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How to Clean Your Chimney

Jeffrey Anderson | Improvement Center Columnist | January 30, 2012

Few things in life are as enjoyable as sitting in front of a crackling fireplace on a cold winter evening. However, the feeling that all's right with your world can be changed in a split second by a chimney fire.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America estimates that, on average, there were about 26,000 chimney fires annually across the country between 2005 and 2007. Cleaning your chimney on an annual basis is one of the best precautions against your home becoming a fire statistic and allows you and your family to enjoy the warmth of your fireplace in comfort.

Tips for cleaning a chimney

The best tip for cleaning a chimney might be to head straight for the Internet or phone book and hire a professional. Chimney sweeping is a very dirty job that requires specialized equipment most DIYers don't possess, and it can also be very dangerous. A thorough job often requires getting to the top of the chimney, so being afraid of heights is not an option. The soot can also be hazardous; professional chimney sweeps use gear to protect their eyes and lungs.

If you still feel like you're up to the task, your home and fireplace may dictate which cleaning method is best for your situation. In most cases, the technique that creates the least amount of mess is starting from the top and working down by following these steps:

  1. Close off the front of the fireplace with plastic sheeting to prevent dust from entering your home before you begin cleaning.
  2. Remove the chimney cap from the top of the chimney. If your chimney doesn't have a cap, purchase and install a new cap when cleaning is complete.
  3. Use a wire brush with handle extensions to scrub the inside of your flue liner.
  4. If you have an older home and it doesn't have a tile or metal flue liner, it is STRONGLY advised that you stop and call a professional chimney contractor. Using an older fireplace without a flue liner can be very hazardous.
  5. Scrub the flue walls to eliminate creosote buildup, as well as removing soot.
  6. Inspect flue walls for cracks or gaps with a mirror on a pole or a camera extended into the chimney.
  7. Remove dislodged debris from inside the fireplace box.

When cleaning is complete and all debris has been removed, inspect the damper for proper operation and a tight seal. This is also the part of the project when you make the decision to call a chimney sweep next year and pay the $100 to $300 to have the job done by a professional.