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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Robot vacuum pros and cons

Matt and Baxter watching the Neato botvac

My vacuum sagas are well-documented on this blog. There was the debate about whether we should get a Dyson. Then we answered that question when we went with Sebo. Most recently, I realized that no matter what kind of vacuum we have, I don’t want to push it around, so I started musing about robot vacuums.

Well, we have entered a new chapter in vacuum-dom. The robot era. That’s right. We took the plunge and bought a robot vacuum.

It’s been magical.

I don’t think our floors have ever been this clean.

The other weekend, we started the vacuum and then went out to cut the grass. We did two chores at once. On Friday, as Bax and I headed out for the day, I turned on the vacuum. I wasn’t even home, and my house was being cleaned. Magic.

When I’m home, I have so many things that I want to do/feel like I have to do that I wish I could be in two places at once. Now I basically can be.

We purchased the Neato Botvac D80–and yes, we purchased it. This is not a sponsored post. My sister has this vacuum and she loves it. She had done a lot of research to figure out which vacuum to go with and I trust her judgment, so I didn’t launch my own investigation.

Obviously, Neato is a hit, but I thought it might be helpful to delve a bit more into what works and, let’s be honest here, what doesn’t. Because as wonderful as Neato is, he does have a few shortcomings.

Likes

Horseshoe shape. I feel like this allows him to get into corners and get close to furniture. At the same time, his round back end allows him to escape if he’s in too tight of a space.

His strength. Neato is a strong little guy. We have thresholds at the doorway to each bedroom, and he bumps up and over them with no issue. The first time we put him to work, he climbed up onto the track of the patio door in the kitchen. Bumps and uneven floors are no problem.

Personality. This may seem silly, but Neato has been programmed as a “being.” He says, “Please clean my brush” rather than just “please clean brush.” I like that he has some personality and is not just a machine. (And this obviously fits in with the other furniture and equipment in our house that also has names, exhibit A, Wiley the tractor).

 

Neato D80 display screen

Easy to work. Neato has two buttons. That’s it. Push the Home button and he goes to work. Push the spot clean button and he does the four-foot square area in front of him. The display screen tells us what he’s doing (it’s a bit small, so the type may be hard to read for some people). The filter pulls out easily for cleaning, as do the brushes.

He works on multiple floor surfaces. Upstairs we have wood floors with the occasional rug. Downstairs we have mostly carpet, with vinyl sheet flooring in the laundry room and tile in Matt’s bathroom. Neato cleans each of them equally well and transitions between wood and rugs without effort.

He does a good job. Neato is persistent and goes under furniture, around chairs and into all of the nooks and crannies that he can fit into. These are areas where I will half-heartedly swipe the vacuum–if I bother at all.

Shortcomings

Neato is not speedy. He moves relatively cautiously and takes a little while to work the perimeter of the room before doing the centre. Since I’m not doing it, I don’t mind. He can take as long as he wants.

Neato needs a break. Even fully charged, Neato can’t finish either the basement or the whole first floor in one shot. Whether upstairs or down, he needs a break just over halfway through. He goes back to his base, recharges, and then goes back to where he left off. (Isn’t that so neat?) Again, this extends the cleaning time slightly.

Small dirt bin. Neato is not a big dude. The dirt bin has to be emptied after every cleaning session (not the half session I mentioned above). In fact, the first time he vacuumed the basement, the dirt bin was overflowing with dog hair (don’t judge me). Now that we’re vacuuming more frequently, the floors aren’t as dirty. But I still don’t think we could do two rounds without emptying the bin. However, there are no bags to deal with. It’s easy to pop out the bin, open the filter, dump the dust and hair, and close everything back up.

Dirt bin on the Neato botvac

I don’t understand him. Neato’s programming is pretty impressive. I don’t know how he does what he does. But his progress or his thinking is computer, not human. At the end of vacuuming, he says, I’m going back to my base–and then he heads in the opposite direction from his base. He shortly turns around and goes in the right direction, but the algorithm or whatever it is that drives him doesn’t make sense to me. Again, I can let this go, because whatever he’s doing is working for him.

You have to tidy up. Before setting Neato loose, Matt and I do a quick run around the house to pick up anything that might be on the floor, like shoes or dog toys or cords. If I’m vacuuming myself, I do this as I go, just tossing things out of my way. Neato takes a little more planning or preparation.

