When & How To Clean Your Chimney

The days are getting chillier, and it becomes more and more tempting to start up a fire in your chimney on those cold nights. Ask yourself: When was the last time your chimney got a good cleaning? If your answer is “I don't know”, then it's time to get it cleaned! It's a very involved process so for some of you it may be best to simply hire a professional, but if you are an experienced DIYer and don't mind getting up on your roof, we've got some tips below to help you know how and when to clean it yourself or call a professional to do it right and safely.

First of all, cleaning your chimney is so important because even a small build-up of creosote in your chimney can lead to a chimney fire. You should clean it roughly once per year, but depending on usage you may want to do so greater or fewer times.

Secondly, here is a great diagram for your use on the anatomy of a chimney so you know exactly where everything is.

Next, you need to discover if it needs cleaning. Use some eye protection and respirator, clean out your firebox and remove the grate. Open a door or window, wait a few minutes, and then open the damper. This waiting is necessary to equalize the pressure. When the damper is open, wait just a few more minutes to allow some of the home's natural heat to rise through the chimney.

You will need a flashlight and fire poker for this next step. Peak into the smoke chamber and flue with your flashlight and scratch the surface with the fire poker. It's a DIY job for you if the soot is matte black and there's less than 1/8” of build-up. If the build-up is any deeper than 1/8” and looks more like shiny tar, then you need to immediately stop using your fireplace and hire a professional to clean it up for you.

Now that you've got an idea of what you're dealing with, make sure you have the correct equipment for cleaning. You'll need to get up on your roof to measure your flue and buy the appropriate brush. At Rural King supply we carry chimney cleaning supplies from Rutland brand, so stop on in if you need a new brush! You'll also need a bendable “noodle brush” for the smoke shelf, and a long-handled brush to clean the soot off the firebox.

Protect your home interior! Spread some canvas tarp on the hearth or floor below the fireplace, and then seal it all with some poly sheets. Create a hole to insert a shop vac hose and then seal all the edges of the poly sheets and the hose with duct tape. The shop vac will be kept outdoors as venting the dirty air to the outside rather than inside your home.

When you're ready to clean, turn on the shop vac and head up on to the roof. You want to start cleaning from the top, so shove the brush down the flue and scrub from the top to the bottom. While you're doing this, see if you can keep an eye on your shop-vac, as the amount of soot could quickly fill up the filter. When you can no longer feel any brush resistance down the chimney, that's when you know you have hit the smoke chamber, and the rooftop part is over!

Come back down to your fireplace and peel back some plastic sheeting to get access to the smoke chamber with the long-handled brush. Use the noodle brush to remove all of the soot from the smoke shelf. Back to the long-handled brush, clean the sides of the firebox. And finally, all that's left is to vacuum the firebox out.

The best part: The poly sheets and tarp are reusable! Carefully remove them, air them out, shake them outside, and fold them up to be used the next time you clean your chimney!