How to Clean a Chimney

Chimney sweep
Is this chimney sweep humming “Chim Chim Cher-ee” to himself while he cleans?­
­iStockphoto/Iztok Grilc

­If you're a fan of Disney movies, then the idea of a chimney sweep might conjure up romantic notions of the film, "Mary Poppins." However, once the sounds of "Chim Chim Cher-ee" fade, you might start to remember how dirty Dick Van Dyke's character Bert and all his chimney sweep friends were after finishing the job. Of course if a soot suit isn't your idea of fun, you can use a professional service to clean your chimney. But if the thought of a little grime doesn't send you grappling for the phone, then you can certainly try to tackle the task yourself.

Whether you decide to clean a chimney yourself or hire a professional, either way you'll want to make sure a good job is done. Cleaning a chimney is im­portant to prevent chimney fires -- and potential house fires. Therefore, the cleaner -- be it you or a professional -- must be thorough and comprehensive in carrying out the cleaning. You're not just clearing out the soot and dust, but you need to scrape and remove creosote that has built up on your chimney walls.


­There are four basic methods for cleaning a chimney, each of which require some special tools. This article will list the tools needed, describe the steps and methods involved in cleaning your chimney, and point out any safety concerns you might encounter. So, whether you're DIYing this project or calling in a professional, you'll know what to look for to make sure the job is done right.

Generally, those simple hand brooms Dick Van Dyke's character Bert and his friends danced with aren't going to cut it. Read on to discover the tools needed to clean a chimney.



Tools Needed to Clean a Chimney

To clean your own chimney, you're going to need some specific tools. While these items are not particularly fancy or specialized, chances are you may not have all of what you need just lying around your house. But before you get ready to go shopping, you'll need to do a little research.

You're going to need to examine your chimney and measure its opening with a tape measure. This will allow you to get the most crucial tool needed to clean a chimney -- the wire chimney brush. It's important to get a sense of what your chimney is like because there are many wire chimney brushes on the market -- round, square or rectangle, and they come in a variety of sizes from just a few inches to almost a foot (5 cm to almost 30 cm) [source: Northline Express].


There are actually four general methods for cleaning. Some are more difficult than others are (and require more than one person) but all four methods usually involve many of the same tools.

To clean your chimney, you will need:

  • Chimney brush
  • Either chimney brush rods or rope and pull rings (depending on the method)
  • Fireplace cover
  • Tarp, drop cloth or other similar coverings for the floor and furniture
  • Tape
  • Mirror
  • Metal bucket
  • Shovel and broom
  • Shop vacuum
  • Flashlight
  • Dust mask/goggles
  • Ladder [source: NASD]

Whether you'll need a ladder or not depends on the cleaning method you choose. For example, the "bottom up" method, which works from your fireplace up through the chimney, does not require a ladder (or a trip to your roof). If you're afraid of heights or you're simply not comfortable climbing on top of your roof, this indoor cleaning method might be ideal for you. However, the indoor methods are also extremely dirty, because all that dust, dirt, soot, ash and creosote will get into the air and all over the furnishings in that room. So make sure you don't skimp on tarps and drop cloths.

Read on to learn about the four basic chimney-cleaning methods.


Steps for Cleaning a Chimney

There are four basic methods for cleaning a chimney. You s­hould explore all of the methods listed here and decide which one works best for your situation.

  • Rod Method, Top Down - This method requires that you be on the roof. After inserting it into the opening of the chimney, you will use the chimney brush to clean the inside walls of the chimney by raising and lowering the brush. The brush will be connected to flexible metal rods, and you will add rods to extend the length of the brush as you get further down the chimney. Many people prefer this method because it results in the least amount of cleanup inside the house. You can close off the opening to the fireplace within the house, which will help contain the suit and debris.
  • Rod Method, Bottom Up - This method is similar to the top down rod method; however you work from the fireplace opening within your house, working from the bottom up to the top of the chimney. Though safer since you do not need to get on your roof, it's very messy since you cannot seal off the opening of the fireplace. Be sure to use plenty of tarps and drop cloths to keep nearby flooring and furniture clean.
  • Weight Method - This method follows the same setup as the top down flexible rod method, but instead of attaching your chimney brush to flexible metal rods, you use rope, pull rings and weights. You'll assemble the rope and pull rings, adding a weight of at least 20 pounds (9 kilograms) to the brush, raising and lowering the brush to scrub the internal walls of the chimney. With this method, you can also close off the fireplace opening to your house, allowing for a more contained clean up.
  • Dual Line Method - This method takes two people. A rope (and pull ring for holding onto if you like) is attached to both ends of the brush. One person takes the brush and rope setup onto the roof and, while holding on to one end of the rope, drops the setup down the chimney. The other person, who is in the house at the fireplace opening, grabs the other end of the rope. Each person takes turns pulling the rope, in order to work the brush up and down to scrub the internal walls of the chimney. Since the fireplace opening cannot be sealed for this method, it can be quite messy. Be sure to use tarps and drop cloths to keep nearby flooring and furniture clean. [sources: Northline Express, Repair Home].

Continue reading for some important chimney-cleaning safety concerns.


Safety Concerns When Cleaning a Chimney

When cleaning a chimney, the first and most important safety concern is that you should not have any fires going when starting the cleaning process. Yes, that's an obvious one, but it's a concern nonetheless.

The next safety concern to be aware of when cleaning a chimney is the use of ladders and working from your roof. A fall from a roof or high up on a ladder can be dangerous, resulting in paralysis or even death. You can make this aspect safer by being very careful and aware of your surroundings. Or, you can eliminate this safety concern all together by choosing the rod method from the bottom up. As the only method that doesn't require someone getting up on the roof, it is the safest in that regard.


The final main safety concern relates to your vision and respiratory health. Be sure to wear goggles and a dust mask (or a full-face mask) when doing this kind of work. The soot, ash and other debris can be irritating to your eyes and respiratory system [source: Family Education].

If you are uncomfortable with any of these tasks or safety concerns, don't hesitate to call a professional.

For more information, visit the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Chimney Sweep, The. "The Chimney Fire!" (Accessed 3/8/09)
  • Do It Yourself. "How to Clean Security Chimneys." (Accessed 3/8/09)
  • Family Education. "Keep Your Chimney Clean." (Accessed 3/8/09)
  • Household Cyclopedia of General Information, The. "How to Clean a Chimney." (Accessed 3/8/09)
  • NASD. "Cleaning Stovepipes and Chimneys." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed 3/8/09)
  • Northline Express. "Chimney Brushes and Accessories." (Accessed 3/8/09)
  • Northline Express. "How to Clean a Chimney." (Accessed 3/8/09)
  • Repair Home. "How to Clean a Chimney." (Accessed 3/8/09)