When fall weather arrives, it's time for hot cider and unwinding with the family near the fire. It turns out fireplaces are for more than just warming ourselves up on a cold night. In fact, researchers found out a tranquil night by the fireplace can actually reduce blood pressure and induce relaxation. If you find yourself using your hearth regularly throughout the season, it is crucial to make sure you know that cleaning a fireplace is paramount to you and your family’s safety. Here are 5 tips for cleaning a fireplace to create a safe and cozy environment in your home.
Why Cleaning a Fireplace is a Must
Cleaning a fireplace is crucial, and not only for keeping your home and hearth aesthetically pleasing. There are key reasons why this should be a top priority before breaking out the firewood this winter.
- Safety: The leading reason for home heating fires is when homeowners fail to clean the chimney. Fireplace cleaning is key to making sure your fire burns efficiently and safely. In fact, over 24,000 fireplace fires occur annually.
- Aesthetics: No one wants to see buildup and soot on your hearth. It will give our living area an unkempt look and sometimes even an unwanted smell.
- Convenience: The more often you maintain your hearth by cleaning a fireplace, the less elbow grease you’ll have to contribute to the cleaning process. A little maintenance cleaning will go a long way and save a ton of time.
Check out these five tips for how to clean a fireplace hearth:
1. Inspect Annually
You may think simply cleaning a fireplace is all that’s needed to ensure safety and proper operation. However, you should hire a professional to inspect and clean a fireplace annually, whether for a wood-burning or gas fireplace. Find a licensed technician through the Chimney Safety Institute of America’s database. This professional will complete multiple tasks during the inspection including:
- Inspecting for gas leaks: With a gas fireplace, this could cause serious safety issues. It is normal for a fireplace to have a slight odor, but if you smell rotten eggs, this is a sign of a possible gas leak.
- Replacing worn parts: In a wood-burning fireplace, you’ll want to make sure to keep all parts in proper working order. But gas fireplaces work differently, and parts should be replaced and inspected regularly to prevent possible carbon monoxide poisoning from damaged or worn pieces.
- Preventing or clearing flue obstructions: It is paramount to make sure our flue is clear on a regular basis. If something becomes trapped, it not only sends smoke and soot back into your home, it can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be deadly.
- Sweeping the fireplace and removing creosote: Creosote can build up over time, and it is highly flammable. It can easily cause a chimney fire if proper fireplace cleaning does not take place.
- Video inspection if available: Sometimes checking for flue obstructions isn’t as easy as just looking for yourself. A professional can use a camera to see not only any blockages, but also the overall condition of the chimney.
2. Use Proper Firewood
If you use a wood-burning fireplace, using wet wood or improperly seasoned firewood can cause creosote buildup which can lead to chimney fires. There are several steps to take to ensure you are using firewood that will burn hot and efficiently.
Store firewood in the right location
When storing firewood, keep it at least 5 feet away from your home. This will prevent pests from entering your home and also from infiltrating your firewood. Keeping it off the ground also reduces moisture, creating firewood that burns more efficiently.
Stacking firewood loosely will increase airflow and allow for dryer wood. Laying the firewood bark side up also reduces moisture. Splitting the firewood prior to stacking and arranging in alternate directions also increases ventilation which leads to better firewood.
Protect it from the elements
When firewood is exposed to rain and snow, moisture can build up and cause the wood to be unusable. Protect firewood from these issues by utilizing accessories such as:
- Firewood racks: Racks elevate your firewood from the ground, keeping pests at bay while also increasing circulation.
- Firewood covers: Covers will protect firewood from excess moisture which can cause issues with the log burning properly and efficiently.
- Seasoning Sheds: This type of shed is a one-stop-shop for perfectly seasoned firewood. It protects wood from the elements and increases circulation for optimal fires.
3. Clean Based on Fireplace Type
There is no one size fits all method for cleaning a fireplace. In fact, you should tailor your cleaning based on the material of your fireplace. For example, you wouldn’t clean a brick fireplace the same way you may clean one made of marble. Here are examples ofhow to clean a fireplace hearth based on materials.
- Brick: The first step is saturating the bricks prior to cleaning. Dishwashing detergent or vinegar are two popular ways to clean a fireplace made of brick. Tougher cleaners like trisodium phosphate may be in order, but you have to be careful not to damage the brick.
- Stone: Because stones are generally already sealed, using an environmentally safe multipurpose enzyme cleaner is generally all it takes to keep stone looking good as new.
- Iron: Unlike other fireplace types, you’ll want to avoid liquid cleaners. Sweep away ash or soot and use a cloth to clean. Use an iron paste afterward for a polished look.
- Marble: Use a microfiber cloth and water to attack stains on marble. It is porous, so using harsh cleaners can cause damage.
4. Choose the Right Cleaning Solution
Some stains are simple enough to scrub away with warm water and a cloth. Others take a specialized cleaning solution to wash away tough spots on your hearth. Consider these factors before deciding on the right solution for cleaning a fireplace hearth.
- How severe are the stains? Soap and water along with a brush is enough to handle moderate soot and stains. But brick and stone cleaner may be needed for a more soiled hearth area.
- When was the last time you cleaned the fireplace? For more severe stains, you may want to utilize Trisodium Phosphate (TSP). Mixing warm water, bleach, and TSP will effectively remove the tougher marks if possible.
- How old is your fireplace? Sometimes if your fireplace is older and hasn’t been maintained properly, you may not be able to fully remove all old stains. Use the steps above to clean everything you can and understand failing to remove soot over time can cause permanent damage.
5. Regularly Maintain a Fireplace Cleaning Regimen
Fireplace cleaning will be a much easier task if you make sure to clean on a regular basis. The less soot and creosote buildup you have to clean, the less elbow grease you’ll have to use each time. Here are simple tasks to perform to make sure your annual fireplace cleaning is a success.
Wipe away buildup
The more often you wipe away stains and dirt from the hearth, the less work it will take during your annual cleaning. In addition, it reduces the chances of any permanent damage.
Check for obstructions
Always check the flue before starting a fire to make sure there are no obstructions that could cause serious safety issues.
Fix problems right away
Even if an issue like a crack seems like a small fix, address it before any serious problems arise. Some common signs of fireplace issues you should fix right away include:
- White stains: White stains on the inside of a chimney can be a symptom of a larger issue. Called efflorescence, it can signal a leak that could turn into a larger problem like mold or rust, which can cost a lot more to fix if the issue grows over time.
- Cracking: Even smaller cracks can signal structural problems. It’s never a bad idea to have it looked at to keep from a more serious issue in the future.
- Spalling bricks: A spalling brick is what happens when the face of the brick begins to crumble away. This could mean you need a sealant to prevent further deterioration. It’s a good idea to address it quickly rather than wait.
Cleaning a Fireplace: An Important Step to Efficient Fires
At the end of the day, we all want a gorgeous fireplace that adds a cozy ambiance to our home while providing a relaxing place to spend time with the family. Cleaning a fireplace not only makes your hearth more aesthetically attractive, it also creates fires that are more efficient, making your experience even more comfortable. Following the simple steps above for how to clean a fireplace hearth will ensure your hearth remains in top shape. Here are other simple ways to increase the efficiency of your wood-burning fires:
- Crack open a window: Did you know keeping a window open near your fireplace can actually make it more energy efficient? It will draw air from the window instead of from farther areas of your home.
- Turn on a fan: This will circulate heat throughout the room and heat the area more quickly.
- Install a fireback: This heavy sheet of metal inside the fireplace not only protects the integrity of the fireplace, but also keeps all the heat from escaping through the chimney, which will contribute to more energy efficiency.