A Chimney Cleaner's Discussion on How to Clean the Chimney
If the inside of the chimney flue is crumbling, damaged, and in bad shape.....or if the mortar between the bricks is loose which is usually the case, you really need to repair the damage or install a chimney liner before you clean the chimney or before you burn your next fire.
Ask yourself: Was the chimney cleaned and inspected by a professional in the last 3 years ?
If not or you're in doubt, you'll need to get it professionally serviced. However, if you have been diligent in your chimney maintenance - the job is on the messy side but relatively easy and you can clean it yourself if you not afraid of heights !
Chimney products you'll need
A bristle brush with flexible extension canes. Select a brush that is the same size and shape as the chimney flue or go slightly larger if you need to. A steel brush can be used to clean the inside of the chimney (brick, tile, or mortar) if it's not lined. But if you have a chimney liner you'll need a brush with softer bristles (polypropylene or plastic) to avoid scratching the inner material.
Next you'll need an industrial vacuum cleaner or a heavy-duty "Shop Vac", a trouble light with a long extension cord and as many flashlights as you can find.......the more light the better. Other useful and important items you'll need are: newspapers & drop clothes, a hand-held wire brush, a whisk broom, work gloves (just wear them, I used to do it with bare-hands.......now after 23 years I can't feel anything), safety goggles, and a DUST MASK. Also, wearing your favorite team cap or hood on a cold day never hurt anyone.
Getting Ready for Chimney Cleaning Day
Cleaning the chimney from the top down is really the best and easiest way to clean. Make sure you set aside a day where you won't be distracted by kids, wife, chores, etc. (the point is that you don't want any outside pressures); additionally try to pick a clear, cool day with minimal wind conditions.
When you start, close all the doors and windows in the room where your fireplace is so that the warmer inside air will flow straight up and out of the chimney as you clean. Move the smaller furniture items out of harms way like tables, lamps, and pictures (wall pictures too). For larger chairs, sofas, and entertainment centers cover them with old sheets and drop cloths. If possible, take out or roll back any area rugs next to the fireplace. If it's wall to wall carpet then again with the drop cloths and maybe some painter's tape to secure the ends (I might be the only one to use this trick...but it works). At this point spread a layer of newspapers on the fireplace floor.
Are you OK so far ?, if so go ahead and take out the damper plate by taking it off the hinges, if this becomes an issue and starts to slow you down - just open it as much as you can. Now step out and completely cover the fireplace opening with a drop cloth. If there is a mantlepiece you're lucky you can simply spread the cloth over the top and droop it down but make sure you put something heavy on top to hold it down (I like bricks...and actually keep a couple in the truck as part of my tool selection). Try to get it fairly tight around the sides, don't leave any large open gaps, and leave as much extra cloth at the bottom as you can. Next get your vacuum and while leaving it outside of the fireplace, insert the hose piece underneath the drop cloth and straight into the fireplace opening making sure that the cloth can't get sucked into the hose when you turn on it on.
Now the Chimney Cleaning Reality Begins !
Turn on the vacuum. Go outside and climb to the top of your roof with the brushes, extension canes, trouble light, and flash lights (leave any drinks or snacks for later - do not bring this stuff on the roof ). Get as close to the chimney stack as you can while standing without leaning because you'll be there for a while. Attach an extension cane - the first of a few more, to your brush and insert it into the top of the chimney. Work the brush up and down several times to clean the upper inside part of the flue. Use firm and steady strokes, but don't go too crazy fast or you'll start chipping away at the brick work - kind of the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish. Continue brushing gradually while extending the cane down as far as it can reach, when you think that section is clean - take it out and check your work with the trouble light. If you think it's cleaner then when you started, you're in good shape. If you're good - add another cane and repeat the process of brushing down, checking, and adding canes until you've cleaned your entire chimney from the top down.
Climb back down with all your stuff and return to the vacuum and shut it off. You'll need to wait an hour so for the soot to settle down. I usually make it an hour - no questions asked - on all occasions to be on the safe side, but if you feel like you pushed lots of soot and debris down while you were cleaning then wait a little longer. In any case, after the waiting period turn the vacuum back on for a few more minutes to clear the remaining mess. Listen to the sifting and clanking noises as the soot is being sucked away, when there is no more such noise you can turn the vacuum off. You have now finished cleaning the chimney !
Cleaning the Fireplace is Next
Take off the drop cloth and nicely get rid of the dirty newspapers, get the area cleaned and organized. Begin by using clean newspaper and spreading it on the floor of the fireplace. Like anything else you clean, use the hand-held wire brush, whisk broom, and vacuum....there is no specific order. Start with the smoke shelf (the area right above the damper). It's a tough area to clean but it's important even if you have to reach up there and clean it with just your "gloved" hands. A good technique for cleaning the rest of the chimney that I've tried to teach my guys - is to hold the vacuum cleaner hose in one hand and the brush in the other, brushing the soot slowly into the vacuum as you go as to not create any soot clouds. Wipe the damper plate clean, if you took it out you can put it back in now in the closed position. Move down a little and start to clean the back and sides of the fireplace. After this, guess what ? - you're done ! Just go back now and clean-up the room as you would any other day.