How to clean and light a fireplace and choose a fire extinguisher

Tips on cleaning and lighting a fireplace and choosing a fire extinguisher

There is nothing cozier than sitting in front of the fireplace on a crisp winter's night. But a fireplace needs regular cleaning to function properly.  These tips will show you how to maintain your fireplace, as well as choose a fire extinguisher for any emergencies that may arise.

How to clean and light a fireplace and choose a fire extinguisher

Clean your fireplace

If you have a working fireplace in your home, you should have your chimney professionally swept once a year — during the warmer months when it's not in use. This is also the time to do a thorough clean of the firebox (the area where you build the fire).

  • Remove the firescreen and the grate, then sweep up all the ashes; it's a good idea to sprinkle damp tea leaves on first to reduce dust.
  • Clean any buildup of creosote with a wire brush.
  • If that doesn't get the firebox clean enough, dissolve 50 millilitres (1/4 cup) of soda crystals (sodium carbonate) in four litres (one gallon) of water, and apply with a sponge — then go at it with the wire brush, and rinse with clean water.

Note: You can make your own soda crystals by putting baking soda in a try or heatproof glass dish in an oven heated to 100°C (200°F) for one hour.

Lay and light a fire in your fireplace

  1. Make sure that the flue is open before you begin, otherwise you'll fill your house with smoke.
  2. Place one or two firelighters or some twists of newspaper in the bottom of the grate.
  3. On top, lay some twigs or thin scraps of wood in a criss-cross pattern, so that plenty of air can circulate. The more of this kindling you have, the better.
  4. Lean two smallish logs against each other in a tent-shaped arrangement on top of the kindling, disturbing it as little as possible.
  5. Light a match or long taper and hold it to your newspapers or firelighters. Once the fire is well established, add some bigger logs. (Hardwoods such as oak and apple will burn hotter and longer than softwoods such as pine and cedar.)

Choose the right fire extinguisher

  • For small fires involving paper, wood or soft furnishings you can use water extinguishers, though they are unwieldy. Never use for oil fires (like those involving deep frying or a frying pan, such as for French fries) or electrical fires.
  • For kitchen fires involving burning oil, or small, localized fires, use wet chemical extinguishers. They deliver a cooling layer of foam.
  • For flammable liquids such as gas, and synthetic fibres in soft furnishings and carpets, use aqueous, film-forming extinguishers.
  • On burning liquids, and for fires involving computer and other electrical equipment, carbon dioxide extinguishers can be used without causing any damage. Don't use for frying pan fires; the jet of gas will blast the fat out of the fryer.
  • Powder extinguishers are a powerful all-rounder, though not to be used in confined spaces, where powder might be inhaled. They also cause great mess and damage.

These simple guidelines will ensure your fireplace is running smoothly and teach you how to choose the right fire extinguisher for those emergency situations that arise.

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