Winter is the perfect time to snuggle up in front of a warm, crackling fire. Make sure your fireplace is ready to go with routine maintenance, which includes cleaning your chimney. Left uncleaned, clogs can build up in the main tunnel of your chimney, called the flue. These clogs can affect the air quality in your home and even cause a chimney fire.
You can hire a certified chimney sweep to do the job for you, but if you’re interested in saving money or just in the mood to DIY, you can easily clean your chimney yourself with just a few tools and some basic planning.
Chimney brushes can be found at most home hardware stores. They come in many sizes, but for maximum cleaning impact, choose a brush just slightly larger than the diameter of your flue. Some brushes also come with a handle extension, which is useful for reaching far down the flue.
You’ll need a few other items to clean your chimney. For the living room, get some plastic sheets and duct tape. You'll need a ladder to get onto the roof, and once you're up there, you'll want your chimney brush, a cordless drill, and a flashlight. We also recommend a mask to prevent breathing in any loose dust.
Don’t make a mess of your living room! Cleaning a chimney can force debris down through the fireplace, so protect your carpets and furniture by sealing it off before you start work. Lay some plastic sheets down on the floor around your fireplace, and use another sheet with some duct tape to cover and seal the opening.
Now is the time to get physical. Climb onto the roof, checking that it’s dry and free of debris to prevent accidents. Access to the flue will be blocked by a rain cap, which is usually made of metal. Use your cordless drill to unscrew the cap from the main structure. Place the cap and screws in a safe spot, ensuring small pieces won’t roll off the roof. You should now have open access to the flue and are ready to start cleaning.
Insert your chimney brush into the flue opening and start working away at the buildup inside. It’s best to start cleaning at the top of the flue and work steadily downward. Use both thrusting and twisting motions to loosen as much of the blockage as you can. Materials that commonly clog a chimney include leaves, acorns, and creosote. Creosote is the carbon residue left after burning natural materials, and it loves to cling to the inside of your chimney walls.
Remove the brush and use your flashlight to inspect your progress; an extra-clogged chimney may need to be brushed several times before it's clear. Soap or chemical cleaners are not recommended because of the noxious fumes that can result when burning a fire in the hearth.
Once the flue is free of creosote, leaves, and Santa Clauses, you can replace the chimney cap. Grab the cap and screws from their safe storage spot and drill everything back into place
When you’ve finished on the roof, you’ll notice an accumulation of debris has settled in the bottom of your fireplace. Aren’t you glad you sealed it off at the beginning? Unseal the plastic and sweep out the inside of your fireplace, which has collected all of the debris that fell down the flue during your rooftop brushing.
A good chimney brush can last for years, so be sure to clean and store it properly. Dispose of plastic sheets and debris. Check the rules in your area for the disposal of creosote, as some places consider it environmental waste. Once this is complete, treat yourself to relaxing in front of a warm fire. You deserve it!
If done correctly, once a year should be enough for a rooftop chimney cleaning. The best time to do it is early fall in preparation for the winter ahead. However, you can still care for your chimney throughout the year. Scoop the debris out of your fireplace after every fire, and keep your rooftop clean to prevent anything from blowing into the flue. You can also burn a special chimney sweeping log, which contains minerals designed to reduce creosote buildup, though nothing beats a proper cleaning – especially when you’ve done it yourself!