Neato has gotten stuck. Before getting a robot vacuum, one of the complaints I heard was that they get stuck. Neato hasn’t gotten stuck yet under furniture, but he has gotten stuck a few times on cords and once on the laundry room rug. I’ve now coiled up cords so that he can cruise under them, or tucked them under furniture, so that they don’t interfere with Neato. The laundry room rug gets rolled up and set on top of the dryer until Neato is done.

He doesn’t do stairs or walls. My sister laughed at me the first time she came over after we got Neato because the floors upstairs and down were pristine and the stairs were a mess. Likewise, those pesky cobwebs that form in the corners of the ceiling aren’t on Neato’s radar at all. So I still have to drag out Sebo to handle a few other areas.

Price. Neato is not cheap. After investing as much as we did in Sebo, I was very reluctant to spend just as much on a second vacuum.

Neato D80 vacuum

In the end, Neato has one benefit that outweighs everything. I don’t have to do the vacuuming anymore. That is a massive, magical win.

Who handles vacuuming at your house? Have you considered getting a robot vacuum? Does anyone else struggle with staying on top of the vacuuming? Or do you enjoy vacuuming?

Looking for robot vacuum recommendations

Vacuums are sucking up a lot of my thoughts these days. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist).

After much debate, we bought a Sebo canister vac several years ago, which works very well–when I use it.

I’m just not good at vacuuming, people. I don’t mean it’s beyond my ability. It’s just beyond my desire. There are approximately 8 million other things I’d rather do than vacuum.

So that means that dog hair, farm dirt, project dust (actual sawdust this week) accumulate. Our floors are regularly a disaster.

I long for a robot vacuum, but our Sebo was expensive. I feel like I can’t justify spending a not insignificant amount of money on another vacuum just because I’m lazy.

But then the universe started talking to me, sending me signs.

My sister got a Neato Robotics Botvac. (Isn’t that a great name?) And she loves it.

Neato Robotics Botvac

When I was at her house the other week, I spent some time following the vacuum around, watching it navigate the room and throwing things in front of it just to watch it pick them up. It did. (Aren’t I an amazing guest? You totally want me to come to your house, don’t you?)

John and Sherry at Young House Love talked about how their Roomba didn’t live up to their expectations in a recent podcast.

And then Thalita at The Learner Observer posted about her crumb-fighting, dog-hair-sucking sidekick bObi.

So I’m putting it out there to the universe. Anyone have any opinions on robot vacuums? Any recommendations on one that can handle an incredibly sheddy dog as well as farm dirt and a household under near constant renovation? Is it worth the investment? What chores do you struggle with?

How to clean a stainless steel sink

Whoever coined the term “stainless steel” was stretching a wee bit, in my humble opinion. Or else he never lived in the country. Here at the farm, where our water flows through a chemistry set before it ever reaches the taps, stainless steel is definitely not stainless.

Behold the laundry room sink.

How to clean a stainless steel sink (before)

Now, I will admit that I wash more paintbrushes than laundry in this sink. However, beyond the paint spatters, there are watermarks, film and just a general dullness.

In my sparkly new laundry room, this would not do.

I tried various methods to clean it.

Every cleanser I own. Nope.

Every cleanser I own with lotsa, lotsa elbow grease. Nope.

Pinterest remedies like a vinegar-soaked paper towel wrap. Nope.

How to clean a stainless steel sink

Nothing could break through the dullness and bring back the shine.

Then, about a year ago, I saw a tweet from Jordana at White Cabana mentioning Universal Stone. I bought it mainly for my silver, which it polished fairly well. However, as I read the back of the container, one phrase jumped out at me: “stainless steel.”

Might as well give it a try.

Using Universal Stone to clean a stainless steel sink

Gentle readers, the clouds parted, the seas calmed, the heavens shone… and so did my sink. There’s even a reflection!

How to clean a stainless steel sink

Turns out my so-called “stainless” steel sink had some kind of tarnish on it.

How to clean a stainless steel sink

It still took lotsa elbow grease, and the finish still isn’t perfect, but it’s a heckuva lot better than it was before. Oh, and I still don’t believe in stainless steel.

Do you believe in stainless steel? Any cleaning tips to share? Who else washes more paint brushes than laundry?

And a disclaimer: The Universal Stone people have no idea who I am. I bought my own Universal Stone with my own money.