A practical guide to cleaning your fireplace

Ironically, cleaning your fireplace is simpler when it's being used more frequently.But keeping it clean all year is the best way to maintain a fireplace.

A practical guide to cleaning your fireplace

1. Winter care

  • During the fire-burning season, cleaning will usually consist merely of removing some of the ashes periodically. The fireplace will actually work better with about 5 cm (2 in) of ash remaining — this is especially true of fireplaces where the ashes are collected at the bottom of a metal firebox.
  • Many fireplaces have an ash pit, which is a receptacle underneath the area where you build a fire. If yours does, open it and push excess ashes into it.
  • Or, use an ash shovel to deposit the ashes into a metal bucket with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Store the ashes outside in the tightly covered bucket for at least two days before you finally dispose of them — an important precaution because 'dead' ashes containing live embers have been the cause of many accidental fires in the past. (Make sure that the bucket isn't leaning against anything.)

2. Off-season care

  • This is your chance to do a more thorough fireplace cleaning.
  • Use a clean pencil eraser on any smoke streaks that have crept up the exterior of the fireplace.
  • If your fireplace has warm-air circulators, clean the ducts with a vacuum cleaner.
  • The off-season is also the time to have the chimney cleaned. This is a job for a professional chimney sweep — not a job you should take on yourself — who will check the flue for leaves, bird nests, cracks and soot build-up.

3. Attack creosote

  • To clean up the build-up of creosote, a highly combustible residue created by burning wood, on the inside of the firebox, you'll need to employ a bit of elbow grease.
  • The firebox is the place where you build your fire. Some people like to use the firebox for displays of candles or flowers when their fireplace is not in use during the warmer months.
  • Remove the screen, andirons and grate, and sweep up all the ashes with a dustpan and broom.
  • Use a wire-bristled brush for the first attack on the creosote.
  • If you want your brick or stone firebox to be cleaner, use 50 ml (1/4 cup) of washing soda (available from the detergent section of supermarkets) in 4 litres (4 quarts) of water and apply it with a sponge.
  • Brush with a stiff-bristled brush and rinse with clear water.
  • Wear rubber gloves to protect the skin on your hands, since washing soda is caustic.
  • Do not wash a metal firebox.

4. Clean fireplace doors

  • Cleaning fireplace doors is a subject that's rife with conflicting advice.
  • Your best bet is to check your owner's manual for its recommendations.
  • Fireplace doors are usually made of safety glass, which makes them harder to break, but some also have heatproof coatings that may be damaged by some harsh cleaning materials.
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