The fireplace is undeniably beautiful scenery, especially during the holiday and winter seasons. However, homeowners should not disregard the chimney maintenance and cleaning. Especially when creosote starts to build up and coats your chimney liner, it may cause a fire if left unchecked-no wants that to happen. While most people hire a professional chimney sweep, you can also do the cleaning yourself! Only if you have the right materials and the knowledge to do so.

There may be questions floating in your mind regarding chimney maintenance, and this blog will give you answers to them.

Importance of cleaning your chimney

Is cleaning the chimney necessary? Of course. Because if not, chimney soot and creosote build-up can be a fire hazard after a long period of time. When smoke can’t escape the chimney entirely, creosote occurs, while soot is a residue left after incomplete combustion of wood or coal in a confined place. Both are harmful and highly flammable. 

But how often should you clean your chimney? Would you mind continuing to read to know more?

Tools required to clean your chimney

If you plan to clean yourself, make sure you have these chimney cleaning essentials on hand. These must-haves will make your cleaning process hassle-free!

Drop cloths

Place the cloth in front of the fireplace opening, and it is similar to the ones that painters use. It commonly comes in three sizes: 8oz, 10oz, and 12oz. In addition, never use a plastic drop cloth, and it would be best to use a professional-grade canvas drop cloth. With its absorbent and reusable properties, the canvas is easy to handle.


Any tape that can pull off the paint will make a dust booth, but it is highly suggested to use a painter’s tape instead. 

Protective goggles

Your eyes are one of your foundations; thus, you have to protect your eyes from any debris that may cause harm.

Chimney vacuum

The correct chimney vacuum system prevents mess and removes pollution generated during the cleaning process. Make sure your vacuum has high-quality filters to maintain the quality of the air in the home.

Chimney brushes

There are different types of chimney brushes, namely:

  • Wire chimney brush: Most effective for cleaning masonry chimneys. This is suitable for heavy creosote removal.
  • Polypropylene brush: The perfect brush for cleaning metal chimneys. It is a delicate and gentle alternative for wire chimney brushes. Still, it can brush even the most acidic areas in the chimney.
  • Smoke chamber brush: Great for reaching corners, irregular areas, and cracks.


Creosote is carcinogenic to humans, so gearing up when cleaning the chimney is a must. Use a high-quality full-face respirator with a commercial-grade HEPA filter to avoid health risks. A full-faced and air-purifying respirator can provide you clean and fresh air.

Masonry sealant

Moisture damage causes deterioration; therefore, you need a masonry sealant to protect the chimney from further damage. 

How to clean a chimney

Cleaning your chimney by yourself can help you save a lot of money from hiring a professional chimney sweep. If you have the right tools and are confident that you can finish the job, here’s a step-by-step to get you started!

Step 1: Isolate the fireplace.

Protect the surrounding floor around your fireplace using a drop cloth. Afterward, open the damper after clearing the firebox of dust and debris. Use plastic sheeting and tape to seal the front of the fireplace, separating it from the rest of the room. Check for gaps before starting; otherwise, you’d be left with dusty and messy furniture!

Step 2: Make sure to wear gears.

This step is somehow self-explanatory; who wants to put themselves in danger for cleaning a chimney? Protect your eyes using protective goggles and a respirator dust mask to avoid exposing yourself to health risks. Further, have a sturdy ladder ready, so you can get started working on the roof.

Step 3: Work on top.

Clear the chimney top, whether chimney caps, animal guard, or any hardware hindering. Get the largest-diameter chimney brush and work your way from top to down. Make sure to brush the smoke shelf behind the damper. Replace the hardware you removed after sweeping the flue, ensure to fasten the fasteners securely.

Just a tip: Do the job thoroughly, and make sure to get down safely from the ladder.

Step 4: More brushing

After a few minutes of letting the dust settle on the firebox, and open the taped seal you placed over it. Then, brush as far up the chimney as the brush can go with a small chimney brush. Afterward, cover the fireplace again, letting any remaining dust fall into the firebox. 

