Does your home have a wood-burning fireplace? When compared to natural gas fireplaces, wood-burning fireplaces offer several advantages. They are safer to use, produce more heat, offer a pleasant aroma and crackling sound, and they promote a more relaxing environment. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, though, you'll need to clean it. Otherwise, it will accumulate ash, soot and other debris. Below are 10 tips on how to clean and maintain your wood-burning fireplace.
#1) Sweep Out Ashes Once Cool
Wood-burning fireplaces produce ashes as a byproduct. As wood burns, some of its organic and inorganic compounds will linger behind in the form of ash. With that said, you shouldn't attempt to remove ash immediately after the fire has burned out. To protect against burns, as well as damage to your home, wait until the ash is completely cool to sweep it out. You can then scoop up the ashes and dispose of them in a metal container. Alternatively, you can save the ash to use in your garden.
#2) Check for Soot
It's a good idea to check your fireplace, especially the flue, for signs of soot buildup on a regular basis. Soot has a powdery texture that's softer than creosote. As a result, it can make its way into hard-to-reach cracks and crevices of your fireplace. If you discover soot buildup inside your fireplace, scrub it off with a brush and some vinegar. Vinegar offers a nontoxic and effective way to clean soot. Its acidic properties help to loosen soot so that it's easier to remove.
#3) Burn Dry Firewood
The golden rule of using a wood-burning fireplace is to only burn dry firewood. Burning wet or moist wood is never a good idea. Even if you're able to light it -- which can be extremely difficult -- it won't produce much heat. Wet and moist wood doesn't burn efficiently, resulting in less heat and a shorter burn time. Furthermore, if the wood contains too much moisture, it will produce soot and creosote when burned that sticks to the interior of your fireplace and its flue.
To keep your fireplace clean, burn dry firewood, such as kiln dried firewood. Kiln dried firewood is prized for its low moisture content. When firewood is kiln dried, it's processed in a heating oven, known as a kiln, where the moisture is literally baked out of it. Whether it's oak, hickory or any other hardwood variety, kiln dried firewood is the perfect source of fuel for your wood-burning fireplace. It's easy to light, and because of its low moisture content, it will won't contribute to soot or creosote buildup.
#4) Avoid Starting Fires With Paper
Avoid the temptation of starting your fireplace with paper. Whether it's a piece of newspaper, computer paper or a page torn out of an old magazine, you shouldn't burn paper in your fireplace. Paper doesn't burn as well as wood. Granted, it's easy to light, but it leaves behind a lot of ash once burned. For a clean fireplace, don't use paper. Instead, use a natural fire starter, such as tinder and kindling, in conjunction with kiln-dried firewood. If the wood is dry, it should easily light with nothing more than some tinder and kindling.
#5) Close the Screen When Using Your Fireplace
When using your fireplace, shut the screen closed to reduce the risk of hot embers landing on your carpet. Also known as a fire screen sheet, a fireplace screen is a tall and flat panel that's used to cover the front of a fireplace. They are used to contain the fire's embers. Fireplace screens are made of a heat-resistant material, such as metal or glass. They don't completely cover the front of a fireplace. Instead, they typically feature a semi-permeable design that allows for the passage of heat. By closing the screen when using your fireplace, hot embers are less likely to damage the carpet and surrounding space.
#6) Clean the Screen
Of course, you may need to clean your fireplace's screen as well. Over time, fireplace screens will develop smoke stains. This is particularly true for glass fireplace screens. The smoke will settle on the surface of the glass, creating unsightly black stains. You can restore a smoke-stained fireplace screen back to its original appearance, however, by cleaning it. Just spray an ammonia-based glass cleaner on your fireplace screen and wipe it down with a few paper towels. For a metal fireplace screen, use warm water and some gentle dish soap.
#7) Sweep the Outer Hearth
The outer hearth of your fireplace will likely accumulate ashes if not regularly swept. All fireplaces have an inner and outer hearth. The inner heart is the area inside the firebox where the fire is contained, whereas the outer hearth is the area outside the firebox that extends into the accompanying room. Using a screen can help protect the outer hearth from ashes, as well as embers, but you'll still need to sweep the outer hearth regularly.
#8) Vacuum Around the Outer Hearth
The outer hearth is designed to catch any ash or embers that escape the firebox, but it's not a foolproof solution. If you build large fires, or if you don't clean the firebox, ash may land on the carpet around the outer hearth. Some homeowners make the mistake of trying to clean ash out of carpet by scrubbing it. The problem with scrubbing is that it digs the ash deeper into the carpet, which can lead to permanent stains that are nearly impossible to remove. An easier and more effective way to clean ash out of carpet is to vacuum it. Just run over the ash with a suction-powered vacuum cleaner to "pull" out the ash.
#9) Allow Fires to Burn Out Naturally
Rather than extinguishing your fires with water, allow them to burn out naturally. Pouring water -- even small amounts of water -- into a fireplace is never a good idea. While it will probably extinguish the fire with minimal effort, water will mix with the ash to create a thick, sludge-like paste. As the water mixes with the ash, it forms a paste that sticks to the walls and floor of the firebox. Furthermore, water contributes to rust and corrosion. If your fireplace screen or any other components are made of metal, water may cause them to rust or corrode. Rather than extinguishing your fires with water, allow them to burn out naturally.
#10) Spot Clean Brick
The brick encompassing your fireplace may develop smoke stains. You can easily clean these smoke stains, however, using a solution of diluted vinegar. Mix equal parts distilled white vinegar and water into a spray bottle. Next, spray the diluted vinegar onto the stained brick. After allowing the diluted vinegar to soak into the brick for at least 10 minutes, you can proceed to scrub it. If the stain persists, you can try cleaning the brick with a cream of tarter paste. Also known as potassium hydrogen tartrate, cream of tartar, it's highly effective at cleaning brick.
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