Homeowner cleaning out the firebox

How to Clean a Chimney Yourself

If you own a home with a wood-burning fireplace, then knowing how to clean a chimney is critical. Chimney fires can cause catastrophic damage to your home. For some people, hiring a chimney sweep is the most effective way to take care of chimney cleaning. But if you prefer to DIY your chimney cleaning like you do many of your other home improvement projects, follow these steps to learn how to clean a chimney.

Before You Start Cleaning Your Chimney

Before you start your do-it-yourself chimney cleaning project, make sure you have the right tools on hand. Fortunately, you don’t need the same chimney cleaning tools as a professional chimney sweep.

What do you need as you consider how to clean your chimney? Make sure you have:

  • A drop cloth
  • A dust mask or respirator
  • Safety glasses or goggles
  • A shop vacuum
  • A flue liner brush. Your chimney liner will tell you a lot about how to clean your chimney and what brush is best. If you have a metal chimney liner, you’ll need a brush with plastic bristles. For a clay flue liner, use a wire brush.
  • A noodle brush
  • A long-handled brush
  • Duct tape
  • Plastic tarp or poly sheeting to cover your workspace
  • A safety harness, as needed

Pro Tip for How to Clean a Chimney

Even if you plan a do-it-yourself chimney cleaning, make sure you bring in a certified chimney sweep or chimney inspector at least once a year to take a look at your fireplace and chimney. Chimney fires can quickly take over your entire home, so a professional perspective is essential. A chimney inspection can also reveal needed chimney maintenance.

Get Ready!

Are you ready to start cleaning your chimney? Follow these steps to learn how to clean your chimney successfully.

Step One: Cover the floor.

Put down a drop cloth, painter’s cloth, or tarp to cover the floor around the chimney.

Step Two: Clean out the firebox.

Remove everything from the firebox: bits of wood, ash, and anything else that may have collected in it over time. This is where protecting your floor becomes critical. One of the most important steps in how to clean a chimney successfully is keeping your floor clean.

Step Three: Open the damper.

It’s time to clear the way so you can start cleaning!

Step Four: Seal off the front of the fireplace.

Cover everything with a heavy layer of plastic. Make sure you take the time to do it right! If you leave an opening that the debris can slip through, then you may find yourself with a sooty mess all over your living area — and a mess that you’ll have to clean up when you’re done.

Step Five: Gear up.

Put on your protective gear: your safety glasses and your dust mask or respirator. Trying to clean your own chimney without the right protective gear can leave you with a face full of ash and dirt, which could result in a trip to the hospital. Make sure that you have the right safety gear on hand before you start.

Start Cleaning!

Man removing a chimney cap from his chimney

Once you’ve gotten everything ready, prepare to start cleaning your chimney. You should work from the top down since you’ll be knocking creosote and other debris off of the chimney. If you work from the bottom up, you could end up leaving debris all over the area you’ve just cleaned. Climb up to the roof, using a safety harness if needed, and get down to business.

Step Six: Remove the chimney cap, animal guard, or any other hardware obstructing the top of the chimney.

Unlike the animals your chimney cap helps keep out, you want to have full access to your chimney.

Step Seven: Pull out your largest-diameter chimney brush.

Brush from the top of the chimney down the sides, toward the smoke shelf. The smoke shelf, located in a flat area behind the damper, may collect a great deal of debris, so make sure you clean it thoroughly. Take your time and make sure you remove all the creosote buildup from your chimney. If you can’t remove all the buildup at this stage, you may need to contact a professional.

Pro Tip for How to Clean a Chimney

If you notice a large amount of buildup or a shiny, tar-like appearance to your buildup, it may be time to bring in a professional chimney sweep.

Step Eight: Head back down to the ground and let the dust settle.

Give the dust and other byproducts of cleaning some time to settle before you open the plastic sheeting covering the front of the fireplace. You don’t want to open it up and find soot still filling the air.

How do you know that the dust has had enough time to settle? Carefully peel back a corner of the plastic sheeting covering the front of your fireplace and take a look. If you notice that the majority of the dust has settled, you can probably safely proceed with the chimney cleaning process.

Step Nine: Pull aside a corner of the plastic sheeting and use a small chimney brush that can reach up into the chimney to scrub as high as it can reach.

You may need a special brush for the firebox and smoke shelf areas, which may require additional care in cleaning. Do not completely remove the plastic sheeting, as this could result in sooty debris raining over your living area. Scrub until you’ve removed the majority of the creosote buildup from your chimney. You can conduct a visual check to see your progress, but keep in mind that the more you move that plastic sheeting, the more of a mess it may make in your living area.

Pro Tip for How to Clean a Chimney

If there are other people at home while you’re cleaning the chimney, make sure that no one opens a door or window while you’re working. This could create a cross-current that will draw soot through the house and result in a big mess.

Step Ten: Let the dust settle again.

Each time you scrub a new area of the chimney, cover the front of the fireplace with plastic again and allow the dust to settle before opening it back up. The dirt from your chimney needs time to settle into the bottom of the firebox. If you open the plastic up too early, then you may find yourself with a bigger mess to clean up!

​Step Eleven: Carefully remove the plastic sheeting.

Once you’ve allowed the dust to settle, slowly and carefully remove the plastic sheeting. Don’t jerk it all away at once! Instead, take the time to work slowly and deliberately so that you don’t accidentally stir up any more soot and debris. You want as much of that debris as possible at the bottom of the firebox.

Step Twelve: Pull out your shop vacuum.

Use your shop vac to vacuum up all the debris that has fallen to the bottom of your firebox. You should remove all soot, debris, and grit from the fireplace.

Step Thirteen: Clean up when you’re done.

Throw away the plastic sheeting and store your tools away. Keep a close eye on the firebox as you clean.

Creosote buildup in your chimney can pose a dangerous fire hazard. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, you need to take care of cleaning your fireplace at least once a year. But clean it more often if you burn mostly green wood since green logs do not burn as clean and may send more debris into the chimney. While fireplace cleaning isn’t the most fun item on your annual to-do list, it is an important task that can reduce fire hazards and ensure that your family remains as safe as possible. Thankfully, now you know how to clean a chimney on your own.

Do I Have to Clean My Chimney If I Have a Gas Fireplace?

If you have a gas fireplace, then you shouldn’t have to worry about creosote buildup since you won’t be sending smoke from burning logs up the chimney. However, homeowners with gas fireplaces should still have their chimneys inspected each year to ensure that you do not have any birds’ nests, squirrel debris, or other buildup in your chimney that could pose a fire hazard when the cold winter months arrive.

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