How to clean a chimney

Household 2 min read

Cleaning a chimney is a messy job that’s best left to a certified chimney sweep who’s properly trained to do the job right. A certified chimney sweep will prepare the area, collect soot, open the damper conduct a visual inspection and more.

How often should you clean your chimney?

Keeping your chimney clean is essential for preventing fires and should be part of your regular seasonal home maintenance. Dirty chimneys can cause fires that can quickly spread to the rest of your home. But how do you know when to clean your chimney and how to do it? We spoke with Russ Dimmitt, director of education at the Chimney Safety Institute of America. He shared his answers to these questions and his best chimney fire prevention tips.

How do you know if your chimney needs cleaning?

The two key signs it’s time to clean your chimney are if you have more than 1/8 inch of soot and if you have any creosote in your chimney. Creosote is a hard, shiny black substance that’s highly flammable. It can fuel a chimney fire that’s more severe than one occurring from soot buildup.

According to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), restricted air supply and burning unseasoned wood encourage the buildup of creosote.

How do you clean a fireplace chimney?

For chimney fire prevention, a certified chimney sweep will do the following:

  1. Prepare the area with drop cloths to protect flooring and furniture.
  2. Run a vacuum to collect soot that’s knocked loose from the chimney.
  3. If there’s a downdraft in the flue, they’ll use a fan to pull out the soot.
  4. Open the damper.
  5. Conduct a visual inspection to evaluate the chimney’s condition.
  6. Check for signs of animals and add a chimney cap if it’s missing.
  7. Prepare the fireplace for sweeping by removing the grate, glass doors and the cap.
  8. Sweep the chimney slowly so the vacuum can keep up with the dust.
  9. Dispose of the creosote properly.
  10.  Replace the grate, glass doors, and chimney cap, if necessary.

How often do you need a fireplace and chimney inspection?

It’s a good idea to have a professional inspect your chimney at least once a year and clean it as needed. If you use your fireplace or wood-burning stove frequently, you may need to clean the chimney more than once a year. Don’t wait to add the chimney inspection to your winter home maintenance checklist. That’s when everyone gets their chimney inspected.

You could wait several weeks for an inspection. Dimmitt recommends having a professional inspect your chimney during the spring or summer. Then, you can safely use your fireplace when the temperatures drop. Learn more about how to get a home fire inspection.

How can you prevent a chimney fire?

Burn dry wood

Wood should have a 15 to 25 percent moisture level. If you’re unsure whether the wood is dry enough to burn, you can buy a moisture meter at many big box stores.

Don’t burn trash or newspapers

When you throw them in a fireplace, they can float up the flue and ignite the creosote. Hire a professional to inspect this and sweep your chimney regularly.

Check your wood burning stove

If you have a wood stove, ensure it’s burning hot enough. The flue gas temperature should be between 400 and 600 degrees. Don’t shut off the air supply to extend the burn time. Flue gases and smoke will be cooler than they should and more likely to condense in the flue, leading to build-up.

Learn more about how to prevent house fires and how fireplaces and wood stoves affect home insurance rates.

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