Step 5: Finishing

Remove the plastic sheeting carefully. Cleaning the chimney requires you to be cautious since one wrong move can cause you harm. Then, make sure no one opens a door so the dust would stay as is, not scattering around. Afterward, using a shop vacuum, clear the firebox after moving the sheeting. In addition, depending on your vacuum’s capacity, you may need to empty it halfway through the job.

How often should you clean your chimney?

The National Fire Protection Association 211 Standard requires an annual inspection for chimneys, fireplaces, and vents. It is an action to make sure if your chimney still works appropriately and correctly. Aside from inspecting at least once a year, homeowners tend to have an annual chimney cleaning to prevent chimney soot and creosote build-up. It would be best to create routine chimney maintenance, even if you seldomly use your fireplace, as it can be home to birds, squirrels, etc.

Moreover, the Chimney Safety Institute of America states that when creosote and soot build-up is evident, it’s time to clean it. An unchecked chimney can cause you further damage and pose fire threats.

How can you tell your chimney needs cleaning?

Appreciating the beauty and warmth your fireplace gives off can make you forget that it also needs chimney care. And you can only enjoy the best out of it if it’s properly taken care of. Check these signs to know if your chimney asks for a cleaning:

Oily spots

Can you see black, tar-like substances on your chimney lining? Then, that is probably creosote. When creosote starts to build up, it may hinder the airflow, which will, later on, cause a fire.

Difficulty starting a fire

Find yourself struggling to start fires in your fireplace. These two reasons could be 1) malfunctioning fireplace damper and 2) clogged chimney. Oxygen is necessary to start a fire properly, and a dirty chimney makes it harder to gather enough oxygen.

Animal nests

This is the most common sign as you can easily spot bird nests or squirrel nests. These animals may catch fire and may block airflow.

No smoke rises the chimney

If there is no smoke coming up, then creosote might be hindering it. That’s a sign that you need to clean your chimney. In some cases, smoke does not travel up a chimney due to a column of cold air in the flue.

Chimney soot falling

Chimney soot and creosote falling is a sign of build-up. It would be best if you addressed them immediately since both are dangerous for their combustible qualities.

Airflow problems

A chimney with no airflow, even when it is windy, can indicate that it needs cleaning. Fix your drafty chimney damper as soon as possible.

Unusual odors

Have you been smelling a campfire-like odor around the fireplace? That’s creosote, building up in your chimney. Like what’s mentioned above, if left neglected, it can cause a fire.

How can I maintain my chimney?

Taking care of your fireplace means you are keeping your family safe from fire and water damage. Follow these five chimney maintenance tips to fully enjoy the holiday seasons with your loved ones around the fireplace.

Tip #1: Know when to clean the chimney

No matter what sort of chimney and fireplace you have, it is essential to clean them. But, when is the best time to clean it? Your fireplace usage frequency usually determines how often you should have your chimney swept. But, if you notice 1/8″ of soot on the chimney liner, that is a sign to clean it.

Further, written above are indications that your chimney calls for cleaning.

Tip #2: Get rid of wood-burning chimneys

For more efficiency and safety, replace your wood logs with gas logs. Gas logs burn more cleanly than natural wood logs and produce less smoke while being quite efficient. Wood logs undeniably scream elegance; however, innovation has it. Gas logs have improved, making them look similar to wood logs. 

Tip #3: Chimney inspection

It is necessary to have your chimney inspected at least once a year. Like how the famous saying goes, “prevention is better than cure,” checking your chimney once a year will help you identify damage and issues. You’d be able to prevent it even before it worsens.

Tip #4: Waterproof your chimney

Apply a water sealant on the exterior of your chimney to avoid moisture from breaking in, which may result in deterioration and cracks in masonry. 

Tip #5: Install a chimney cap

Rain, snow, debris, and sleet may come falling to your chimney, and the solution to it is to install a chimney cap. In addition, it also prevents animals from intruding.

Related: Chimney Repair: How to Repair A Cracked Chimney

Need help? Ask a professional

Make sure to do the job properly; otherwise, you’d be risking yourself and your home to fire. It’s not an issue to ask for help from a professional masonry contractor for your chimney maintenance. Entrust the company with your chimney solutions because they have the knowledge and expertise for it.

Are you residing in Washington or Maryland? Hop on a call with Paragon Remodeling, and they will give you exact recommendations with your chimney.