National Fire Protection Association’s codes and standards specify that a fireplace and chimney should be inspected at least annually by suitably qualified professionals, whether or not you regularly clean and maintain your chimney. Neglecting to do so can invalidate your insurance and is, of course, a fire risk. When you are actively using your fireplace, it is advised that every 50 burns you should have professional cleaning or inspection and perhaps slightly more frequently if you are burning unseasoned wood. With the burning of properly dried, seasoned wood, you can have your chimney checked every 70 burns. A pro inspection by a chimney sweep will pick up any deterioration in the condition of your chimney or venting problems. They can also undertake remedial work such as parging and specialist treatments to thoroughly clean creosote build-up. Schedule your chimney sweep to visit before the commencement of the burn season.

 

Should you clean your fireplace after each use?

Yes! This is the most efficient and effective method of keeping your fireplace in good working order. There are many factors that contribute to how dirty your fireplace can get in between full cleanings, and just how fast it’ll get dirty. The best way to keep your fireplace clean is to actually clean it after each usage. And while that is a recommended practice, it isn’t always mandatory for the fireplace itself or the chimney.

 

How can I inspect my fireplace?

It’s a dirty job, but you can do it! You can undertake your inspections but this does not replace an annual survey of your fireplace and chimney by a suitably qualified professional. Inspect your fireplace by taking the following steps usually during and after cleaning.

  • How to clean a wood-burning fireplace.Check your firebox for cracks, warping, and loosened joints.
  • Ensure that your damper can open fully without obstruction. Look at its condition, if warped or damaged, it will need replacement.
  • A high wattage flashlight can be used to look up past the damper and into the flue. Ceramic or masonry flue linings should not be cracked and you should check metal flue linings for warping or slipped joints.
  • Check the flue from below and from above if necessary for obstructions. If you need to go up on the roof, ensure you know how to do this safely.

Can I pressure wash my fireplace?

Pressure washing is an effective method of cleaning your exterior chimney stack but should not be used to clean a fireplace or chimney interior. It will create a huge mess and has the potential to break the fire door glass or warp the firebox metal. High-pressure water also kicks up the dust and ash and creates a tarry sludge which is very difficult to clean.

 


 

Can you get carbon monoxide from a fireplace?

Wherever there is inefficient combustion you run the risk of generating carbon monoxide. Fireplaces are capable of generating this poisonous gas and poorly performing chimneys are a notable cause of illness and fatality due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Poor maintenance of your chimney can leave an obstruction or poorly functioning flue unnoticed. The danger is that as carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless any build-up of this gas will not be perceived until it is too late. The best protection against this is to professionally maintain your chimney as well as fitting a carbon monoxide alarm.

 

Taking care of my fireplace vs hiring a professional.

Knowing how to properly use, clean and maintain your fireplace is essential. It is clear that a diligent approach to routine cleaning and inspection of your fireplace will save on the cost of a pro-clean and detect problems early when the remedy will probably be cheaper. Using the methods and advice outlined above will certainly take a load of your maintenance. However, the necessity for a professional inspection of your fireplace by a chimney sweep or other suitably qualified person cannot be avoided. In addition, professional cleaning is one of the best ways you can ensure that creosote is kept at bay as chimney sweeps have the cleaning equipment, cameras, and harnesses to ensure that your smokebox and chimney are totally clear.

 

 

FAQ’s

Why is fireplace maintenance important?

One of the biggest maintenance issues in a real fireplace is the build-up of creosote, a tarry, oily, black substance which is the byproduct of burning wood. This substance, derived from the wood's combustion products, can build up all over your fireplace which not only is unsightly but also a hazard, as creosote is flammable. It ignites at only 451 degrees Fahrenheit and once lit can form an expansive foam-like incendiary mass.

Can I clean my fireplace myself?

Yes, it is entirely possible to clean your fireplace of the ash and soot that builds up with the regular use of your home's fireplace. The most important factor in self-cleaning is its regularity to prevent the build-up of tarry black creosote deposits on your fireplace and chimney flue. A DIY cleaning job primarily saves the money of hiring a professional and can be done with store-bought products, elbow grease and good attention to detail.

How Do I Clean a fireplace interior?

The interior of your fireplace requires a schedule of regular attention and also a deep clean to keep significant creosote build-up at bay. If you are tackling neglected thick tarry deposits, it may be an uphill struggle that necessitates calling in the pros. If you are cleaning yourself, you will need to firstly sweep out the fireplace interior with a dustpan and brush or use a shop vac to get up the majority of the dust and ash.

How can I inspect my fireplace?

It's a dirty job, but you can do it! You can undertake your inspections but this does not replace an annual survey of your fireplace and chimney by a suitably qualified professional. Inspect your fireplace by taking the following steps usually during and after cleaning.

Can I pressure wash my fireplace?

Pressure washing is an effective method of cleaning your exterior chimney stack but should not be used to clean a fireplace or chimney interior. It will create a huge mess and has the potential to break the fire door glass or warp the firebox metal. High-pressure water also kicks up the dust and ash and creates a tarry sludge which is very difficult to clean.