FireplacesSpring arrives March 20, and with the – possible – exception of a chilly night or two, the cold weather is largely behind us for another year. And with spring cleaning comes the need to clean and prepare your wood-burning fireplace for its “hibernation” over the spring and summer months.

Properly cleaning and caring for your wood-burning fireplace can add years to both usability and beauty. Thoroughly cleaning your fireplace’s flue, removing all soot and especially creosote, makes your home a healthier and more pleasant place to relax and spend time. Just use the following strategies described below:

Cleaning the Chimney

The most important step you can take towards increasing the life of your chimney is to check its brickwork and masonry at the beginning and end of every cold season. Freezing rain can seep into cracks in the chimney’s brick and mortar work, expanding as it turns to ice and breaking the fireplace apart, bit by minute bit. Such hairline cracks and fissures obviously also let heat escape, decreasing your fireplace’s efficiency.

Chimney tops are a favorite nesting spots for many species of birds, and while the sounds of cheeping hatchlings is often charming, the nests themselves present a potentially dangerous blockage to air moving through the flue. Clean out the flue, removing all nests and debris, or contact a chimney cleaning service to make sure the airway is unrestricted.

The Hazards of Creosote

In many ways, creosote is to your fireplace and chimney what rust is to machinery: corrosive, dangerous, and self-perpetuating. A chemical by-product created when burning gasses and oils get trapped in the flue, if left unchecked creosote presents a ventilation hazard that grows noxious when exposed to warm-weather humidity.

Experts recommend scrubbing the chimney once creosote levels reach 1/8-inch thickness; factory-built chimneys should be scrubbed whenever levels become visible to the naked eye.

Cleaning Out the Firebox

Fireplaces

Store extra firewood in weatherproof covers.

Most fireboxes (the area where the wood burns) need only warm, soapy water, a vacuum cleaner, some brushes and plenty of elbow grease to return to their original condition – with two important exceptions. A spray-on creosote remover and wire brush can remove any creosote buildup, and high-filtration vacuum cleaners should be used to vacuum up the residue. This will prevent creosote and ash dust from escaping into the surrounding room.

Glass screens and other partitions should be cleaned with non-ammonia-based cleaners. Fireplace tools can be cleaned with normal household products. Clean brass tools  – without scratching – with Worcestershire sauce and a dry cloth.

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