how to clean your chimney

Dirty Tools: How and Why to Clean Your Chimney

Cleaning your chimney is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. That's why clean chimneys are important for safety and clean air in the home. Burning wood often creates creosote buildup and chimney soot, which could result in a chimney fire.

A clean chimney will also improve the efficiency of your fireplace or wood stove by removing built-up creosote that can slow down airflow and increase smoky odors (especially when you're burning pine).

It can be an intimidating task if you don't know what you're doing - especially if there's no "chimney dude" around to help out. But no worries! This post will tell you all you need to know about keeping your chimney clean and safe.

Why Clean Your Chimney?

Clean chimneys are important for safety and clean air in the home. A clean chimney will also improve the efficiency of your fireplace or wood stove by removing built-up creosote that can slow down airflow and increase smoke.

Creosote and soot accumulate on the floor of your chimney lining the fireplace, smoke vent, and damper when you burn logs or coal during wood-burning appliances. This reduces the draw of the fireplace and its heating and combustion efficiency.

Moreover, this build-up increases the risk of chimney fires. As wood burns, soot and creosote can form. These materials can catch fire. And while a fire in the fireplace or stove is good, a chimney fire can be dangerous. Chimneys are designed to handle the heat of smoke, but not the high heat of a fire. High temperatures can crack the chimney liner and allow fire to gain access to the wood framing and cause a house fire.

What is Creosote?

Creosote is a black tar-like substance that is found on the chimney from wood-burning fires or oil-burning furnaces. Creosote can ignite in a fire, which poses a risk to the inhabitants of the house.

Creosote forms when smoke cools and condenses in the flue or chimney to which it sticks. Creosote is primarily composed of carbon compounds and has been linked with cancer, kidney disease, and respiratory illnesses such as asthma.

Different species of wood and varying moisture levels in firewood create more creosote than others. For example, burning wet pine produces significantly more creosote than dry oak.

How do I tell if my fireplace needs cleaning?

The best way to tell if you need your chimney cleaned is to take a flashlight and either look up the chimney flue or look down from the roof.

If you see build-up more than 1/8th of an's time for a cleaning!

If you notice creosote on the flue liner, then clean it immediately before you have another fire!

You might also notice a decrease in "draw" (airflow), increased downdraft (smoke blowing back into the room), or ashes and soot falling back down into your stove or fireplace.

Cleaning Tools for Your Chimney

To clean your chimney you will need:

  • A chimney brush and extension rods: to scrape soot and creosote
  • A vacuum cleaner: to suck up the soot
  • Safety goggles: to keep ash out of your eyes
  • A respirator mask: to keep soot out of your lungs
  • A plastic tarp: to use as a drop cloth and keep all the soot off your floor and furniture
  • An Ash Bucket: to get rid off all that ash!!
  • A ladder: to get up to the roof
  • A safety harness: to keep you up there!

Getting the Right Brushes


First, you need to know the material of your chimney. If you have masonry, you will want a metal brush, if you have a metal chimney, you will want a nylon brush.


Most chimneys are either round or rectangle-shaped, so be sure to select the right shape when you order your chimney brush.


Finally, get your chimney's measurements (the inside diameter) and select the proper size. Also, measure the height of the chimney so that you can order the correct amount of connecting rods.

Best Tools for the Job

For the brushes below, be sure to check material!  Use metal brush for masonry chimney and a poly brush for a metal chimney.  Remember to get the extension rod kit!

6" Round

8" Round

10" Round

12" Round

8" Square

10" Square

Drill Powered Brush and Extension Rod Kit

To make it faster and easier, this brush attaches to a drill.  No more pushing and pulling a brush up and down the chimney...just squeeze the trigger!  

Reviewers love this product and offer these tips:  1.  Use a power drill instead of a cordless if you can.  (Or have multiple batteries charged!). 2.  Duct tape the extension rod joints together to prevent accidental release!

Extension Rod Kit

This kit will fit all of the brushes listed above.  It garners a 4.7 review rating.  

Most of the negative reviews addressed its "flimsiness."  On one hand, it's designed to be flexible so that it can navigate curves in stove pipe.  At the same time, it needs to be sturdy enough to drive a brush down a chimney.  So, bottom line, be sure that your brush isn't oversized or you may have difficulty pushing the brush.

Chimney Cleaning Safety

As outlined in the tools, be sure to have the necessary safety equipment like goggles, a respirator mask, and a climbing harness. If you are uncomfortable on the roof, call a professional chimney sweep. A few dollars for a pro is not worth risking your life!

How do you clean a chimney?


Ash and soot can be really dusty, so some prevention before you begin can save a lot of time cleaning off the antique chair inherited from Aunt Edna!

If you have a wood stove, you can simply close up the damper and air intakes to trap dust inside. If you have a fireplace or masonry heater, however, you should hang a plastic tarp over the fireplace opening (jus duct tape that sucker there!), and if you find it tough to get a good seal, place a drop cloth to cover furniture.

You may also want to consider setting your shop vacuum outside and rigging a long hose into the firebox. Turn on the shop vacuum while you're brushing the chimney. (If you put it inside you'll probably just blow a bunch of fine dust out the exhaust port!)


Set up your staging and ladder with ladder hooks, and bring your cleaning brush and extension rods to the roof.

(It's possible to perform your chimney sweep from the bottom and avoid climbing around on the roof. However, I don't like working up and having all the soot fall down on me. Even a dust mask won't keep you clean!)

Attach one of the extension rods to the chimney brush and run it up and down the chimney until you've removed any loose soot and creosote buildup. (Use your flashlight to look down the chimney...and wear your dust mask and safety glasses! Dust will drift up into your face.).

Once you have completed one section of chimney cleaning, work your way down the chimney adding rod after rod. At some point, the brush will reach the end of the chimney and push into the smoke chamber. Yay! You've completed that step. Pull up the brush and come down from the roof.

If you have a wood stove, you will need to remove the stovepipe that connects the stove to the chimney. If you have a fireplace, you already have decent access.

Depending on your damper set-up, you may have to remove this as well to gain access to the chimney.

Using a noodle brush, (a smaller stiff wire brush than the chimney brushes) clean the smoke chamber and remove chimney soot from the smoke shelf. Then using a flat, small wire brush any soot buildup from the firebox.

Shovel all the creosote, ash, and sooty buildup into an ash-bucket, dump it in a safe place. Ash works as a pretty good insulator and can keep coals hot for several days. then use a shop vacuum to suck away any remaining dust.

How much does it cost to clean a chimney?

If you don't have the time or the gumption, hiring a professional chimney sweep to clean your chimney ranges anywhere from $150 to $500. If you have significant creosote build-up or chimney damage, it could cost more. The inspection (for a safety assessment) and thorough cleaning/repairing should all be included in the price.

Either way, spending a few hours or a few dollars is cheap insurance against a chimney fire

Do Creosote Sweeping Logs Actually Work?

They make a creosote sweeping log that you can burn in your wood stove or fireplace to aid in the cleaning process.

In reality, it will help loosen ash and soot but doesn't do all the cleaning for you. While the Chimney Safety Institute of America approves of these products, you will still need to clean your chimney to help prevent chimney fires.

When is the Best Time for Chimney Maintenance?

Up here in the Northeast I like September! It's not too hot, and it's before the fires start roaring during "burning season!"

That being said, (even though I should, but don't do it) May is even better because of you find any damage, you have time to fix it over the summer.

The Final words on Cleaning Chimneys

So now you know how to clean chimney. You will feel safer knowing that a regular cleaning will reduce creosote buildup and the risk of fires!

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