How To Clean A Chimney: DIY Or Hire A Pro

Jeff Sandquist/flickrEven as a serious home improvement do-it-yourselfer, there’s one area that you may never have thought of tackling by yourself ... your chimney. But regular chimney cleaning should – no, make that must -- be included on your “honey-do” list of household chores. (If it is already, pat yourself on the back; you are helping to protect your home from a dangerous and destructive chimney fire.) But how to clean a chimney -- should you take care of chimney maintenance yourself or hire a pro? 

Why Regular Chimney Cleaning Is Essential

When you use your fireplace, a carbon-based chemical product called creosote is formed. Unless it's removed through regular chimney cleaning, this creosote residue will build up inside your fireplace and chimney. Creosote buildup is harmful in several ways:

  • Creosote gives off acrid-smelling, toxic fumes even when your fireplace is not in use.

  • Buildup restricts the circulation of air through your chimney.

  • By insulating the chimney, it slows the rise -- and exit -- of hazardous exhaust gases.

  • Highly flammable, creosote deposits can cause a chimney fire.

How Often Should a Chimney be Cleaned

At least once annually, in the fall or spring (the start or end of burning season). Clean more frequently if you use your fireplace a great deal.

Other signs that you need chimney cleaning are heavy smoke while you’re trying to enjoy a blaze in the fireplace or a strong odor of soot and ashes even when the fireplace is not in use.

DIY Chimney Cleaning Equipment

  • Respirator to prevent breathing in creosote dust
  • Goggles for vision protection
  • Work gloves
  • Shoes with non-skid soles
  • Drop cloth or tarp to keep the hearth and surrounding floor clean
  • Sheets or other coverings for furniture and carpets
  • Powerful flashlight, as well as lamps placed so that you can see the area where you are working
  • Chimney brush sized to fit your flue (chimney lining)
  • Chimney brush extension pipes
  • Small wire brush
  • Sturdy bag to hold your tools
  • Reliable ladder that reaches the height of your roof

Start With A Chimney Inspection

Outside, inspect the chimney exterior. Look for cracked or otherwise damaged bricks, as well as crumbling mortar. These will need to be repaired or replaced.

Inside, shine your flashlight up the flue  from the fireplace opening. Check for mammals, birds, and/or their nests which may be hidden inside. Remove these before you proceed with the cleaning: for help, call on an expert in humane pest control

How to Clean a Chimney: DIY Method 

  1. Prep your living room with the tarp and coverings.

  2. Remove the damper from the chimney and set it aside.

  3. Set up your ladder and place the chimney brush and extension pipes in the bag.

  4. Put on your protective gear.

  5. Climb to the level of your chimney opening.

  6. Scrub the inside of the flue with the chimney brush as far down as it will reach.

  7. Add successive extension pipes to brush all the way to the bottom of the chimney.

  8. From the house interior, clean inside the bottom of your flue with the wire brush.

  9. Remove all creosote and soot you have dislodged and dispose of it as required by local law. As a flammable substance, creosote cannot simply be discarded with your household garbage.

  10. Remember to replace the damper.

Professional Chimney Cleaning

Cleaning the chimney yourself is a tough, dirty, time-consuming, and possibly hazardous job. It takes a high level of physical fitness and balance. A thick tarry layer of stage-three creosote demands specialized equipment and training to remove safely.

If you are not up to the task – or simply want to give yourself a break, hire a professional chimney sweep. At the same time, you can ask for expert suggestions that will keep your chimney in top shape (such as installation of a chimney cap) and minimize future creosote buildup.

Laura Firszt writes for

Updated December 20, 2018.

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