Fireplace or wood burner cleaning may not be your favourite job, but it is necessary to keep them working effectively and safely, and looking their best.
Prevention is better than cure
The best way to minimise the requirement for cleaning is to burn fuels that generate less soot and tar. Hardwoods such as oak, ash, alder and birch are best, especially if they are kiln dried. With these logs you will find that all that is left is a fine powdery ash that is much easier to dispose of than the sticky soot and tar that is left behind after burning damp or low-quality wood.
It might seem obvious, but if you have recently had a fire, make sure that the entire area has cooled down before you start to clean. Some components can still be very hot long after a fire has died down. It is a good idea to put down dust sheets as no matter how careful you are, you will inevitably kick up some ash that can really soil a carpet.
Cleaning a fireplace
Most fireplaces will have removable metal pieces like the grate and fret that can be taken to the kitchen to be scrubbed clean with soap and water. Avoid getting the firebox wet as it is much easier to clean when it is dry. The next step is to dislodge and remove ash from the firebox compartment and flue. A hand-held paint scraper is ideal for this, or a fireplace shovel will do an excellent job. Carefully sweep up the ash and debris that you have dislodged before returning the metal parts.
Cleaning a wood burner
Most wood burners have a fixed grill at the base of the main firebox compartment through which the ash falls into a removable ash tray. You should remove this tray very carefully, especially if it is very full. If the ash is still the slightest bit warm you should never tip it into a plastic rubbish bin as this could easily catch fire. If you have one, depositing the ash directly onto an outside compost heap is the safest and most environmentally friendly method of disposal. A metal bucket is the next best thing, which can then be tipped into your green waste container when the ash has cooled completely.
Before returning the empty tray, use a dust pan and brush or a vacuum cleaner to remove any excess ash in the main compartment of the burner and surrounding area.
How to clean wood burner glass
Nothing ruins the look of a wood burner more than the unsightly black stains that form on the glass front. As mentioned above, this tar build-up is primarily caused by burning low quality logs that have a high moisture and sap content. The longer you leave it the more the glass will become discoloured, eventually blocking your view of the logs slowly being reduced to embers.
If the stains are not too bad all you will need is some old newspaper splashed with water that is gently dipped in some ash residue and then rubbed on the glass in a circular motion. The combination of ash and newspaper works as a mild abrasive and you will be surprised how effective it can be.
If that doesn’t quite do it then you could try a commercial oven cleaning product. These usually contain powerful chemicals so be sure to follow the instructions carefully. You would usually spray the product onto the glass, leave for a few minutes and then wipe with a sponge. Don’t use an abrasive material like a metal pot scourer or razor blade, as these will leave scratches in the glass that will collect dirt.
Cleaning a fireplace surround
Marble or metal fireplace surrounds can be sprayed with standard household cleaning products and then wiped clean. Real stone surrounds need a bit more attention as the rough surface holds onto dirt a bit more stubbornly. Spray on a bit of kitchen cleaner with a degreasing agent, and then scrub with a stiff bristled brush. Wipe off with a sponge and your surround will be looking like new.
When to call in the experts
Even if you stay on top of your cleaning, we would recommend getting a professional clean and service at least every year, ideally in the Autumn before you start using your fireplace or wood burner. A chimney sweep will have the skills and specialist equipment to reach up into your flue and chimney to remove detritus caused by soot build up or even nesting birds. In the UK, jackdaws in particular are well known for building their large messy nests in chimneys during the summer, which can come as a nasty surprise when you light your first fire of the season!