January 22, 2019

Keeping Your Fireplace Clean

One of the most appealing aspects of fall and winter is the prospect of a cheerful fire to warm your toes on a chilly evening.  Because proper maintenance of your wood burning fireplace and chimney is essential for safety and cleanliness, now is the time to make sure you’re ready to enjoy those evenings by the fireplace.

As you use your fireplace, creosote builds up in the chimney and flue which poses a real fire hazard.  It’s important to have your chimney cleaned and inspected annually by a trusted professional.  Besides safely and thoroughly cleaning the chimney, a professional will notice any repairs that might be needed to parts such as the storm camp, damper, and ash pit (if you have one) to keep your fireplace efficient as well as safe.

Begin with a clean fireplace by sweeping out any ash.  Check the log grate to be sure it isn’t rusted or broken and replace it if needed.  The log grate should keep logs elevated 2-3 inches off the floor of the fireplace.  Dust the hearth and be sure the area is clear of anything flammable.  Long curtains from a nearby window or other home accessories should be moved out of the way of any stray sparks or embers.

Once you begin to enjoy fires in your fireplace, be sure to only use dry, seasoned wood to limit the build up of creosote in the chimney.  Do not attempt to sweep or vacuum ashes until all embers have been out for at least 12 hours to avoid igniting a fire in your trash can.  When you start to sweep out ashes, you can prevent excessive dust by sprinkling damp coffee grounds over the ashes. Do not use water to put out the fire (unless there’s an emergency) or to reduce dust.  This will turn the ashes into a messy paste that is much more difficult to clean.

Avoid using chemicals or cleansers in the fireplace.  Many of these are flammable or could produce unpleasant odors when heated.  Stick with a sturdy brush, dust pan, and vacuum as your cleaning tools for this job.  Simply brush down the walls of the fireplace and scoop ashes into a bag for removal.

Your fire screen is important to contain sparks and embers that might leave scorch marks on the floor or even lead to a house fire.  How you clean the fire screen depends on its finish.  If the screen is painted metal, you can clean it with a mixture of 1/2 cup vinegar, gallon of warm water, and 1 teaspoon of ammonia.  Use a cloth to wipe the fire screen with this mixture, then wipe again with clear water.  If your fire screen is brass, add 3 tbsp of vinegar and 1 tbsp of salt to a spray bottle 2/3 full of warm water.  Mix well, then spray onto the brass fire screen.  Wipe down well, then wipe again with clean water to remove any cleaning reside and dry thoroughly with a clean, soft towel.

If your fireplace features a glass enclosure, you may notice smoke stains on the glass.  To remove these, mix 1/2 cup vinegar with 1 gallon clear, warm water.  Add 1 tablespoon clear ammonia.  Either spray this solution on the glass or wipe it on with a cloth dipped in the solution.  Rinse with clear, warm water, and dry with a clean cloth.  If you experience soot build up on the glass, you’ll need to gently scrape it off with a glass scraper.  Cleaning the glass after every two or three fires should keep it looking nice and clear.

Your cast iron fireplace grate and tools can usually be cleaned by simply hosing them down and scrubbing well with an abrasive cleanser  Be sure to completely rinse any cleanser thoroughly off these pieces.

By taking the time to properly care for your fireplace, from the top of the chimney down to the lowly ash pit, you can safely enjoy many merry fires over the course of the long winter!