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How To Clean a Chimney

Cleaning your chimney once a year is important to prevent chimney fires. Every year, chimney fires around the United States claim lives and property. Prevent this from happening to you by properly cleaning your fireplace chimney.


  1. Begin by placing plastic sheeting, a drop cloth used for painting, or an old tarp, on the fireplace hearth. Fasten material to the mantel with tape (do not use duct tape) or hold the material in place with heavy objects like stacks of old magazines or pieces of firewood. Drape the material over the fireplace opening but do not seal it off tight. You will need to be able to access the fireplace while cleaning the chimney.
  2. Gather the proper cleaning tools. Some recommend using a rope attached to a small piece of wood or a brick and dropping that down the chimney and letting it scrape the sides, knocking off creosote and soot build-up. Others recommend lowering a heavy chain down the chimney and working it up and down while letting it also bang the chimney walls. These methods work to one degree or another but there is a possibility of damaging the mortar or brick on the inside of the flue. Instead, use a properly sized chimney brush. These usually come with extensions that you can put together to reach down the height of the chimney. You will also need a shop vacuum. Be sure to follow the shop vacuum manufacturer’s instructions because some shop vacuums cannot be used to vacuum up soot, ash, and creosote.

chimneys need cleaning annuallyClean the Chimney

  1. With a ladder in place, climb up on the roof, remove the chimney cap, and lower the brush down the chimney, paying special attention to the sides and corners of the chimney flue.
  2. Work the brush up and down, scrubbing the chimney walls, as you lower the brush to the bottom.
  3. Remove the brush and replace the chimney cap.

Clean the Fireplace

  1. Inside the house, clean the fallen soot, ash, and creosote from the hearth.
  2. Remove the fireplace damper. You usually push this metal plate up and tilt it to remove it from the chimney. This helps you gain access to the smoke shelf above.
  3. All the debris you loosened from the chimney walls fell onto the smoke shelf so this has to be cleaned.
  4. Reach up and pull as much debris as possible down from the smoke shelf. If you cannot reach the smoke shelf, a small horizontal shelf above the fireplace damper, you may be able to clean it with the shop vacuum wand. You can also fashion an implement shaped like a hockey stick to help remove the debris.
  5. Vacuum the collected debris from the fireplace grate and hearth, remove the protective cloths, and finish cleaning in that area.
  6. If your fireplace has an outside ash door (the little access door at the very base of your fireplace outside) do not neglect to open that and remove all collected ash and soot there, as well.


Probably the most important aspect of cleaning a chimney is to get as much debris as possible off the smoke shelf. This is the area closest to the fire and if the accumulated ash, soot, and creosote is left on the smoke shelf it may very well catch fire the first time you light one after chimney cleaning.

While engaged in cleaning the chimney, take the time to check the mortar inside the chimney flue with a strong light and outside, as well. Also remember to inspect the chimney flashings, those metal strips that run at the base of your chimney against the roof. Inspect the fire brick inside your chimney hearth, too.

An annual chimney cleaning is the perfect time to discover damage to your fireplace chimney and repair it.

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