Cleaning the Chimney

 

Chimney cleaning is for wood-burning fireplaces. If you have a gas fireplace, you shouldn't have to worry about smoke and soot build-up in your chimney. If you use your wood-burning fireplace often, you will probably want to clean your chimney about once a year. This, of course, is an estimate; don't wait an entire year if you know that the circulation in your chimney is restricted. A sign of this would be smoke building up inside your home—if the chimney is blocked, the smoke will find somewhere else to go.

The reason you will want to clean out your chimney is to prevent creosote buildup and chimney fires. Creosote is a mix of steam and vaporized carbon materials that condense in the chimney. This condensation happens as the gas and vapor rises and cools toward the top of the chimney. It clings to the chimney sides and creates a black, tar-like substance. This residue is extremely flammable and, if ignited, can cause a chimney fire.

Your tools for chimney cleaning:

  • A chimney rod and brushes. These can be found in chimney and furnace stores, or in home and hardware stores. Be sure that you have a brush that fits the size of your chimney. If your chimney has bends in it, make sure to get a brush with a flexible neck.
  • A stiff scrubbing brush. This is to use on the parts of the chimney that you can reach (the cap, the fireplace, the flue)
  • A flashlight. Use this to check your chimney for obstructions (birds' nests, rocks) and for the extent of the buildup.
  • Old clothes. Yes, this is a dirty job. You'll want to wear something that you don't mind possibly throwing out later.
  • Goggles and facemask. You don't want to be breathing in all the junk that you're cleaning out.
  • Gloves. These are especially useful when handling the metal chimney cap and damper, which may be brittle or worn.
  • A vacuum. Use to clean up extra ash and soot at the end. (Don't try directly vacuuming out your chimney, you'll just clog your vacuum and end up shooting all the dust and soot into the air.)
  • A broom. Between this and the vacuum, you should be able to clean up afterwards.
  • Metal bucket or container. Soot particles can still be hot, so dispose of them in containers that won't burn. You can even douse ashes down to be sure that they won't cause any trash fires.
  • A ladder. You will be working on both ends of your chimney, so be prepared with a ladder or a safe route to your roof via a window.
  • Drop cloths or sheets. You will be brushing and scrubbing the inside of your chimney with brushes. This means that all the debris and build-up will be flaked off and fall into the fireplace. Prepare in advance by putting down a drop cloth in and around your fireplace. You may also want to cover the carpet and furniture that is in the room to prevent ash and soot from getting on it.

Once you have gotten dressed for the job, prepare the room that you will be working in. Cover all the furniture and carpet if you are worried that it will get dirty. Next, look up inside of your fireplace and locate the damper. This is a metal door at the mouth of the chimney. Open the damper so all the debris will be able to fall out. If you can, before venturing out onto the roof, tape a damp cloth or sheet over the fireplace opening. This will prevent the dust and soot from billowing out into the room. When you get up on the roof, remove and clean the chimney cap if your chimney has one.

How you proceed from here will depend on the cleaning brushes you have obtained. If you are working with a brush on a rope, weight down the lower end of the brush. The weight will hold the brush down and make it easier to scrub against the chimney walls. The weight should be a minimum of twenty pounds. Lower the weight and brush into the chimney and, starting from the top, scrub your way around and down as far as the brush will reach.

If you wish, rather than using a weight, attach ropes to both ends of the brush and get a partner to work with you. One of you will be on the roof while the other will be in the house at the fireplace. Pull the brush up and down so that it will dislodge the build-up inside the chimney.

Be aware that the long pole and attachments may be heavy. Know your own strength. Also, be sure that you don't drop the pole or anything else down the chimney. You are trying to clean out obstructions, not add them.

Once you have brushed as much as you can out of the chimney, take the brushes out, clean them off, and store them in a safe place for later use. Clean out the fireplace, removing all the fallen ash and soot. Then, taking your stiff hand brush, scrub the inside of the fireplace. This includes the walls, the floor, and the lip around the damper. The lip is especially important because it may have collected ash during the scrubbing process.

Once again, sweep out your fireplace and use a vacuum to get the residue soot and ash. Don't forget to close the damper once you are finished cleaning.

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