My dad used to say that firewood warms you up three times: when you cut it, when you haul it to the house, and when you burn it. Personally, I would add a fourth time: when you clean out your chimney. Cleaning out your fireplace chimney can be a chore. But it’s a required necessity in order to keep your home and family safe from creosote fires. That’s why I’ve never really minded the chore, knowing that I was being proactive in taking care of my home and family. Another bonus in doing it yourself is that it will save you money too. If you want to tackle the job yourself, then you’ll need to learn how to clean out your fireplace chimney yourself.
The first time you’ll need to clean out your fireplace chimney is actually before the burning season starts. You need to clean it out in the early Fall, right before you start burning wood in it. The reason for this is, that birds, squirrels and other wild critters love to get inside and make nests in your chimney.
Then, after that, you’ll need to check the inside of your chimney every week or so, depending on how often you use it. The frequency will also depend on the type of wood you burn inside your fireplace. The rule of thumb is, that whenever there is at least one eighth of an inch of creosote built up on the walls, it’s time to clean your fireplace chimney out.
Soot and creosote are by-products of burning wood. Every time you use your fireplace, soot, which is powdery black carbon, is produced. Creosote, which is a slick liquid, also clings to the inner walls of your chimney. As each fire is built, the soot and creosote continue to accumulate. Creosote is flammable, and every year it causes thousands of fires to erupt in chimneys and in fireplaces.
To clean your chimney out yourself, you’ll need to put on a pair of coveralls or an old pair of pants and a long-sleeved shirt. You should also wear a ball cap or a scarf to protect your hair. And, don’t forget a dusk mask or a bandanna to wear across your mouth and nose. A pair of work gloves will help protect your hands.
You’ll also need a trouble light, a small, stiff wire brush and a chimney brush. You can purchase all of these items at your local home supply store. A good-quality chimney brush will cost you, but it will pay for itself in no time at all.
Next, place a thick layer of old newspapers, or use drop cloths, to protect the area around your fireplace. The papers or cloths should extend out three to four feet.
The next step is to reach up inside the fireplace and locate the damper handle. Open the damper up and clean it off with a stiff wire brush. Then, unattach the damper by removing the cotter keys that hold it in place. Lay the damper out of the way.
Take a large, old blanket and moisten it thoroughly with water in a spray bottle. Hang the blanket over the opening of your fireplace. Depending on how your fireplace is constructed, maybe you can drape it over the mantle. Then, push the sides in and hold them in place with weighted items. The moist blanket will help block the creosote, soot and other materials inside your chimney from entering your home.
Now you’ll need to attach a long rope or a small log chain to the handle end of the chimney brush. I use a log chain. The log chain obviously makes the brush heavier to handle, but the extra weight helps push the brush down a bit.
Then, grab a ladder and head up to the roof of your house with the chimney brush. Place the brush inside the chimney, then push it down and pull it up several times. Make sure you reach all the way down, as far as possible, with the chimney brush.
Finally, now that you’ve cleaned the chimney out with the brush, head back down to the fireplace. Remove the moistened blanket from the fireplace. Carefully clean the soot and creosote up with a Shop Vac® Wet/Dry vacuum. That’s what works best for me.
Once you have the majority of the mess cleaned up and out of the way, reach up inside the chimney with the stiff wire brush. Clean off the sides of your chimney, as far up as you can reach. Then, replace the metal damper and do a final clean up of the area.
The final step in cleaning your fireplace chimney out yourself is to go down to your basement. Open the door at the bottom of your chimney and use the Shop Vac® to clean out any soot and creosote that has fallen down there.