When you take on the task of cleaning your chimney, you need to make sure you get it right. Chimney cleaning isn’t the easiest task, but with chimney fires contributing to approximately 20 percent of house fires each year, it’s an important undertaking. Here are things that you need to do in order to clean your chimney:
1. Identify the target
When you clean your chimney, you’re trying to get rid of creosote. That’s the byproduct of burning wood that builds up in the chimney. As a fire burns wood, oils release into the atmosphere. This happens when the wood doesn’t burn completely or efficiently. To some degree, it happens with all wood burning. These oils collect on the chimney walls as creosote.
A thick buildup of creosote in your chimney can cause a chimney fire. Because creosote ignites at a relatively low temperature, it’s all too easy for creosote to start on fire. Burning creosote can spread quickly. It can burn in the chimney and even spread to the rest of the house. When you’re cleaning your chimney, creosote is public enemy number one.
2. Check for critters
Your chimney sweeping should start by making sure that you don’t have squirrels, birds or other critters living rent free in your chimney. If you miss this step, your chimney cleaning might be much more eventful than you planned. If you have these unwanted house guests, take the time to remove them properly before you proceed with the sweep.
3. Secure the scene
Cleaning a chimney is dirty business. You need to either completely seal off your chimney with plastic coating or you need to cover all of your furniture with tarp. If you miss this step, you can expect to find a layer of dust all over your furniture when you’re done.
4. Get the materials
To clean your chimney, you need goggles that completely seal off your eyes. Then, you need a heavy-duty respirator in order to keep the dust out of your lungs. You need to measure your chimney and get a brush that’s long enough for the job. Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting covered in dust.
5. Clean visible debris from the base of the chimney
Before you start sweeping, clean out any logs or other debris from the bottom of the chimney. You’ll need to sweep up debris again once you’re done with your sweep, but it’s best to remove pieces of wood and the ash that’s immediately apparent before you start sweeping from the top. Remove the chimney cap, animal guard and any necessary clamps or fasteners before you start sweeping.
6. Sweep from top to bottom
Although you can clean from inside reaching up, it’s best to start on top of the chimney and work your way down. There are a few different brushes you can use for the job, but wire bristle brushes work in most cases. Sweep by moving your brush against each edge in a back and forth motion until you’ve covered the entire surface. If you have a partner, you can use a pulley system with one of you on the roof and the other at the base of the chimney.
Once you’ve worked your way down, you can use a smaller, handheld brush to clean the bottom of the chimney. Sweep up the rest of the creosote and dust, and you’re finished. Once you’re done, give the dust time to settle. Even one quick opening of a door can send dust flying where you don’t want it to go.
7. You can take steps to prevent creosote buildup
There are things that you can do in order to slow the buildup of creosote in your chimney. Creosote builds up when you burn wood inefficiently. This happens the most with soft woods like pine, cedar and spruce. Your best bet is to buy the right firewood for your chimney such as hardwoods like oak, maple and birch. These types of woods burn at hotter temperatures, so they produce less creosote.
8. Self inspection and professional inspection
You can look at the creosote buildup in your chimney in order to determine if it’s time for a cleaning. The more you use your fireplace, the more often you’ll need to clean it. When you inspect your chimney, if there’s about an eighth of an inch or more of creosote or a noticeable glaze on the creosote, it’s time for a cleaning. Also, if you notice smoke inside during a fire, you likely have a problem with your flue or a creosote buildup, and it’s time to figure out what the problem is. In addition, you should have a professional look at your chimney at least once per year even if you don't see any warning signs.
Cleaning your chimney is a complicated task. It starts with knowing when it’s time to clean. Then, you need to choose the right materials. Work from the top down, and take care to prevent dust from flying all over your house. Taking the time to get it right can prevent a fire and ultimately save you money and stress.