Fall Is the Time to Clean Your Wood Stove and Fireplace

As fall brings in cooler temperatures, many of us think about starting up our wood stoves and using our fireplaces again.

Before you begin, it’s best to clean your wood stove and fireplace, and not just because some dust might have collected. Burning wood can cause a building of soot and creosote, which is the term for tar distilled from wood. This buildup not can limit the efficiency of your stove or fireplace, it also impairs the ventilation of smoke and other harmful gases like carbon monoxide. Plus, it can be a fire hazard. If you didn’t clean it all out at the end of the winter, now is the time to do it.

Here are some basic tips for cleaning wood stoves and fireplaces.

Before you clean. Place a drop cloth or tarp over any nearby furniture or carpeting. Wear clothes that can get dirty. Have a flashlight handy and wear a face mask to avoid inhaling any harmful dust. Make sure you have the right tools: a stiff brush, a metal scraper, an ash bucket, and a shovel, at a minimum. Finally, make sure the wood stove is cold to the touch. Likewise, make sure the fireplace has cooled down. Wait at least 12 hours, but even a day if necessary, after your last fire.

Clear out the firebox. For both wood stoves and fireplaces, shovel out the ashes and declutter the firebox (the term for the area where the wood is actually burnt). Wood stoves also have ash pans under the firebox, so make sure you empty that as well. Letting this overflow will impact airflow and could damage the grate. Use a metal dust pan or container, not plastic bags, as latent heat in the ashes and debris could burn through plastic.

Clean the inside. Now you are ready to clean the inside of the wood stove or fireplace.  

  • For wood stoves. Use the brush to remove ashes and other debris. For stubborn creosote, the metal scraper may be necessary.
  • For fireplaces. Use your brush, going from top to bottom, to eliminate ash and creosote. One trick is to spray some water on the inside and let it sit for a few minutes to loosen the soot before you attempt to remove it. After you’ve brushed away the easy stuff, clean the soot-stained bricks by applying a mixture of warm water and baking soda with a stiff brush. Do five by five bricks at a time and then rinse with a wet sponge (source: The Maids). For other cleaning solution ideas see Bob Vila and Merry Maids.

Make the glass door sparkle. Not only will this make your wood stove and fireplace look better, it also will allow you to see what’s on inside it, always a bonus when you’re burning things. Any standard commercial glass cleaner will work. If you don’t have one, make your own by mixing a bit of ammonia into water. An environmentally-friendly alternative is using wet newspaper and ash. For any cleaning-resistant tar stains you may need to use a glass scraper. For more detailed instructions on cleaning your wood stove see Humber Imports, WoodPellets.com, and Morning Chores. For guidelines on fireplaces see HGTV.com, Bob Vila, Merry Maids, and The Maids.