Chimney Basics: How to Clean a Chimney

In order to make sure that a chimney maintains efficiency and functions well, periodic examination and cleaning are necessary. It is one of the chimney basics that every homeowner should keep in mind. It is also necessary for preventing chimney fires and make a house safer place. However, cleaning does not mean just making your chimney look nice and clean. It is a labor-intensive process of removing all of the flammable and hazardous creosote and getting rid of the soot built up in the chimney over the months of use. In addition, you might have to remove animal and bird nests, debris and leaves. Chimney cleaning might be challenging, messy and time-consuming, so many homeowners prefer to delegate this task to professionals. However, if you want to save money, it is worth doing it yourself. If you have the right tools and do not mind spending a couple of hours by doing the dirty work, here are the steps on how to clean a chimney yourself. (We do recommend a professional chimney sweep in most circumstances)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the list of things you will need for chimney cleaning:

  • Chimney brushes. There are several types of them: wire brush (for cleaning in very tight places of the chimney by removing creosote and soot from the inside walls); polypropylene brush (a good alternative to a wire brush recommended for chimneys with stainless steel liners); hand brush (a smaller and shorter brush used for cleaning easily accessible or very tight places in the chimney).
  • Chimney rods. Chimney brushes are usually paired with chimney rods of an appropriate length. Attached to brushes, rods help chimney brushes to reach as far as you need. They are available in varying lengths and are designed specifically for cleaning flexible liners of a chimney.
  • Ladder. Since in most cases, chimneys are accessed from the top, climbing onto the house roof with the help of a ladder is necessary.
  • Shop vacuum. Chimney sweeping requires the use of a shop vacuum for making sure that the house is spotless and the air is clean without any evidence of ash, soot, and other particles. One of the most common options is a high-velocity vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters.
  • Duct tape, floor tarps, and fireplace covers. If you want your house to be in the same condition as before chimney cleaning, then you will need these tools. They will help to prevent a mess and keep everything in order.
  • Mask and goggles. Since the process of cleaning a chimney is dusty and messy, you should cover your eyes and mouth with a mask and goggles for your own protection.
  • Metal bucket. It is used for depositing any ash from the fireplace.
  • Chemical cleaners. When brushes are not able to remove the ash and soot from the chimney completely, special chemical cleaners should be used.
  • Flashlight or mirror. These tools are used at the end of the cleaning process to check how well the wall of the chimney are scrubbed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are four different ways of chimney cleaning. Each of them has its own pros and cons, so you should choose the one that works best for you. To do so, explore each of the methods listed here to make the right decision.

  1. The top-down method with brushes and chimney rods. This method requires to access the chimney from the roof. Being quick and easy, it is the most popular cleaning method. However, it can be used only during the warm season and by those who are not afraid of heights. The first step is to protect the floor and furniture in the room with the fireplace by laying the drop cloths. Then grab the ladder, all necessary tools, and climb on the top of your house roof. Make sure you put all of your protective wear before moving to the next step. Attach the rod to the brush, insert it into the chimney, and begin to scrub the walls by getting rid of all the soot and dirt. In order to extend the chimney brush further down the chimney, attach another section of the rod. Keep doing that until the entire length of the flue is clean. Once you are done with the cleaning, put all your tools back in the bag and climb down. By using a wire brush, clean the bottom of the chimney and collect all of the debris in an ash container or bucket to be disposed of. If there is any debris or ash still left, use a shop vacuum. Finally, clean up all of your tools and remove the drop cloths.
  2. The top-down method with a brush and weight. This method is similar to the previous one, but you will need some other tools: a weight (20 lbs minimum) and a rope. Like the first method, this method requires you to be on the roof. Once you are on the top, your next step is to assemble the rope, pull weight, rings, and the brush. Drop the brush and the weight into the chimney, and start lowering and raising them to scrub thoroughly the walls of the chimney. Keep doing that until the entire flue is cleaned. This cleaning method is popular for two reasons: it scrubs the walls really well, and the supplies are easy to assemble.
  3. The top-down method dual line method. For this method, you will need an assistant, since it requires two people. One person climbs on the roof, and the other one remains in the house. The person in the roof should attach the rope to both ends of the brush and while holding on to one end of the rope drop the other down the flue, so the person in the house at the fireplace can grab it. Using the ropes, take turns by pulling the brush back and forth throughout the flue and scrubbing the walls. When you are done, do not forget to reinstall the chimney cap and clear up your tools and supplies.
  4. The bottom-up method with a brush and chimney rods. This cleaning method is similar to the first one with a significant difference: there is no need to climb on the roof. This method also does not allow to seal off the inside part of your house, so you should be ready for some mess. To reduce the risk of damaging and ruining the furniture and floors, use drop cloth and tarps to cover them. Once the preparation stage is over, take the chimney brush, attach it to the rod, and start pushing it up through the chimney from the base of the fireplace. Keep scrubbing the walls of the flue by moving your brush back and forth. To move up the chimney, attach additional rods. Try not to twist the brush in a counterclockwise direction to prevent it from falling off the rod. Once the cleaning process is completed, use a flashlight or mirror to inspect the flue and make sure you did not miss anything. Keep in mind that even though this method seems to be easier and safer than the previous three, it is much dirtier.

How often should the chimney be cleaned?

According to the report posted on the Center for Disease Control’s National AG Safety Database, chimneys should be cleaned no less than once a year. The cleaning chimney schedule depends on the frequency of the stove use, the type of the wood-burning unit and the way you use this unit, and the type of wood used for burning. It is recommended to steer clear of smoky, smoldering and slow fires, and to use only seasoned and properly split wood.

Learning how to clean a chimney is not a complicated task. You don’t have to have specific skills to do it. All you need is a couple of hours of your time, all the necessary tools and supplies, and some patience. If your not comfortable doing it by yourself, reach out to a professional like Midtown Chimney Sweeps!