Here’s how to properly clean your chimney

Sep 3, 2020, 3:00 PM
(Arizona Chimney and Air Duct Photo)...
(Arizona Chimney and Air Duct Photo)
(Arizona Chimney and Air Duct Photo)

If you didn’t clean your chimney during spring cleaning, it’s time to now before the temperatures get chilly.

If you’re thinking “I cleaned out the ashes in April,” emptying the ashes isn’t enough.

Why does the chimney need to be cleaned?

In a wood-burning fireplace, the wood never burns completely. The smoke is a combination of unburned gases and a fog of unburned tar-like liquids. When they come in contact with a cool surface they will condense and form a substance called Creosote.

Creosote builds up over time, and it’s highly flammable. If it catches on fire, it will get very hot very quickly and can burn your house down before help arrives. Creosote can also leave an undesirable odor inside your home.


According to The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a chimney must be swept at least once a year to keep it in safe working order. The NFPA also states that the leading factor contributing to home heating fires is the failure to clean creosote from solid-fueled chimneys.

Signs that a chimney needs cleaning:
• Odors coming from the fireplace when it’s not being used.
• Fires that burn poorly or dump smoke into the room.
• A black damper.
• The fire is giving off bad odors.
• Greasy black soot and creosote build up inside your chimney.
• Noises coming from your chimney may indicate birds or animals are trapped inside, along with their nests.

When To Call The Professionals

Rebecca Derendal, owner, Arizona Chimney & Air Ducts, a Rosie-Certified Partner, notes that the key word is “inspection” when referring to chimney cleaning and inspection.

“A chimney professional is going to make sure that your fireplace is in good working condition for a safe fire,” she said. “Sweeping the chimney is just a starting point for a chimney sweep. Checking over your fireplace from top to bottom is most important. They make sure your mortar joints, flue pipe, damper, chimney cap is free from any problems that could cause a dangerous situation. There are many problems that an untrained eye could miss if the inspection is not done correctly.”

When hiring a professional make sure they carry General Liability along with Workers Compensation even if they are self-employed. Take it a step further and find out whether they belong to the The National Chimney Sweep Guild and National Fire Protection Association.

A professional that specializes in chimney cleaning will also know what to look for during the inspection and may be able to do repairs on the spot. Depending on the creosote buildup, a cleaning could run $150. For fireplaces and chimneys that have been neglected and have a lot of buildup, you could pay as much as $300 or more.

Do It Yourself

If you really want to take on this project yourself, there are some considerations.
• It’s messy and time-consuming.
• If you don’t have a shop vac, can your vacuum move 350 cubic feet of air a minute and remove the smallest particles down to .5 micron (a millionth part of a meter)? Is the hose long enough?
• Are you okay with getting very dirty?
• Do you have respiratory problems?

If all that works for you, let’s get your chim chimney chim chimney chim chim cher-ee going.

What You Will Need
• Clothes you can destroy
• Goggles with a good seal
• Dust mask
• Plastic tarp or painter’s drop cloth
• Plastic sheeting and strong tape
• Different size chimney brushes
• Sturdy ladder
• Time – at least an hour

Chimney cleaning kits are available for around $50.

• Make sure no one opens exterior doors while you are cleaning.
• Spread out the tarp or drop cloth to protect the floor surrounding your fireplace.
• Remove ash and stray bits of wood from the fireplace.
• Open the damper.
• IMPORTANT: Using thick plastic sheeting and quality tape, seal the front of the fireplace completely, without any gaps in the seal. If you skip this, fine dust will coat your furniture, flooring, and belongings.

• Once on the roof, remove any hardware obstructing the top of the chimney such as a chimney cap or animal/bird guard.
• Take the largest-diameter chimney brush and brush from the top down.
• Remove creosote, soot, ashes, dust, leaves, and critters.
• Check for faulty dampers, obstructions in the flue pipe, deterioration, exposed wood, cracks, and missing chimney cap/spark arrestor. (This is where a professional chimney sweep is most important, if you don’t know what to look for or how to assess it.)
• Take your time.
• After a thorough brushing, replace the hardware, ensuring that all fasteners are properly secured.
• Make your way safely down the ladder.

• Take a break to allow the dust to settle into the fireplace.
• Peel apart a small opening in the taped seal over the fireplace.
• Using a smaller-diameter chimney brush, reach through the opening and scrub as far up into the chimney as the brush can reach.
• When finished, cover the fireplace to let any additional dust fall to the bottom.

• Slowly peel back the plastic sheeting so as not to stir up any remaining soot.
• Carefully move the sheeting away.
• Vacuum the fireplace and surrounding area.

Cleaning gas-burning fireplaces

Gas fireplaces burn clean and are generally easy to maintain. But they need cleaning, too.
• Dust fireplace logs from top-to-bottom using a paintbrush or soft-bristled toothbrush.
• Wipe down the glass cover with a dry cloth and an alcohol-based, ammonia-free fireplace cleaner.
• Clear obstructions in the flue pipe.
• Check that the damper has a stop on it.
• You might want to service the gas plate under the fire logs to clean out all the ports if they become clogged.

Make cleaning easier each year with regular maintenance. Chim chim cher-ee! A sweep is as lucky as lucky can be!

For more do-it-yourself tips, go to An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for 35 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the Rosie on the House radio program from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR-FM (92.3) in Phoenix, 9 to 11 a.m. on KAFF-AM (930) in Flagstaff, and 10 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson.

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Here’s how to properly clean your chimney