How to Clean a Chimney

How and Why to Clean Your Chimney

Chim chiminey, Chim chiminey, Chim chim cher-ee! These are the words of the chimney sweep we all remember from childhood. But chimney sweeping is not so much fun as Dick Van Dyke made it out to be. It is a messy and dangerous job,  but necessary for maintaining any home that has a fireplace.

Why Sweep the Chimney

Regular chimney cleaning reduces the risk of fire. Creosote, a highly flammable substance, builds up on the walls of the chimney along with soot. This can catch fire if allowed to build up too thickly, making it dangerous when left unchecked. In addition, animals can sometimes nest in your chimney. By cleaning regularly, you can get rid of any unwanted houseguests. You also avoid blockages in your chimney that could send back harmful exhaust fumes into your home. The carbon monoxide from a blocked chimney can kill you and your family.

How Often to Inspect

A chimney that is in regular use should be inspected often and cleaned any time that creosote and soot build up over 1/8”. Because there are many factors that affect how quickly creosote and soot build up on the chimney, inspection times can range from every month to one year. If you use your fireplace regularly, be sure to inspect it at least every other month.

How to Clean

You’ll need a few things on hand to clean your chimney. Get a powerful flashlight, a ladder that will allow you to get onto your roof, a chimney brush and a shop vacuum. Which items you need to force the brush down the chimney will depend on the method you use. You will either need a rope the length of your chimney and a small 20-pound weight or you will need a flexible rod that is long enough for your chimney. You will also need some protective gear, like a face mask, goggles and gloves. Measure your chimney before you buy the brush so you get the right size. A brush that is too large can become lodged in the chimney. Too small, and the brush will not be effective in removing the soot.

Before you begin cleaning, you will need to block off the fireplace. Soot will come down and settle in the room, so you will need to drape cloth or plastic on both furniture and carpeting. Close the chimney doors if you have them.  Be sure all the windows are closed to prevent breeze from blowing soot around. If possible, tape plastic onto the walls around the chimney, sealing it off.

Safety Precautions

This is a good time to warn you about safety as well.  Ladders are dangerous and a fall from high up can kill you. Use proper safety precautions when placing the ladder. Check that you are clear from electrical wires and other hazards. The brushes can also be dangerous because the bristles can puncture skin and eyes. Do not let the children play with the brush for this reason. Do not forget to wear your gloves, goggles and breathing mask.

Now that you are ready to clean, you will need to get on the roof to do the cleaning. This is preferred over trying to clean from the fireplace because you avoid getting doused in soot. If you are using a flexible rod, attach it to the chimney brush. Lower the brush down into the chimney. The rod should reach all the way down into the fireplace. Sometimes, you will need to attach several rods to get the job done. Push the brush down until it reaches the bottom of the chimney and slowly pull it back up. Do this a few times until you think the creosote and soot is removed. Check your work with the flashlight to be sure you did not miss anything.

If you prefer to use the rope and weight instead of the rod, you should fasten the brush to one end of the rope and tie the weight onto the other end. Be sure the weight is small enough not to become lodged in the chimney and be sure you are using a long enough rope to reach the fireplace. The rope and weight works the same way as the flexible rod. If your chimney has sharp bends, you may be forced to use the flexible rod instead.

Once you have cleaned all the creosote and soot from the chimney, be sure to vacuum the mess that is left in your fireplace with a shop vacuum. Remember, the stuff you just scraped from your chimney is very flammable and hazardous near flame. Dispose of the ashes the same way you dispose of fireplace ash as soon as you are done vacuuming.

Professional Chimney Sweep Services

Because sweeping the chimney is such a messy and dangerous job, some people prefer to leave it to the professionals. It will cost about $150 to have your chimney cleaned and inspected, but this price can vary by location. Still, if you only need your chimney checked once a year, the cost is minimal for the benefit of the service. Those who need to inspect every few months may want to inspect themselves and call in the chimney sweep only when a cleaning is needed.

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