How to Clean a Fireplace

Person cleaning fireplace
glebchik / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins - 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

A fireplace, whether decorative or functional, is usually the focal point in any room. One thing that all types of fireplaces have in common is that they should be cleaned regularly for safety. Additional cleaning may be needed for the surrounding finishes to remove dust and soot.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Dropcloth or tarp
  • Metal bucket or trash can
  • Shovel or trowel
  • Plastic buckets
  • Spray bottle
  • Sponges
  • Rubber gloves
  • Eye protection
  • N-95 mask
  • Handbroom or new paintbrush
  • Cheesecloth

Materials

  • Dishwashing liquid with grease cutters
  • Table salt
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Household ammonia
  • Powdered pumice
  • Trisodium phosphate
  • Fireplace glass cleaner

Instructions

How to Clean a Wood-Burning Fireplace

The cleaning frequency for a wood-burning fireplace depends on how often it is used. Ashes should always be removed at the end of the fire season, which is also a good time to clean the firebox bricks and fireplace surround.

  1. Remove Ashes and Debris

    Always allow ashes and debris in the fireplace to cool completely before attempting to remove them. Place a dropcloth on the floor to protect it from soot, especially if you have carpet. Use a shovel or trowel to place the ashes in a metal—never plastic—bucket. Dispose of them properly or use them to supplement garden soil.

  2. Empty the Firebox and Vacuum

    Once the ashes are gone, remove any andirons and grates. Use a shop vacuum to get rid of any remaining ashes in the firebox. Follow one of the cleaning methods below for removing soot and odor from the firebricks. Vacuum the hearth, mantle, and fireplace surround as well.

  3. Conduct a Yearly Chimney Inspection and Cleaning

    Creosote builds up in the flue and chimney each time wood is burned. The chimney should be inspected and cleaned at least yearly to reduce the risk of accidental fires. Consider adding a cap to prevent animals and birds from building nests in the chimney.

How to Clean a Gas Fireplace

Give a gas fireplace a good cleaning at the beginning and end of the winter season to remove any hazards to operation.

  1. Turn off the Gas Line and Disassemble the Unit

    Turn off the flow of gas to the unit and make sure the pilot light is no longer lit. Wait a few minutes to allow any gas fumes to dissipate before you continue working. Spread out a dropcloth and remove any protective coverings like glass doors or screens. After noting how the unit is assembled, carefully remove the logs and the burner unit.

  2. Vacuum Away Dust

    Lava rocks and glass stones collect lots of dust. Use a shop vac or a vacuum with a hose attachment to clean each rock. If the rocks are small, attach a piece of cheesecloth or nylon net to the end of the hose nozzle with a rubber band. The dust can get through but the rocks can't.

    Once the rocks are clean, vacuum the firebox to capture dust and cobwebs. Use an old cloth to wipe down the pilot light and gas line components.

  3. Clean and Inspect the Unit

    You may want to take the components outside for cleaning to prevent the spreading of dust and soot in your home. Use a hand broom or a clean paintbrush to brush away dust. Inspect each log and the burner unit for cracks or clogs in vent holes.

How to Remove Soot Stains From Brick, Stone, and Walls

Both wood-burning and gas fireplaces can produce soot if they are not vented properly. Depending on the severity of the stains, there are several ways to remove soot stains from brick, stone, and walls. Start with the mildest method and progress to stronger cleaners.

  1. Detergent and Salt Method

    Add two tablespoons of dishwashing liquid with grease cutters to a bucket containing one gallon of warm water. Fill the second bucket with one gallon of cool water and one cup of distilled white vinegar. Fill a spray bottle with plain water and spritz the stained areas.

    Dip a scrub brush into the soapy solution and sprinkle it liberally with table salt. The salt will act as a mild abrasive to loosen the soot from the brick as you scrub. Use one sponge to wipe away the cleaning solution and loosened soot. Dip the second sponge in the water and vinegar solution and wipe down the cleaned area. The vinegar will help remove any soapy residue and dispel smoky odors.

  2. Detergent, Ammonia, and Pumice Method

    If the dishwashing liquid and salt didn't remove the soot, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of household ammonia to the detergent and water solution. Substitute fine-ground powdered pumice (available at hardware stores or online) instead of salt to sprinkle on the scrub brush.

    Follow the same steps as the salt method for cleaning and rinsing. Be sure that the room is well-ventilated, because ammonia fumes can be powerful.

  3. Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) Method

    Mix 1/2 cup of TSP per one gallon of hot water in a bucket. Fill the second bucket with plain cool water. Wearing rubber gloves, dip the scrub brush in the TSP solution and scrub. Use a damp sponge to wipe away the soot. Finish by dipping a clean sponge in the plain water for a final rinse. TSP is toxic to the environment and will damage plants. Contact your local municipality for information on proper disposal.

    Warning

    TSP is highly toxic and must be used with care. Full protective gear—rubber gloves, eye protection, and a respiratory mask—is required. The area must be well-ventilated and ceramic tile, metal, fabrics, carpets, and painted surfaces must be protected from damage.