A DIY Guide To Cleaning Your Chimney

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Fireplaces bring old charm and cozy warmth to homes. These beautiful additions create a comforting ambiance, but they require a certain level of care—especially the chimney. Cleaning a fireplace is relatively easy, but effectively cleaning your chimney can be a big job.

It’s crucial to stay on top of your chimney’s cleanliness for optimal functioning and to prevent severe fire hazards. To effectively care for your chimney and your home, follow these steps.

Step 1: Determine if You Can DIY

Before you start, you first need to determine if you can clean your chimney without professional help. Chimney cleaning is a tedious task, and it can take professionals anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours to finish the job.

Your goal in chimney cleaning is to rid the chimney shaft of creosote and soot build-up. If the build-up is too large, you need to call a professional to take care of it. However, if you find the build-up is less than 1/8th of an inch deep, you may be able to tackle it on your own. In addition, you’ll need to access your chimney crown, located on your roof, to complete the job. If you’re unable to get to the crown safely, you’ll need to call in a professional to complete the task.

Step 2: Gather the Right Tools

If you determine you can safely access the chimney crown, you’ll need the right tools to get there. These include a ladder, safety harness, safety helmet, and an additional person or persons to supervise. Never attempt to work on your roof without the supervision of another capable individual.

Once on the roof, you’ll need a high-power flashlight, metal bristle brush, and enough rods to handle the height of your chimney. You’ll use these tools to determine the depth of your build-up. Note that each chimney is different, so you’ll need to measure the size of your chimney and its flue to get the right brush size.

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Use your flashlight and a fireplace poker to scratch the smoke chamber and flue to determine the buildup. If the soot has a black matte finish and is 1/8th an inch deep or less, you know you’re okay to clean yourself. If you see a shiny or tar-like appearance or the build-up is more than 1/8th an inch deep, you should call a professional to take on the job.

Step 4: Set Up Your Area

If you are moving ahead with cleaning yourself, your next step is to protect your home’s interior. Lay your canvas tarp over the fireplace and spread it throughout the surrounding room. Secure the tarp over the fireplace opening with tape and insert the shop vac hose through the tarp. Seal everything with duct tape to keep soot from pushing into the room.

After setting up your shop vac outside, connect sections to the hose so it can reach. You’ll run the vacuum while you brush the area, keeping an eye on the filter and replacing or cleaning it when it clogs. Close the windows and doors near your shop vac to prevent any fine soot from reentering your home.

Step 5: Begin Cleaning

Start at your fireplace and ram your cleaning brush up and down several times around the flue section to remove any hardened soot. Use your flashlight to check your work before moving to the next section, ensuring you clean as much soot as possible from the flue area. Once cleared, start your shop vac and move to the roof.

Before cleaning, make sure you are safely equipped with your harness and have supervision from an individual on the ground. Again, you should only clean out your chimney with proper supervision, on a stable rooftop, and with a safety harness and a hard hat. Those without experience working on rooftops should strongly consider hiring a professional.

Once you are secured on the rooftop, add rods to your cleaning brush, moving it down the fireplace till you no longer feel resistance. At this point, you pushed down the soot to the smoke chamber. Climb down from the roof and start to work inside at the firebox. Use a long-handled brush to clean the smoke chamber and a flue brush to remove soot from the smoke shelf. Switch back to the long-handled brush to clean the sides of the firebox.

Vacuum out the firebox and fold up the canvas when you have cleared as much soot and debris as possible. Take the canvas outside and shake out any residue. Fold up the sheets to use again for your next cleaning.

Step 6: Schedule an Inspection

Your fireplace isn’t safe until you’ve scheduled your annual chimney inspection. Even the best DIY job can’t handle creosote build-up, and you need to be sure you didn’t miss any build-up during your cleaning. Have a chimney repair and cleaning professional inspect your chimney once a year to assure you don’t have additional build-up and or repair needs.

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