No More Smoke: How to Clean a Fireplace and Its Chimney

Fireplaces and chimneys are a beautiful addition to any house, but if they get too filled with soot and dirt, they can start pumping smoke into your house. Thankfully, cleaning a chimney and fireplace can eliminate that smoke risk in a relatively easy fashion.

Understanding Your Fireplace

Although there are two types of fireplaces (masonry and pre-fabricated metal), there aren't many major construction differences and both operate in the same basic fashion. They are typically built with the following sections, from the top to the bottom:

  • Mortar crown aka the top of the chimney

  • Flue, which lets out smoke and excessive heat

  • Smoke chamber and shelf, which help trap smoke and push it out

  • Firebox, the area where the wood and fire will rage

  • Hearth, the floor where the fire will sit

  • Ash pit, where the burned items will end up

Picking a Brush

Choosing the correct chimney brush requires carefully measuring the diameter of your chimney. Pre-fabs chimneys are usually square, meaning you just need to measure the interior diameter of the flue. Round wire and poly brushes of the exact same diameter work the best.

For masonry chimneys, you need to measure the flue interior in both directions, not just one. Buy a brush that meets those dimensions and fits the shape of your chimney. For example, if your chimney is an oval about 10 inches by 8 inches, find an oval brush that is at least that size. Anything smaller won't scrub the sides and anything larger won't fit.

Cleaning the Chimney

Start your cleaning process by scrubbing out the interior of your chimney. Tape a plastic cover over the front of your fireplace to keep any soot and dirt from escaping. Now, get on top of the roof, remove any chimney cover, and start constructing your chimney brush rod. There should be multiple sections that you screw together for length.

Once you're done assembling the rod, carefully work your brush one foot down the chimney. After you've pushed the brush down a foot, let the natural bulk of the brush spring it back out of the chimney. Continue pushing your scrub down an extra foot and letting it naturally spring back up with each sweep. After you finish one full scrub, put the cap or screen back on.

Scrub the Fireplace

After you've cleaned your chimney, carefully remove the plastic cover on your fireplace, clean any soot that may have leaked onto your floor, and get ready to clean the fireplace. Cleaning a fireplace requires a lot of elbow grease and powerful cleaning fluids. Popular fireplace cleaning solutions include

  • Soap and abrasives, such as salt
  • Ammonia
  • Naptha
  • Tri-Sodium Phosphate
  • Oven Cleaner

Dilute these solutions in water to help eliminate their potency, open some windows, and scrub them directly on the surface of your fireplace with a heavy-duty industrial sponge. Scrub until the black soot and dirt starts breaking up. Take a break if any of the substances are making you light-headed.

Wash out the interior with warm water and a towel and continue to add cleaning fluid until the soot is completely broken up. Make sure to pay attention to hard-to-reach areas, such as underneath the damper, to get as much removed as possible. Now you can clean out your ash pit by carefully sliding it out from the firebox, emptying it into a trash can, vacuuming it, scrubbing it with soap and water, and sliding it back into place. 

Cleaning your chimney with this method can help you avoid a smoky living room and can even add years to its life. However, if your chimney is still pumping smoke into your home, call a repair specialist like Excel Chimney & Fireplace Service as soon as possible.