Admin on November 9, 2015 9 Comments Fireplaces need to be cleaned on a regular basis for the safety of you and your home. If you have never cleaned a chimney or a fireplace before, it might be a good idea to hire a professional for an inspection, even if your original plan was to do the cleaning and maintenance work yourself. A technician knows how to properly and thoroughly check the chimney’s key areas. For instance, he or she will make sure the lintel, a steel bar that supports the top of the opening up to the first combustible, is at least 12 inches high. Next, the bricks are inspected. Fire bricks, as opposed to regular bricks, should have been used because they tolerate high temperatures. Regular brick cannot withstand these levels of heat and will crack while the mortar crumbles. The professional will recommend that if you do have regular brick, that the old mortar is replaced with high-temperature cement. However, if you are confident that you can clean your chimney on your own and want to save the money and trouble that comes with hiring a professional, you can follow these tips to help you get started. Here’s what you need to do to handle your own cleaning and maintenance: 1. Do Your Own Initial Inspection Use your poker or other metal instrument or tool to scrape away the black creosote from the lining. The creosote is soot that has condensed, becoming a tarry and toxic substance. Pay attention to its appearance, which is usually dry and cracking or shiny and hardened. The thickness of the buildup determines whether cleaning is needed. Paper-thin layers indicate that you can hold off on the task. Thicker layers of 1/8 of an inch require attention. If the creosote buildup is ¼ of an inch thick or more, cleaning is mandatory before the next use. The creosote needs to be removed because it is combustible and can catch fire in the flue, which can lead to a devastating house fire. Keeping the chimney clean helps avoid this dangerous situation as well as keeps everything running efficiently. 2. Allow Your Fireplace and Chimney to Cool Off This is an obvious step. You should always wait until your fireplace unit is completely cooled off before you attempt to clean it. This can take longer than you think, so it is best to wait at least a day after the last use of the fireplace before you begin to clean it. This will also ensure that any soot in the air has settled before you get close enough to breathe it in. Even if you wait until all of the dust has settled, it is still wise to wear a filtered mask while you are cleaning to protect your lungs and airways. 3. Use a Plastic Tarp Over the Hearth While you are cleaning, you should place a plastic tarp around or in front of the fireplace. This will protect both the hearth and the floor beneath from the dirt and the cleaning solution used. Newspapers will also work. Not only will this tarp protect your floors, but it will also make the disposal of the soot much easier when you are done cleaning. 4. Remove Logs and Scoop Out All Debris Before cleaning, you may wish to use a respirator to avoid exposure to the creosote dust. Rubber household gloves are also advised as you will be touching somewhat toxic substances. Sprinkle coffee grounds on top of the ashes to keep debris from entering the air. Scoop the remains into a pail or a paper bag with a dustpan or a shovel. Be sure not to ignore the logs by brushing of all of the debris and creosote that may cover them. 5. Sweep the Interior You can use the brush attachment on your vacuum to help you out with this step. A circular metal chimney brush works well to remove and scrape off creosote and soot. Typically, the brush should be 8-10 inches in diameter, or an inch larger than the flue. Also, you should have a flexible pole to attach to the brush so that you can reach the flue and spin the brush around. Check the damper to ensure that it is positioned correctly for both safety and energy conservation purposes. Clean the damper ledge to make sure you’ve gotten the creosote dust buildup. Look all the way up to the flue, which looks like a small metal door near the top of the chimney. The flue usually has a metal pull, so you can tug at it to confirm that the door moves. Keep the flue open until you’ve completed the cleaning job. 6. Check for Outside Obstructions You should have a chimney cap installed to keep animals, rainwater, leaves and debris out of the chimney. Mesh around the sides of the cap serve as a spark arrestor and fire prevention device. Any trees that overhang the chimney need to be trimmed and falling branches need to be removed so that they do not cause damage. 7. Choose a Cleaning Solution For instance, you can mix warm water and TSP (trisodium phosphate) as a solution but it may be too harsh for older brick. TSP is alkaline and needs to be handled with gloves, goggles, and ventilation. Having a drop cloth is essential if using TSP because the soot and the solution will drip to the floor and you’ll need to protect it. Other solutions that are green involve vinegar and water, detergent and baking soda, or cream of tartar. Sometimes, regular soap and water is all you need to remove soot from bricks. A soot eraser is another option if you need something beyond soap and water. It absorbs smoke residue, soot, dirt, and fly-ash. Use as is, without cleansers, solvents, or any other liquids. The eraser is made from non-toxic rubber and works on brick, mantels, hearths, woodwork, and walls. Finally, you can consider spray cleansers, which may or may not require dilution. You apply the product and leave it on for the specified amount of time and then wipe or scrub it away. 8. Use a Scrub Brush For this step, make sure you have a durable brush designed for hard scrubbing. Dip the brush into the cleaning solution and scrub the interior in small, circular patterns. Start as high as you can and work downward to ensure that you are getting all the debris out. 9. Clean Up and Rinse When you’re done with the scrubbing, rinse the chimney walls and floor with clean water, using a rag, a sponge or paper towels. You can pick up your tarp, drop cloth or newspaper and dispose of the waste. Once everything has dried, take the andirons (the horizontal iron bars that hold the logs used for burning) and the grate outdoors and scrape the soot from them with a wire brush. If you have brass andirons, you may want to use metal polish on them. 10. Inspect and Replace Once you have completed the above steps, take the time to double check that you have done everything correctly. Then you should replace everything that belongs in the fireplace and do a final dusting of any residue. Your fireplace is now ready for the next fire, which will be safe and efficient. Before winter officially gets here, take the time to thoroughly clean your fireplace. Cleaning can be tedious, but it does not need to be difficult as long as you have the proper tools and you know what to inspect for. Chimneys with extremely thick creosote layers should be handled by professionals, but otherwise, with these instructions, you should be able to handle the task yourself. By maintaining a clean chimney, you are protecting the heath of your family and your home. If you are still unsure or unwilling to clean your fireplace, the more realistic option for your house might just be an electric fireplace.