How to Keep Your Fireplace Clean and Safe

If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace in your home, you likely enjoy it most during the winter season.  A crackling fire adds warmth to your home and creates a peaceful ambiance for family gatherings or guests.  We read books by the fire, play board games, enjoy hot chocolate, take part in relaxed conversation, or simply relax by gazing at the flickering flames.

But in order for a fireplace to be both safe and effective, it requires regular cleaning and maintenance.  Thanks to information provided by ServiceMagic and The Learning Channel, we can share the following fireplace maintenance tips:

  • Sweep scattered ashes in and around the fireplace after every use.  Ashes detract from the overall appearance and cleanliness of the room that holds the fireplace, and can be dangerous if they escape from the fireplace.
  • Have your chimney cleaned at least annually by a professional service (you might have to clean it more often if you use your fireplace regularly – check with a professional for advice).  If you want to take on this difficult task by yourself, remember that wood burning inserts must be removed when the chimney is being cleaned, and this task requires specific techniques.  According to ServiceMagic, the insert can only stay in place during cleaning if you have installed a full relining collar.  It is best to get training in proper chimney cleaning methods before you attempt this task on your own.
  • In addition to sweeping regularly, vacuum or dust the area in and around the hearth weekly to prevent a buildup of dust and soot.  Wait until all embers have been extinguished for at least 12 hours.
  • The buildup of creosote (a gummy black film made up of smoke residue)

is highly dangerous and responsible for some of the most devastating residential fires.  Burning only seasoned, well-dried wood helps to minimize creosote buildup.  It is important to inspect the firebox, flue, and chimney annually so you can flag and address creosote accumulation.

  • This one might surprise you: never use water to put out a fire except in the case of an emergency.  Water turns ashes into a thick paste that is difficult to remove from the area.  eHow.com offers these tips for safely putting out a fire in your home fireplace using some common fireplace tools:
    • Spread out the logs and embers, using the fireplace poker, to keep them separate from each other.
    • Use the small fireplace shovel to bank the fire by burying flaming logs and smoldering embers with ashes from the bottom of the fireplace.  Keep in mind that this action does not completely extinguish smoldering embers, but it will extinguish active flames and cause embers to slowly die out. 
    • Pour sand over the fire.  (You'll have to clean the sand out before lighting your next fire).
    • Close glass fireplace doors firmly, or place fireplace screen over the opening.
  • Never leave the fireplace or your home unattended if all embers are not fully extinguished.
  • Do not use an abrasive cleanser inside your fireplace.  These cleaners can actually leave a dangerous, flammable residue.
  • During cleaning, sprinkle damp coffee grounds over cooled ashes.  Doing so will help minimize dust.

For a video demonstration on how to clean a wood burning fireplace, visit this link at eHow.com.

Remember, proper maintenance and cleaning of your home fireplace and chimney achieves more than improving the cleanliness and appearance of your home.  These important tasks will help ensure the safety of your family, pets, and friends all year long.