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The Right Way to Clean Your Fireplace

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Photo: glebchik (Shutterstock)

Ideally, you would have cleaned your fireplace thoroughly in the spring, after you used it for the final time of the season. But if that didn’t happen—or if you want to tidy it up before using it this fall and winter—now’s the time to do it.

We’ve already talked about how to clean a gas fireplace, but what about wood-burning fireplaces? Here’s what to know.

How to clean a fireplace

As we’ve covered in previous articles, it’s important to make sure that your fireplace and chimney are in working order before the start of winter, in order to maximize the heat in your home, and minimize any drafts—and having a clean fireplace is key.

Here’s how to clean your wood-burning fireplace:

Prep work

No matter what time of year you clean out your fireplace, wait at least 24 after your last fire to ensure that everything has cooled down. Also, things are going to get messy, so put down a drop cloth or two (or some old sheets), wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, as well as a face mask, safety goggles, and gloves.

Empty the firebox

Have a bucket or small trash can lined with a heavy-duty garbage bag at the ready. Start by removing any larger pieces of burnt wood, followed by the andirons and the grate.

Use the fireplace shovel (it’s probably hanging on that accessory rack next to the fireplace, but if not, any type of actual or makeshift shovel will do) to scoop out any remaining ashes and debris left in the firebox. Then, use a small hand-held broom and dustpan to sweep out whatever’s left. Finally, use a shop vac to suck up the dust and any other bits hiding in the back or corners of the firebox.

Clean the firebox

Next, mix up your cleaning solution; either:

Pour your solution of choice into a clean spray bottle, then thoroughly spritz the walls and floors inside the firebox. Let it sit for five minutes, then scrub all the surfaces with a stiff-bristled brush, using more of the cleaning solution as needed. Rinse the inside of the firebox with clean water, and let it air dry.

Clean the fireplace doors

Mix up another cleaning solution, this time: 1/4 cup of warm water, 1/4 cup of white vinegar, and 1/4 cup of cornstarch. Stir it until it’s a smooth paste, then use a microfiber cloth to apply the paste to the glass fireplace doors. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then use newspaper to buff the dried paste off until the glass shines.

In lieu of mixing up that paste, some people opt to dip a damp cloth in some of the old ashes from the fireplace and buff the glass that way, but that tends to be messier and less effective.

Clean the other parts

Finally, clean the rest of your fireplace’s parts and accessories: The screen, andirons, and tools. If it’s possible, clean these parts outside, in a garage, or deep utility sink. (If you don’t have any of those, put down a thick plastic tarp and do your best.)

If you made the vinegar and water solution earlier, you can use that to clean the rest of the fireplace parts and accessories. Otherwise, dish soap and warm water works too. Basically, just scrub everything down using stiff-bristled brushes, rags, and steel wool, if necessary. Don’t forget to clean both sides of the screen.

When you’re done, rinse everything with clean water, then let it air dry before putting it back in the fireplace.

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