Fireplace-Cleaning Tips

Typical pine fire surround with electric fire on marble hearth.
A clean fireplace is a safe fireplace. Routine maintenance is the key.
iStockphoto/Gordon Ball

Your fireplace needs regular care and cleaning to assure a safe and efficient fire. Creo­sote, a flammable tarlike substance that accumulates in the chimney and flue, should be removed by a professional, eliminating the worry of at least one potential fire hazard.

­Give your fireplace and its accessories routine cleaning throughout the wood-burning season to eliminate an accumulation of soot, ashes, and creosote tars.


­Here are several cleaning suggestions:

  • Vacuum or dust the hearth area weekly to prevent dust and soot buildup. Do not sweep or vacuum until all the embers have been extinguished for at least 12 hours.
  • Burn only seasoned, well-dried wood to minimize dangerous creosote buildup.
  • Inspect the firebox, flue, and chimney annually for creosote accumulation.
  • Do not use water to drown a fire unless there is an emergency. It will make a paste of the ashes, which is difficult to remove.
  • Never use an abrasive cleanser inside the fireplace. Many leave a flammable residue.
  • When cleaning your fireplace, sprinkle damp coffee grounds over the cooled ashes to keep down the dust.

With those tips in mind, let's go into more detail about cleaning the different parts of your fireplace:


The Firebox

  • The firebox is the area that contains the fire; it is commonly constructed of either metal sheeting or firebrick. Since the heat of the fire keeps the firebox clean, very little upkeep is required.
  • Gently scrub the walls of the firebox opening with a stiff-bristle brush (not a wire brush) only to the height of the lintel (the heavy steel brace that supports the masonry above the fireplace opening).
  • Be gentle with firebrick because it crumbles easily. Be careful not to bend any edges on a metal firebox where it joins the flue. Bent edges leave openings to the wall stud or supports where fire could spread.
  • If your fireplace does not have an ash pit or box, shovel the bulk of the ashes into a bag and vacuum the remaining lightweight ashes.


The Fire Screen

  • Most fire screens are black painted metal, but if your screen is brass-plate, clean it as you would other brass objects.
  • To clean painted fire screens, mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 gallon warm water. Add 1 teaspoon ammonia. Dip a cloth into the solution, and wipe down both sides of the screen. Rinse with a cloth dipped in clear, warm water.


Glass Enclosures

  • Glass enclosures for the fireplace are constructed of tempered glass. Clean the glass facing the fire after every other fire to remove the residue of soot.
  • For baked-on soot, scrape the glass very carefully with a glass scraper to avoid scratching the surface.
  • To remove smoke stains, mix 1/2 cup vinegar with 1 gallon clear, warm water. Add 1 tablespoon clear ammonia. Either spray this solution on the glass or wipe it on with a cloth dipped in the solution. Rinse with clear, warm water, and dry with a clean cloth.


The Grate and Fireplace Tools

  • The grate is usually made from cast iron and can accumulate a buildup of creosote tars or sap from burning green wood. Cast-iron tools may be cleaned in the same way as grates. To remove buildup, take the grate or tool outside and hose it down. Sprinkle an abrasive cleanser on the surface, and scrub with a stiff-bristle brush or steel-wool soap pad.
  • For andirons and brass or brass-plate tools, there are many products that can restore them to their original beauty with a little time and effort.
  • You also can make your own recipe for cleaning fireplace tools. Clean the grime and soot from fireplace tools or andirons by dipping fine-grade (000) steel wool in vegetable oil and rubbing gently. Apply a polish to bring up the shine.