a black and white photo of a brick chimney

A clean chimney means you won't have to worry about a chimney fire due to creosote buildup. It's all about making sure those cosy evenings by the fire remain exactly that - cosy and safe.

Whether you’re diving into chimney cleaning for the first time or simply brushing up on your skills, here are some straightforward tips to tackle creosote buildup and ensure your chimney is in tip-top condition.

Remember, taking the initiative to clean your chimney yourself not only saves money but also gives you peace of mind, knowing that your home is safe and your fires will burn more efficiently.

Key Points

  • Cleaning your chimney yourself is cost-effective and ensures your home remains safe with efficient fires.
  • Signs that your chimney needs cleaning include difficulty starting fires, smoke backing up into your home, and visible creosote buildup.
  • Before cleaning, ensure safety by choosing calm weather, wearing protective gear, and having a partner to assist.
  • Essential tools for chimney cleaning include a chimney brush, extension rods, and a shop vacuum
  • Prepare the fireplace by sealing it and laying down protective sheeting.
  • After cleaning, inspect for damages and consider professional cleaning for heavy creosote buildup or if DIY cleaning proves insufficient.

Signs Your Chimney Needs Cleaning

Difficulty starting fires is one of the most common signs that your chimney needs cleaning. If you find yourself struggling to get a fire going or keep it lit, excess creosote buildup may be the culprit.

Smoke backing up into the house due to the bad draw is another red flag for a dirty chimney. Ideally, smoke should vent up and out of the chimney. If smoke is instead coming back down the flue and into your living space, the chimney passageway is likely blocked by debris.

Excessive creosote buildup that is visible from the fireplace is also a clear indicator that cleaning is overdue. You may see thick, sticky deposits along the walls of the chimney or dangling from the flue opening. The longer creosote remains, the greater the fire hazard.

Safety Precautions Before You Begin

Before starting any chimney cleaning project, take these essential safety precautions:

  • Schedule: Only clean your chimney when the fireplace hasn't been used for at least 24 hours. This allows adequate time for the chimney and any creosote deposits to cool completely. Attempting to clean a hot chimney could cause severe burns.
  • Weather: Choose a day without high winds or rain. Windy conditions on the roof make working with ladders and rods more dangerous. Rain also creates slippery conditions that increase your risk of falls.
  • Protective Gear: Wear sturdy gloves, goggles, long sleeves, and a respirator mask to avoid inhaling soot. Exposure to chimney soot and creosote residues can irritate the eyes and skin.
  • Work with a Partner: Having someone present to hold your ladder adds stability and safety, especially for roof work. Your partner can also assist with passing rods and other equipment up and down. We strongly recommend against cleaning a chimney alone from the roof, as the risk of injury is too high.

Tools and Supplies You'll Need

To safely and effectively clean your chimney, you'll need the following tools and supplies:

  • Chimney sweep brush: Make sure to choose a brush sized appropriately for your chimney flue. Bristle brushes work well for standard masonry chimneys.
  • Extension rods: Attach these rods to your chimney brush so you can reach the entire vertical length of the flue from the roof level. Add rods as needed.
  • Shop vacuum with hose: This is optional but highly recommended for capturing soot and creosote while sweeping. Look for a vacuum with at least a 10-foot hose.
  • Plastic sheeting or drop cloths: Cover furniture and surfaces around the fireplace opening to contain the soot and debris.
  • Flashlight: You'll need this for inspecting the flue from the roof and seeing inside the firebox. A headlamp also works well.
  • Extension ladder: Use a sturdy, non-conductive fiberglass ladder tall enough to safely reach the roof and chimney top.
  • Safety harness: For working on the roof, a harness provides critical fall protection and stability. Anchor it securely.


Before starting the cleaning process, you'll need to take a few preparatory steps:

  • Seal off the fireplace opening with plastic sheeting or a drop cloth. This prevents any soot or debris from entering your home during the cleaning process. Use painter's tape to securely seal the edges.
  • Open the damper in the fireplace. This gives you access to the flue from inside the fireplace. Make sure the damper is fully open and secured so it doesn't close accidentally while you're working.
  • Lay out drop cloths or plastic sheeting at the base of the chimney. This will catch any debris or soot that falls down the chimney as you clean it.

Roof Access and Chimney Flue Cleaning

  • Securely position the ladder on stable ground and wear a safety harness. Make sure the ladder extends at least 3 feet above the roofline. Have your partner hold the ladder steady.
  • Carefully remove the chimney cap (if present) to access the flue opening. Place the cap in a secure spot.
  • Attach the brush to the first extension rod, then lower it down the flue. Spin the brush using an up-and-down motion to scrub the flue walls. Use a drill to spin the brush for a more thorough cleaning.
  • Work in sections, adding extension rods as needed to reach the entire flue length. Scrub each section repeatedly with the brush.
  • Use a flashlight to visually inspect the flue as you work.

Cleaning the Firebox

Carefully remove the plastic sheeting from the fireplace opening to avoid spreading soot into your home. Use a small brush and dustpan to gently sweep out any large piles of ash or loose debris, and soot from the firebox floor.

Next, scrub the interior walls, floor, and ceiling of the firebox (smoke shelf). Apply pressure to break up any hardened creosote deposits. Use the pointed end of your brush to scrub inside corners and crevices.

Once you've scrubbed all surfaces, thoroughly vacuum all the loosened soot and creosote from the firebox walls and floor. Make sure to get into all the corners.

Carefully inspect the firebricks lining the floor and walls of the firebox. Use your wire chimney brush to scrub any blackened areas on the bricks. Check for any cracked or damaged firebricks and make a note to replace them. Vacuum up any brick dust or debris.

Once you're done with the cleaning, make sure to get rid of the debris the right way. Because creosote is super flammable, tossing it in with your everyday trash is out of the equation.

Instead, you'll want to check in with your local waste management services to see how they handle hazardous materials. Many places have specific rules for disposing of stuff like creosote, so it's worth giving them a call or looking up their guidelines online.

In some cases, they might direct you to a designated drop-off spot or even have special collection days.

Advanced Cleaning Methods

Professional Chimney Cleaning

For chimneys with excessive creosote buildup or other issues like damage or blockages, professional cleaning may be the best option. Certified chimney sweeps have specialized tools and high-powered vacuums to thoroughly clean your entire system.

They can also fully inspect the chimney and make repairs. This gives peace of mind but comes at a higher cost than DIY methods. Consider professional cleaning once a year or if DIY methods are not getting the job done.

Inspection and Maintenance

After cleaning, it's important to visually inspect the flue and firebox for any cracks, damage, or loose mortar that may need repair or replacement. Use a flashlight to illuminate the entire area. Any major damage should be addressed before using your fireplace again.

You'll also want to schedule regular professional inspections and cleanings, especially if you use your fireplace frequently or burn wood. It’s recommended to have your chimney swept by a certified chimney sweep at least once per year to prevent dangerous chimney fires. A professional can detect issues you might miss and provide expert maintenance.

Final Remarks

Cleaning your chimney might seem like a daunting task, but with the right approach and tools, it's totally doable. However, it's preferable that you hire a professional, qualified chimney sweep for this task. Many household insurance policies require a certificate of chimney sweeping for homes with working chimneys to remain valid.

These certificates can only be issued by sweepers backed by an official chimney sweeping association, such as the Institute Of Chimney Sweeps. Attempting to sweep the chimney yourself may not fulfill these requirements and could potentially invalidate your insurance.

For more detailed guides on chimney regulations, sizing charts, and troubleshooting tips like addressing bad chimney draw, visit our Tips page. Equip yourself with the knowledge to ensure your chimney meets standards and performs at its best