The appeal of a wood- or gas-burning fireplace is undeniable -- especially for residents of cold climates.
But both appliances require regular cleaning to prepare them for the fall/winter burning season so they function safely and efficiently.
Cleaning a Wood-Burning Fireplace
Keeping a wood-burning fireplace clean begins with the wood you burn. To help prevent the buildup of dangerous (and dirty) creosote, which can lead to chimney fires, only use properly seasoned and stored firewood.
Wood ashes only need to be removed when they begin to smell or get in the way of fire building. To remove, simply shovel up the ashes, place them in a bag, and dispose in the trash.
If your fireplace has an ash dump, push the ashes through the metal plate in the floor of the firebox. Use a vacuum to clean up the remaining ashes in the firebox and on the hearth.
Heads up: You’ll want to wait at least 72 hours after your last fire before attempting any cleanup. That way, you won’t put any hot coals in the trash where they could start a fire.
Also, don’t send hot or warm coals down the ash dump because they can ignite a fire in the walls.
Smoke and Soot
Poor drafting -- caused by a clogged flue (and forgetting to open the flue damper!) -- can result in the buildup of smoke and soot on the fireplace surround -- the area around the fireplace opening. Wearing gloves and using a stiff brush, clean the surround with a masonry cleaner.
If your fireplace has glass doors, clean the inside and outside with a standard glass cleaner or a homemade green window cleaner.
Pro Cleaning Schedule
Burning even the driest firewood will lead to soot and creosote buildup on the flue walls lining the chimney. Because both of these byproducts are flammable and dangerous, they must periodically be removed. Creosote buildup is the leading cause of chimney fires.
“If you burn a fire about once a week throughout winter, you should have your chimney inspected annually and professionally cleaned every other year,” explains Gary Spolar, a licensed chimney sweep and owner of Century Chimney in chilly northeast Ohio. Heavy users might require professional cleanings every year, he adds.
Regular chimney maintenance ensures warmth and safety. An inspection and a cleaning by a professional chimney sweep costs $150-$250.
Beware of store-bought fireplace logs promising to remove creosote buildup when you burn them. The Chimney Safety Institute of America says, “The use of these products alone is not an adequate substitute for mechanical chimney cleaning and inspection because it does not provide for the same level of protection to the chimney system.”
Cleaning Gas-Burning Fireplaces
We love gas fireplaces because they’re low-maintenance -- but that doesn't mean they’re no-maintenance.
Remove (if possible) and clean the glass doors with a non-ammonia-based glass cleaner or homemade vinegar solution.
Use a vacuum to clean up any debris inside or around the vents of the heat exchanger (if one exists). Check that gas logs are in the proper position.