Cleaning a fireplace insert doesn't have to leave you fuming. While the task can be tricky the first time around, once you master some simple techniques, returning the insert to its original appearance won't be a problem. Regular cleaning can help you maintain a great fireplace.
About Fireplace Inserts
Fireplace inserts became red hot in the 1970s. Their popularity was fueled by the United States' first oil crisis. Back then, homeowners were told that they could save money by adding a wood burning insert into a fireplace opening. However, over time it was discovered that homeowners were not properly installing and maintaining the inserts. Faulty installation and lack of maintenance led to a rash of deadly house fires in the 1980s.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, excessive production of creosote, which is contained in the volatile flue gasses coming up the chimney, is the leading cause of fireplace insert blazes. In order to protect your home from a dangerous chimney fire, it is critical that you clean creosote deposits from your fireplace insert on a regular basis. Creosote residue contains fuel that can ignite a fire without exposure to direct flame.
Step-by-Step Tips for Cleaning a Fireplace Insert
Cleaning a fireplace insert gets easier the more often you do it. However, the process is a dirty job, which is why many homeowners hire professionals to do it for them. The downside to outsourcing the task is that chimney sweeps don't come cheap. This is especially true if they charge by the hour and you have a year's worth of baked-on creosote to remove from the insert.
It's important to clean your fireplace at least once during the winter or more often if you light fires on a daily basis. If you opt to do the job yourself, make sure you allot at least a couple hours to the task. Next, follow these simple steps to thoroughly clean your fireplace insert:
- Start by spreading out a plastic tarp or several layers of newspaper in the area that fronts the fireplace in order to keep your floor clean.
- Remove all wood, grates, and tools from in and around the fireplace.
- Use a small shovel to scoop out any ash or debris. If you maintain your fireplace regularly and you don't have a lot of large piles of dirt and dust, then simply vacuum the area in and around the fireplace using a hose attachment. Your goal is to remove as much of the loose grit as possible.
- Use a heavy-duty wire brush to scrub the inside of the fireplace. Pay special attention to removing baked-on creosote from the walls.
- Use a small wire brush, a baby bottle brush or a firm toothbrush to remove dirt and debris from the door of the insert and the hinges.
- Suck-up the loosened creosote and dirt with the vacuum.
- Mix together a teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap, a half-cup of baking soda and one gallon of warm water in a large bucket.
- Use the solution and a rag to clean the fireplace insert. Depending on how much creosote and grime have built-up, you may have to scrub vigorously to loosen the mess. Scrub the entire insert, inside and out, paying close attention to grates and vents. You may need to repeat the process with several fresh rags to remove all of the gunk.
- Have another bucket with clean water on the side. Use the water to rinse the insert after you've scrubbed it with the soap and baking soda solution.
- Thoroughly dry the insert with a clean cloth.
- Liberally spray a commercial window cleaner or white vinegar on the glass features of the fireplace insert. Wipe away any built-up grime that may have collected on the doors. If the debris is caked-on, then use a brush to work the cleaner into the glass before wiping it clean.
- Replace the grate, logs and tools, and dispose of the plastic tarp or newspapers.
This cleaning ritual should be done at least once a year, even if you only lit a fire a few times during the winter season.
Additional Cleaning Tips
If you have brass accents on your fireplace insert that need cleaning, mix together equal parts of salt and lemon juice in a bowl to create a thin paste. Next, dip a toothbrush into the mixture and rub it gently onto the dirty brass. Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes before wiping it off with a damp cloth. Then, buff the brass with a dry rag to restore the shine.
Finally, safety comes first when cleaning fireplace inserts. Remember to keep your work space well ventilated when removing dirt, dust and debris. Also, if you are asthmatic you may want to wear a mask while cleaning, or simply outsource the job. The desire to have a shiny fireplace insert should never compromise your health and well being.