How to clean a fireplace
It’s a niche job, but knowing how to clean a fireplace is worth it. There’s no denying that a crackling fire is a domestic pleasure, but it can be a messy business, and neglecting a dirty fireplace can lead to inefficiency, smoke stains, and an accumulation of creosote (an oily by-product of wood tar found in the chimney will) lead walls) that can pose a security risk. We therefore recommend cleaning your fireplace as regularly as possible. Not sure where to start? Just follow our step-by-step guide for tips on how to restore your fireplace to its former glory …
If you’re looking for more cleaning tips and hacks, check out our dedicated hub page as well.
How to clean a fireplace
A wood stove heats the room in this 14th century mansion
(Image credit: Brent Darby)
How you approach cleaning a fireplace largely depends on the material of the fire surround itself. Below are some tips, but keep scrolling for our step-by-step guide.
Cleaning cast iron chimneys
- Cast iron is the most common material used to make fireplaces and can usually be brought back to life where it has deteriorated.
- Protect adjacent areas before removing loose material and rust
- Use a wire brush to remove rust and loose material from the surround.
- Use a chemical rust remover if necessary.
- Following the manufacturer’s instructions, follow the metal with a black oven rust polish and buff it with a brush or soft cloth.
- Heat-resistant paint is another option.
Clean wood fireplaces
- Take care of wood edging like any other joinery.
- Polish the wood regularly with a lint-free cloth.
- Occasionally Polish.
- For cleaning, use a well-diluted cleaning solution and a cloth without soaking the wood.
- A good carpenter can generally make repairs to a wood fire border by using the lifespan on similar materials
Clean stone chimneys
- The surfaces of stone and marble can be easily damaged by household cleaners if they contain acid. Therefore invest in special accessories.
- Rust, red wine, and soot stains are a particular problem, but white paper towel soaked envelopes in distilled water can remove some stains
- If in doubt as to where the piece is valuable, consult a specialist restorer before attempting any repairs or cleaning.
- Some ‘marble’ fireplaces are in fact scagliola, a mixture of plaster of paris and aggregate that mimics marble and is easily damaged.
Use of detergents in fire environments
Always test cleaning agents on a small, inconspicuous area first and seek advice from experts if the environment is particularly old or valuable, especially if there is excessive soot deposits, red wine or rust stains.
General maintenance of the fire surround
Left to Right: Decorative tiles are a feature of many old fireplaces. In Victorian times this cast iron fireplace would have been blackened to protect the metal – a similar finish can be achieved today with Stovax Black Grate polish. It has become popular to remove cast iron chimneys that were originally blackened to reveal their true silver color – for an even finish and to remove loose material they should be wire brushed
- If layers of paint obscure decorative details on cast iron and wood fireplaces, use proprietary strippers or envelope systems that peel off.
- Stripping is always best done on site if the environment is well protected by dust protection films.
- Removing a chimney for professional stripping can damage and malfunction the chimney opening. Avoid doing this whenever possible.
- Check the firebacks for cracks. If these are minor, they can be mended with refractory cement. However, bigger problems may mean that you need to find a replacement.
- Seal the gaps between the back of the fire and the fire border with a fireproof rope or string as this will allow expansion and contraction between the surfaces.
- Tiles are a feature of many fireplaces and were originally laid in from behind. This makes it difficult to repair or replace, so you may have to decide whether to live with a damaged tile. If in doubt, let us advise you.
- If drafts enter a room through an unused chimney opening, use a chimney balloon to temporarily block the chimney.
- Want more? Follow our step-by-step guide on how to clean a fireplace.
Cleaning and maintaining a furnace
(Image credit: Colin Poole)
Maintaining a furnace is vital to ensure that the components function safely and that no combustion gases are leaking into the room.
- Make sure the door is snug, the hinges aren’t misaligned or worn, and the latch is working effectively.
- Examine the door’s fireproof seal to make sure it isn’t flattened or misshapen.
- Test the stove by lighting a small fire, closing the door, and moving a candle around the edges. If the flame is drawn towards the fire it means the seal has failed and needs to be replaced.
- When the oven is cold, brush out all of the ash and vacuum. Use a flashlight to examine the firebricks for damage and make sure the air inlets are clear.
- Clean the window with an oven glass cleaner. A window covered in soot or tar can indicate that the stove is not burning efficiently. Replace broken glass immediately.
- For more information, see our step-by-step guide on how to clean an oven.
How to clean a fireplace – step by step
You will need:
1. Prepare and sweep the room
Put on old clothes and work gloves before you start cleaning a fireplace. Move furniture, roll up carpets, and protect the floor with dusters and newspapers. Next, put empty ashes and any unburned wood or coal still in the fireplace in a bucket. Sweep the chimney clean or use a vacuum cleaner to better examine the chimney underneath.
2. Repair or refill flints
Check the insulating firebricks on the back and sides of the fireplace. Badly damaged bricks need to be replaced, but cracks and chips can be fixed with fire cement. The brick must be dry and free of dust – use a knife to push the cement into place. After a repair, you may need to light a fire to harden the cement.
3. Clean the ceramic tile surround
Clean the tiles around the surround and stove with warm soapy water – use a bristle brush or nylon cleaner. Badly broken tiles can be replaced, although cracked tiles on the stove can only be traced back to part of the history of the house.
4. Clean and replace the potting compound
An old toothbrush is useful for cleaning the potting compound. Missing grout can also be replaced (first read our tips on choosing the grout and the best adhesive). Check that the new product is suitable for surfaces that will be exposed to high temperatures and press it firmly into the grout. When you’re partially tied off, run the end of a pencil down for a neat finish. The next day, remove excess mortar with a nylon cleaner.
If you’re starting from scratch, we have a handy, step-by-step guide on how to tile a fireplace.
5. Remove really stubborn stains
If stubborn stains remain after the initial cleaning, apply a proprietary tile cleaner and allow an hour or two to remove the dirt. Scrub again with soapy water and a bristle brush. Wipe the area with a clean cloth and water. After drying, polish with a soft cotton cloth to make the tiles shine.
6. Remove candle wax deposits
Candles on the stove can look pretty, but avoid excessive buildup of wax as this can be a fire hazard. Holding a scraper at an acute angle to avoid scratching the tiles, scrape off the wax. If melted wax has gotten into the potting compound, heat it with a hair dryer and wipe the wax up with a paper towel.
Clean rusty metal with a steel brush. Then apply the black rust polish sparingly with a brush. Leave on for at least an hour for a shiny finish and then buff with a bristle brush. Caution, rust polish rubs off furniture and clothing easily, so use it sparingly. Use oven paint for a longer-lasting finish.
8. Polish the wooden fire surround
If you have wood paneling on your fireplace, you may want to clean it too. To nourish the wood and protect it from drying out from heat, rub in a high-quality beeswax polish. Let dry and polish with a soft cotton cloth. To avoid a smeared finish, always apply the polish sparingly – too much will stain the wood.