Rosie on the House: Chin tier-ree, let's clean the chimney

A heavy-duty vacuum will remove the remnants of ash, trash and critters.

If you didn’t clean your chimney during spring-cleaning, it’s time to now, before the temperatures get chilly.

Why does the chimney need to be cleaned?

In a wood-burning fireplace, the wood never burns completely. The smoke is a combination of unburned gases and a fog of unburned tar-like liquids. When they come in contact with a cool surface, they will condense and form a substance called Creosote.

Creosote builds up over time, and it’s highly flammable. If it catches on fire, it will get very hot very quickly and can burn your house down before help arrives. Creosote can also leave an undesirable odor inside your home.

Rosie on the House: Chin tier-ree, let's clean the chimney

Creosote piled-up after a cleaning.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states chimneys must be swept at least once a year to keep it in safe working order. The leading factor contributing to home heating fires is the failure to clean creosote from solid-fueled chimneys.

Signs that a chimney needs cleaning:

• Odors coming from the fireplace when it's not being used.

• Fires that burn poorly or dump smoke into the room.

• A black damper.

• The fire is giving off bad odors.

• Greasy black soot and creosote build up inside your chimney.

• Noises coming from your chimney may indicate birds or animals are trapped inside, along with their nests.

Call A Professional

The key word is “inspection” when referring to chimney cleaning and inspection, said Rebecca Aldermen, owner of Arizona Chimney & Air Ducts. “A chimney professional is going to make sure that your fireplace is in good working condition for a safe fire. Sweeping the chimney is just a starting point for a chimney sweep. Checking over your fireplace from top to bottom is most important. They make sure your mortar joints, flue pipe, damper, chimney cap is free from any problems that could cause a dangerous situation. There are many problems that an untrained eye could miss if the inspection is not done correctly.”

Do It Yourself

If you want to take on this project yourself, consider this:

• It’s messy and time-consuming.

• If you don’t have a shop vac, can your vacuum remove the smallest particles? Is the hose long enough?

• Are you okay with getting very dirty?

• Do you have respiratory problems?

If all that works for you, let’s get your sim chimney sim chimney sim sim tier-ee going.

What You Will Need

• Clothes you can destroy

• Goggles with a good seal

• Dust mask

• Plastic tarp or painter’s drop cloth

• Plastic sheeting and strong tape

• Different size chimney brushes

• Sturdy ladder

• Time – at least an hour


• Make sure no one opens exterior doors while you are cleaning.

• Spread out the tarp or drop cloth to protect the floor surrounding your fireplace.

• Remove ash and stray bits of wood from the fireplace.

• Open the damper.

• IMPORTANT: Using thick plastic sheeting and quality tape, seal the front of the fireplace completely, without any gaps in the seal. If you skip this, fine dust will coat your furniture, flooring, and belongings.


• Once on the roof, remove any hardware obstructing the top of the chimney such as a chimney cap or animal/bird guard.

• Take the largest-diameter chimney brush and brush from the top down.

• Remove creosote, soot, ashes, dust, leaves, and critters.

• Check for faulty dampers, obstructions in the flue pipe, deterioration, exposed wood, cracks, and missing chimney cap/spark arrestor. (This is where a professional chimney sweep is most important; if you don’t know what to look for or how to assess it.)

• Take your time.

• After a thorough brushing, replace the hardware, ensuring that all fasteners are properly secured.

• Make your way safely down the ladder.


• Take a break to allow the dust to settle into the fireplace.

• Peel apart a small opening in the taped seal over the fireplace.

• Using a smaller-diameter chimney brush, reach through the opening and scrub as far up into the chimney as the brush can reach.

• When finished, cover the fireplace to let any additional dust fall to the bottom.


• Carefully peel back and remove the plastic sheeting.

• Vacuum the fireplace and surrounding area.

Cleaning gas-burning fireplaces

Gas fireplaces burn clean and are generally easy to maintain. But they need cleaning, too.

• Dust fireplace logs from top-to-bottom using a paintbrush or soft-bristled toothbrush.

• Wipe down the glass cover with a dry cloth and an alcohol-based, ammonia-free fireplace cleaner.

• Clear obstructions in the flue pipe.

• Check that the damper has a stop on it.

• You might want to service the gas plate under the fire logs to clean out all the ports if they become clogged.

Make cleaning easier each year with regular maintenance. Chin sim tier-ee! A sweep is as lucky as lucky can be!

For more do-it-yourself tips, go to overconscientious. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for 35 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the Rosie on the House radio program from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR-FM (92.3) in Phoenix; KGVY 1080AM 100.7FM; 10 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson.