How we cleaned our chimney ourselves

Alternate title for this post “That time Matt’s Dad didn’t suffocate and fall off our roof.”

If you’ve been reading along here for any length of time, you know how much we enjoy our wood-burning fireplace and have fires nightly as soon as the weather turns cold.

It’s been three years since the fireplace was rebuilt and over that time we’ve never cleaned the chimney.

Before we fired anything up this year, I knew I wanted to address that.

Red brick chimney

Our go-to was Matt’s Dad. He heats his entire house with wood and cuts and splits all his own firewood. He’s our resource for all things fire.

He initially suggested dropping a heavy chain down the chimney and using it to knock off the soot. I was skeptical, but after a quick online search it seemed like that was a legit method of cleaning a chimney. However, consensus seemed to be that a brush was a more legit method.

Onto my Dad. I was pretty sure I remembered seeing a chimney brush and poles up in the rafters of the garage. After spending some time on a ladder peering around the garage, I found the poles but no brush.

So onto the store. I found a brush that I thought would probably fit our chimney and brought it to my parents’ house to try it on their poles. They didn’t fit together.

Back to the store, where I bought a handful of poles guessing at how many might be needed to reach the full length of the chimney.

Chimney brush in front of the hearth

Once we had the equipment, we needed to prep the inside of the house. I cleaned out the hearth, opened the damper and then covered the mouth of the fireplace to prevent dust from coming into the house.

Covering the fireplace to prevent dust during chimney sweeping

Covering the fireplace to prevent dust during chimney sweeping

Then it was onto Dick Van Dyke Matt and his Dad. (I asked for a Mary Poppins rooftop routine, but they were not in the mood. Although Matt did give me a strong man demonstration.)

Matt goofing around while cleaning the chimney

They popped the cap off the chimney and took a look.

Taking the cap off the top of the chimney

The chimney wasn’t too dirty. You can see the flakes of soot on the flue.

Soot on the inside of the chimney flue

They screwed the brush onto the first pole and got ready to sweep.

Chimney cleaning brush

Then this is where the suffocation comes in. Before he stuck the brush down the chimney, Matt’s Dad stuck his head in a large plastic bag–probably one that has a suffocation warning printed on it.

Cleaning the chimney

When he cleans his own chimney, my FIL does it from a ladder, which doesn’t give him much maneuverability. Therefore, there have been times where the wind has blown soot back in his face. The plastic helps to protect him from getting entirely dirty. On our roof, they could move around to avoid the wind if necessary.

The next stage was–to quote Matt–“dunk and scrub.” (My husband loves his movie references… although the line is actually “plunge and scrub,” but my darling husband maintains that “dunk” sounds better than “plunge”… or at least it does in his version of an Irish accent.)

My FIL dunked plunged the brush up and down in the chimney until the soot was removed. As he reached the end of one pole, he and Matt screwed on another section.

Attaching chimney sweeping poles together

Once they’d done the full length of the chimney, that was all there was to it. They put the cap back on top, came inside and pulled the plastic off the opening, swept the wee bit of dust out of the hearth, and we were ready for a fire.

Logs burning in the fireplace

Cleaning the chimney turned out to be pretty easy (so says the woman on the ground… but seriously, I know I could do it and you can too). I’m very grateful to Matt and his Dad for their work.

Here are my tips to clean your chimney yourself.

  1. Find a brush that fits your chimney. Our chimney has a 12 inch square flue. Most of the brushes I found in different stores were smaller and round. That works for my FIL’s woodstove, but not for our masonry chimney. Eventually, I found a brush that was an 8-inch by 12-inch rectangle. Even though it wasn’t the 12 by 12 that I originally had in mind, Matt’s Dad said that it worked very well.
  2. Buy extra poles. It turns out that two poles and a long arm (to quote Matt’s Dad) are enough to do our whole chimney. I bought five because I did not want to come up short. I’ll be returning the other three.
  3. Lubricate your poles. The poles screw together so that the handle of your brush gets progressively longer as you proceed down the chimney. Before he went up on the roof, Matt’s Dad gave the threads a shot of WD40 to ensure they’d easily screw and unscrew this year and for the years to come.
  4. Cover up inside. Tape a sheet of plastic over your fireplace opening. If you have doors on your fireplace, this step may not be necessary. With our open hearth, there was a good chance that soot and dust dislodged during cleaning would float into the living room. Covering the opening with plywood or plastic helps to contain the mess in the fireplace, where you can sweep it up later.
  5. Dunk and scrub (or plunge). Jostle your brush up and down inside the chimney. Be relatively vigorous–you want to knock off all the soot–but a bit gentle–you don’t want to damage your chimney.
  6. Watch which way the wind blows. It’s probably not necessary to don a plastic hood and face shield à la Matt’s Dad. However, chimney cleaning is a dirty job (another Mary Poppins clip, anyone?), so wear old clothes or coveralls, gloves and try to choose an angle where you won’t have soot blowing in your face.
  7. Do this yourself. Chimney cleaning is an easy DIY. It took about a half hour start to finish and in total our investment in the brush and the poles is less than $100. We’ll have the equipment for years. We didn’t get a professional quote on cleaning the chimney, but I’m certain that we would have spent more than $100 if we’d hired this out.

Now we can enjoy the fireplace, confident that it’s safe and clean.

How we cleaned our chimney ourselves

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10 thoughts on “How we cleaned our chimney ourselves

  1. I’ve always wanted a fireplace in our house. When I was in 3rd grade my parents bought the house they currently live in and it had a beautiful 3 sided fireplace. Mom feared fires so she had it inspected. She was told that since it had not been cleaned in many, many years, they did not recommend using it. That was enough for my mom so we never had a fire in it. To think the previous owner could have solved that in 30 minutes, once a year!

    I’ve told Steve, one day I will have a usable fireplace! 🙂

    • A usable fireplace was always my goal for my forever house. It’s definitely something we enjoy. And maintenance is not a big deal at all.

      I wonder if your Mom’s fireplace is fixable. If it’s just dirty, but still structurally sound, I feel like a good professional cleaning should be possible. But it doesn’t sound like she feels the same about fires as you and me!

      • Well, this really got me thinking…so I asked again. Apparently my 8 year old brain only remembered part of the story. Imagine that! 🙂 Dad said that the chimney wasn’t built correctly in the first place. The original owner used it that way, and as far as we know never had a problem but my mom was scared of it. They have lived there 32 years and at some point when they needed a new roof they had the top of the chimney removed. If they had really desired a fireplace they could have had a “sleeve” installed in the chimney to make it usable.

      • Ah. That sound somewhat similar to what we faced here. I’m not clear on all of the issues, but the words sleeve and incorrectly were part of the explanation… and our reason for rebuilding.

        If the top of the chimney is gone (and the roof is over top) it sounds like that’s a done deal. It’s up to you now, Sarah!

  2. When I was a kid, my father decided to clean the chimney in our old house. It ran from a clean-out in the basement up through two full stories and an attic. My father bundled up one of his old coats, tied two ropes to it, and got up on the roof. My mother was in the basement at the clean-out. Dad dropped the rope down, and my mother pulled the old coat down through the chimney. God-knows how many years of soot and creosote came tumbling down the chimney and it all blew out into my mother’s face. My father then pulled the coat back up to the top, and another blast of dirt showered out onto my mother. She was not impressed and my father never talked her into cleaning the chimney again.

  3. What a great post! I love your DIY attitude – you guys are intrepid! I also love the Dick Van Dyke clips – he is my favourite. 😁 Too bad Matt and his dad wouldn’t oblige with a brush-and-pole routine, that would have been well worth watching.
    Enjoy your lovely fires!

    • Now you have me picturing Matt and his Dad actually “stepping in time.” When I shouted my request at them, I didn’t think what it would actually look like! It would have been worth watching, but I’m sure I would have been cringing as well!

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