How to Clean Your Chimney

Gas fireplaces are easy to use, but there’s nothing quite like a real wood-burning fireplace But only a real wood-burning fireplace. It’s a staple of a cozy home! However, a chimney that reluctantly draws smoke can lead to poor indoor air quality or even lead to a terrifying chimney fire. Both of these problems is usually caused by a dirty chimney, and learning how and when to clean your chimney will help prevent them both.

When to Clean Your Chimney

Regularly scheduled chimney cleanings are vital. Chimneys should be cleaned no later than the early fall, prior to fire burning season. If you choose to hire a chimney sweep, you can expect a quick turnaround if you have them come earlier, ideally in the summer. For self-cleaning, late summer is the best time, since you can count on a dry, safe roof and mild conditions. You should also clean when you notice any of the following:

  • Soot and creosote (an oily, black substance) tend to fall into the firebox during a fire
  • Honeycomb textured creosote builds up on the inside of the chimney
  • Creosote is more than 1/4-inch thick
  • You burn a lot of artificial logs
  • You are a heavy fireplace user
  • You burn green or otherwise unseasoned firewood
  • How to Clean Your Chimney

Note: If the chimney hasn’t been cleaned in a long time, hire a chimney sweep do the first cleaning. If and/or when you choose to do it yourself, remember to practice good ladder safety and have an assistant monitor you when on the roof.

  • Tools and Materials
  • Chimney brushes
  • Fiberglass extension rods
  • Shop vacuum with dust filter
  • Extension ladder
  • Sheet plastic
  • Painter’s tape and duct tape
  • Dust mask and safety glasses
  • Cordless drill with screwdriver bit

Seal Up the Fireplace

Downstairs at the fireplace, fully open the damper. Cut off a generous section of sheet plastic, about 6 feet long by 4 feet wide, and tape it on the floor in front of the fireplace with the painter’s tape or duct tape. Cut another piece of sheet plastic so that it is at least 12 inches longer and wider than the opening of the fireplace. Tape this over the fireplace to seal it against debris.

Go to the Roof

Place the extension ladder against the house so that you can gain access to the roof. Bring your chimney cleaning tools up to the roof. For safety, have your assistant hold the ladder. In addition, you will need your cordless drill and a dust mask.

Remove Chimney Caps

To access the flue, remove the chimney caps by turning out the screws on the caps with your cordless drill. Place the caps well away from you so that you do not trip over them or accidentally kick them off the roof.

Prepare Chimney Cleaning Brush

Turn the chimney sweeping brush onto the first extension rod. Keep the additional rods nearby because you will need to add them to the first rod.

Scrub the Chimney

Keeping only one rod on the brush at this time, scrub the chimney by starting at the top and slowly working downwards. Scrub until you reach the end of the first rod. Take your next rod and screw it onto the back of the first rod. Continue scrubbing downwards, adding more rods, until you cannot go any farther. Eventually, you will reach the smoke shelf, typically a stopping point for most do-it-yourself chimney sweeping operations.

Scrub as You Remove the Brush

Do not remove the brush in one motion. Instead, take this opportunity to lightly scrub upward as you pull the rod assembly upward. When you reach a joining point, remove a rod and set it aside.

Finish Roof Operations

The roof side of this project is almost finished. Replace the chimney caps. Gather your tools and hand them down to your assistant. Exit the roof and remove the ladder.

Finish Downstairs

At the fireplace, wait about ten minutes for the dust and debris to settle. Carefully peel away the plastic and wad it up to enclose any dust that has adhered to the inside. Discard the plastic.

Clean visible areas that you can reach with the smaller chimney cleaning brush. Suck up all debris with the shop vacuum. Remove all tools, then wad up the flooring plastic to enclose all fallen debris. Put the kettle on, do a final sweep up around the fireplace to get any missed dust or debris, and get ready to get cozy in the warm, orange glow of the fireplace!