Cleaning Your Chimney

Written by April Reinhardt (last updated September 30, 2022)

Years ago I lived in an old home heated by two wood-and-coal-burning stoves, with stovepipes elbowed to one central chimney. Each year we replaced the stove pipes because experienced neighbors told me that soot and creosote build up inside pipes and chimneys, causing a fire hazard. Because I had never experienced a chimney fire, I didn't understand the importance of cleaning a chimney and opted, instead, to simply replace the pipes.

One cold winter morning, I left the damper of the stove completely open while I went into the kitchen. Walking back through the living room about twenty minutes later, I was horrified to see the stove pipe glowing cherry red, and the paint on the wall abutting the chimney blistering. I slammed the stove damper shut and latched it, heard the stove pipe contract, and held my breath waiting for the stove pipe color to return to black.

Later that day I learned that not only was the chimney full of soot and creosote, the pipes—although new—had developed dangerous deposits of the stuff, as well. Subsequent years had me cleaning the chimney before each winter, ensuring against fire hazards.

While you can hire a professional chimney sweep to clean your chimney, you can very well do it yourself. Follow these guidelines if you want to clean your own chimney:

  • Put it out. Make sure that the chimney and fireplace or stove are completely cold before you attempt to clean them. Wait at least two full days after you've had a fire in the fireplace or stove before you begin to clean your chimney.
  • Remove. Remove everything from your fireplace or stove, including ashes, wood, coal, fire grates, ash bins, and cracked or broken fire bricks. Place everything outside, away from your house.
  • Vacuum. While wearing a mask or respirator, use a shop vac and completely vacuum your fireplace or stove, and all attached ash bins.
  • Room preparation. Prepare your room by laying tarps or old sheets on flooring around the fireplace or stove, and cover all furniture. Seal off the fireplace opening with plastic or a tarp, and completely shut the stove doors.
  • Climb. Using a safety ladder, climb to the roof of your house and remove the chimney cap, if you have one.
  • Brush. Use a chimney brush to brush the inside of the chimney thoroughly. Replace the cap when you are finished.

Once you're back inside the house, unseal the fireplace or stove and remove all of the soot and debris. Carefully remove the tarps, plastic, or sheets and use the shop vac again to remove all traces of soot from the fireplace or stove. Remember to clean your chimney at least once a year. The best time to clean your fireplace and chimney is before using your fireplace or stove the first time of the season.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...

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