How to Clean Your Fireplace

As fall begins and winter nears, it’s time to brush off the cobwebs and get the fireplace ready for the cold season once again.

No matter what kind of hearth you have at home, dust, soot and dirt accumulate year-round, and fireplace cleaning should be done just before the next burn season. Proper cleaning and maintenance of the fireplace is crucial for health, efficiency and cost savings.

And with people staying home longer due to the coronavirus pandemic, fireplace sanitation is more important than ever.

Why You Should Clean your Fireplace

There are plenty of reasons why your living room should have a clean fireplace, ranging from health and safety to lower utility bills.

  • A dirty fireplace is a source of particle pollution, deadly carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and VOCs.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning causes 4,000 deaths each year, with a significant number caused by poorly maintained chimneys.
  • Fine particulate matter or PM2.5 can cause a host of respiratory illnesses like bronchitis.
  • Apart from respiratory problems, accumulated soot can cause allergies and eye and throat irritation.
  • Properly maintained fireplaces can reduce heating costs by up to 20-40%. A dirty or soot-ridden fireplace may not be as efficient.

Who is at Risk

A dirty or poorly maintained fireplace can pose a risk to family members, such as:

  • Older adults who are more susceptible to chronic heart or lung diseases
  • Children, because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, and whose respiratory systems are still developing
  • People with lung ailments like emphysema or asthma
  • Those with heart problems such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Now that we’ve established why you should clean your fireplace, let’s get to the how. In this section we’ll go over the three different types of fireplaces, and how to clean each one.

How to Clean a Wood-Burning Fireplace

Nothing beats the tradition of sitting around a warm hearth on a cold winter’s eve. So much so that there are over 11 million wood-burning fireplaces in the US. However, their age-old simplicity also makes them a pain to clean compared to gas and electric fireplaces. Here’s how to clean a brick fireplace.

Pre-cleaning preparation

  • Wait at least 12 hours after the last fire to allow the fireplace to completely cool down.
  • Cover the area around the fireplace in plastic sheets, and drape surrounding furniture in drop cloths.
  • Do not use old newspapers as the ink can be imprinted on upholstery or carpeting.
  • Wear old or disposable clothes and rubber gloves to shield yourself from the soot and stains.
  • Use a PM2.5 rated particulate mask.

Grate cleaning

  1. Apply a liberal amount of liquid dish detergent to a scrub brush.
  2. Scrub the grate or andiron until sudsy, then rinse with warm water.
  3. Wipe off with a clean cloth, then set aside to dry while you clean the fireplace.

Floor cleaning

  1. Sweep away dust and ash onto a dustpan.
  2. Mix ¼ cup dish detergent to a gallon of water.
  3. Dip and scrub brush in the detergent mix, and scrub the floor and walls.
  4. Spray down with water in a spray bottle.

Brick scouring

  1. Make a paste using 3 tablespoons of dish soap and half a cup of baking soda. The resulting should be thin enough and easy to spread, so add more dish soap as necessary.
  2. Divide the fireplace wall into squares. Use a scrub brush to apply the paste in a circular motion around each square.
  3. Let the paste sit for 3-5 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.
  4. Repeat until each square is thoroughly clean.

Spot cleaning dirty areas

  1. Mix 6 tablespoons of Trisodium Phosphate (TSP), 1 cup of bleach, and 1 gallon of warm water in a bucket.
  2. Dip your brush in the solution and scrub specific areas.
  3. Rinse off with warm water.

If you don’t have TSP, you can also use cream of tartar. Mix 2 tablespoons of the substance to one teaspoon of water to make a thick paste. Apply and let sit for 5-10 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.

Glass cleaning

  1. Mix 50% white vinegar and 50% water in a spray bottle.
  2. Spray the glass doors liberally.
  3. Sprinkle a small amount of ash on a paper towel to act as a light abrasive, and gently scour the glass surface.
  4. Wipe off with a microfiber cloth.
  5. For stubborn streaks or stains, use a commercial glass cleaner.

Post-cleaning

  • Clean the broom, brush and dustpan with detergent-water mix.
  • Carefully ball up the drop cloths or plastic sheets to avoid disturbing the particles from the surface, and dispose off properly.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner to remove any remaining dust and residue from the area.

How to Clean a Gas Fireplace

A natural gas fireplace should be cleaned at least once a month even when not in use. This will prevent dust and dirt from accumulating in crucial parts, and ensure safe and efficient operation when it gets used.

There are two types of gas fireplaces:

Direct-vent fireplaces rely on outside air for combustion which enters through ports in the floor. Vibration can cause decorative elements or foreign media to block these ports, which causes lower efficiency.

B-vent fireplaces have a roof-based vent. These need to be checked for blockages such as clogged debris, insects, and even bird droppings or nests.

Cleaning a gas fireplace:

  1. Allow the fireplace to completely cool off if used recently.
  2. Make sure the gas valve next to the fireplace is switched off. Check to see if the pilot light is out, then wait for a few minutes to allow the gas to dissipate from the piping.
  3. Take out the gas logs, and if possible, bring them outside for cleaning to prevent minute particles from spreading.
  4. Using a soft paintbrush, gently brush off dirt from the logs, then inspect each for signs for damage or corrosion, such as cracks or burn holes.
  5. For the lava rocks, use a cheesecloth-covered vacuum to suck away dirt. Follow up with a soft brush to clean each rock’s crevices.
  6. Vacuum the fireplace box of dust and soot. Then check each vent hole for debris, cobwebs, or insects that can impede the gas flow.
  7. For the glass, use a glass cleaner and leave on for a few minutes before wiping with a lint-free cloth to avoid water stains.
  8. Wipe down the enclosure and edges with a damp cloth, then check the rubber gaskets for signs of aging or cracking.

How to Clean an Electric Fireplace

Unlike gas or wood fireplaces, electric fireplaces are much easier to clean since they require no ventilation or gas lines. Instead, they rely on long-lasting LED lights to supply the flame appearance.

  1. Allow the heater to cool off completely for at least 2 hours before cleaning.
  2. Disconnect from the power supply. While doing so, check the cable for any worn or frayed wiring.
  3. Use a clean cloth to gently wipe down the heater surface and interior.
  4. Use a handheld vacuum or wand nozzle attachment to suck out accumulated dust and lint from the fan blades and grill. Then check if the fan rotates freely.
  5. Avoid touching the bulb with your bare hands, as the skin’s natural oils can be left on the surface and impact its output.
  6. For the glass, use a damp cloth to remove smudges and watermarks. Do not use abrasive glass cleaners as they can scratch the display.
  7. Finish off with a dry microfiber cloth to prevent water stains.

Fireplace cleaning tips

  • For brick facings that are over 50 years old, scouring is NOT recommended as it could cause the brick to crumble. Instead, lightly scrub the surface with liquid dish detergent.
  • After vacuuming, wash or replace the HEPA filter of your vacuum cleaner as it will likely have picked up a lot of particulate matter.
  • Instead of tossing away ashes, spread them over your garden. Wood ash (not ash from charcoal briquettes or fake logs) is a great source of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and other trace nutrients for fruiting plants.
  • You can also use the ash to repel soft-bodied garden pests like slugs and snails.
  • After cleaning a gas fireplace, return the logs exactly as they were and avoid rearranging. Their original positions are designed for the most efficiency.
  • A gas fireplace should give off a yellow or orange flame. If the flame changes color, turn off the gas and have it inspected by a professional.

Mickey Luongo

Mickey is the resident heating and air conditioning expert.

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