Who doesn’t love a warm, cozy fire? But the maintenance and clean-up that goes with hit? Not so much. And while chimney cleaning needs to be contracted out to certified professional (more on that below), keeping your fireplace clean and free of potentially debris is surprisingly easy. We tapped pros to get you the best tips for cleaning a brick fireplace and having your chimney cleaned.
How to clean a brick fireplace: Smart prep tips
In addition to getting your chimney inspected, “Before the first burn of the season, make sure your chimney cap is firmly attached and working properly,” recommends Courtney Klosterman, a Home Insights Expert with Hippo Insurance. “The cap should be screened so birds can’t nest, and rodents can’t get into your chimney.” You can eyeball it or, better, ask your chimney cleaning team to take a look. She also notes that you should check your fireplace damper to make sure nothing is preventing it from opening or closing. For this, simply eyeball it as you open and close it.
Klosterman also advises prepping before cleaning your fireplace. “Lay a plastic tarp or old sheet around the outside of the fireplace to protect the surrounding floor or carpet This will also make clean up much easier. It’s also smart to wear gloves, a dust mask and protective goggles when cleaning up potentially harmful materials.”
Klosterman offers a surprising way to minimize the dust that’s stirred up: “If you have any coffee grounds you can spread those out among the ashes to avoid breathing in airborne ash and dust.” (Find more brilliant uses for leftover coffee grounds.)
How to clean brick fireplace: Cleaning the bricks
Cleaning the actual bricks in your brick fireplace is essential for both aesthetic and safety purposes, and, unlike chimney cleaning, it’s actually surprisingly easy to do on your own — if you know a few tips.
John Mazzuca, a builder and home improvement pro with Gambrick in New Jersey, has 15 years of experience doing masonry and brick work — so he really knows how to get bricks looking their best. Here’s his step-by-step process for cleaning a brick fireplace:
- Start by dry cleaning the fireplace. Use a brush to scrub off loose dirt and ash. Vacuum the debris.
- Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray the solution onto the bricks and let it sit for a few minutes before scrubbing with a brush. This mixture helps to dissolve light soot and stains.
- For tougher stains, make a paste with baking soda and water. Apply the paste to the stain, let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes, and then scrub vigorously. Use a soft bristle brush if the bricks are brittle; otherwise, use a medium to stiff brush.
- Use a clean cloth or sponge and plain water to wipe away the cleaning residue. Make sure no cleaning agent remains on the bricks when you’re done.
Mazzuca notes that it’s important to avoid using bleach or any other harsh chemicals to clean brick, as they can cause discoloration. Soaking the bricks is also a no-no. “Bricks absorb moisture like a sponge,” he says, and getting them soaked can lead to damage. He advises against using abrasive cleaning tools like wire brushes. “Use a softer nylon brush instead,” he recommends.
While you don’t need to deep-clean your fireplace all that often, Mazzucca recommends regularly dusting and wiping it for maintenance. “Regular cleaning makes caring for a brick fireplace easier over time as the buildup is reduced and stains are avoided,” he says.
4 smart hacks to bring out the best in bricks
Mazzuca has four clever hacks he uses to beautify bricks. Try one of these “recipes” to clean your brick fireplace without any harsh chemicals.
- Cornstarch and water: Mix cornstarch and water until they form a paste. “This can be an effective cleaner for soot and smoke stains on the outside and inside of a brick fireplace,” he says.
- Salt and detergent: Mix salt and detergent until they form a paste. Apply this to stains and let sit for a few minutes, then scrub and rinse.
- Cola: Sounds strange, but Coca-Cola can actually be an effective cleaning agent! “The acids in cola can help break down tough stains on brick,” he explains. Simply pour a little onto the stain, let it sit and then scrub.
- Olive oil: “Once cleaned, a small amount of olive oil can be rubbed onto bricks to restore their natural shine,” he says, though it’s worth noting that this tip only applies if the bricks are unpainted.
When it comes to chimney cleaning, don’t DIY it
The biggest mistake people make is thinking they can clean out their chimneys themselves to save time and money. However, this is one area of your house that can’t rely on DIY methods or life hacks to get the job done. It’s not just a matter of your family’s safety, either, but also the prevention of fires spreading beyond your home. Take a look to see three more big mistakes people often make when it comes to keeping their fireplace and chimney safe.
Chimney cleaning myth: Special logs suffice for cleaning
Although creosote sweeping logs are approved by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), the organization also points out that the products are not the same as having a professional inspection or sweep. Frances L. Kelly, CSIA executive director, explained, “We uphold the position that chemical cleaners should not replace any service provided by a qualified professional, including annual inspections and cleaning.”
Chimney cleaning myth: Seasoned wood won’t leave residue
Some wood does burn cleaner than others, but nothing burns without any residue whatsoever. The CSIA explains that seasoned wood that has been dried out for at least six months to a year will burn more efficiently, but it shouldn’t lead you to think you can skip the annual fireplace inspections from a professional.
Chimney cleaning myth: You can skip a year
The National Fire Protection Association states that all fireplaces and chimneys should be inspected at least once a year, but they don’t specify a certain time of the year. Most of us think about it when fall and winter roll around, obviously because we’re hoping to use them to keep our homes warm. Getting fireplaces and chimneys checked at that time is good, but it can be done at any time of the year — especially if you notice significant buildup.
Find more cleaning tips here!