Clean Chimney

Chimney Sweeping – Clean Your Own Chimney

A clean chimney. It’s a big Fire Risk Reduction.

Guest article by Bogan

“An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure” comes to mind when thinking about cleaning your chimney.

What is at stake?  No matter what kind of wood you burn, or how well you cure it before burning, an unswept chimney WILL accumulate at least some creosote buildup and has a risk of catching fire and burning your house down.   The “cure” in a worst-case scenario?  A new house.  No thanks!  

This is a serious matter.

Balance that against the cost of having it serviced professionally:  A couple hundred bucks at most.  And it should be done at least annually if not more often.  Many would consider the safety tradeoff of the dollars well spent. 

Clean Your Own Chimney

However, this article is not about how to hire a trained chimney sweep to clean the chimney, it’s about how to handle the situation yourself, how to clean a chimney if or when a professional is not available. 

In a grid down situation, DIY is the only way in which the job will get done.  And it has to get done, if you are burning wood for warmth or for cooking unless you just enjoy living dangerously.

This article will address a few basic considerations for cleaning a chimney yourself, although there are many additional considerations too. 

Cleaning a Chimney “Top down” or “Bottom up”? 

The two basic positions to cleaning a chimney require you to either be on the roof and cleaning the chimney from the top downward “top down”.  Or at the hearth (or stove) level and cleaning upward toward the peak of the chimney from there: i.e. “bottom up”.  

I am not comfortable going onto the roof so use the bottom up approach, YMMV.

Manual or Electric (Drill attached) Chimney Brush

The basic options are whether your chimney “brush” will be hand operated (no mechanical assistance) or be attached to a drill. 

The simplest of these two is hand operated.  It involves selecting the right size brush, and then screwing it into a series of extension rods depending on the length of your chimney.  You insert the brush into the chimney and work it vigorously up and down as you go, adding extension rod sections as you work your way along the length of the chimney.

I use something like this:

Rutland Fiberglass Brush Rod Kit
(view on amzn)

A little higher tech is the drill-mounted option:   This reminds me of a weed-whacker, only for your chimney. 

Basically it is an end piece from which protrudes … what looks like trimmer string!

As with the hand operated system, you attach the weed-wacker style head to sections of flexible fiberglass rod, and then to your drill (I use a cordless drill but a plug in type drill might work even better because of the torque). Then enthusiastically wave it around and up and down as you work the spinning head along the length of the chimney. 

Chimney Sweep Kit for Drill
(amzn)  

As to which one to select.  I must confess to preferring the drill-mounted one, but use both. 

Mostly I use the drill mounted one, 2-3 times a year – it only takes a few minutes.  Remember this: in a grid-down situation electricity might not be available, leaving only one real option – the manual one.

Soooooo….it’s worth it to me to have both.  The money spent on these….combined….is less than I would pay for a single event professional service anyway.

What Brush Size For Chimney Sweep?

For a manual system you need to size your brush to the chimney flue.  Standard sizes are 4”, 6” and 8”.

Rutland 4-Inch Poly Cleaning Brush
(amzn)

Rutland 6-Inch Poly Cleaning Brush

Rutland 8-Inch Poly Cleaning Brush

Options also include square and round.  Get the right shape and size:  Too big and it won’t fit; too small and its useless. If you are a gun owner you know that trying to clean your .30-06 bore with a .22 brush is not going to accomplish much. 

So take the time now….while you can… to figure out the right size and get it in hand.

For the drill mounted system, one size fits all.

What other equipment might I need to clean my own chimney?

You’ll want to clean your hearth before and after cleaning your chimney so I recommend the following:

  • Fireplace suitable shovel for the ashes
  • Hand broom
  • Metal bucket (I use a made in USA Pail)
  • Drop cloths for around the fireplace and to cover nearby furniture.  (I use inexpensive small plastic tarps, as cotton drop cloths retain the ash and soot when I’m trying to shake it off.  The ash and soot just seem to flow off the plastic tarps into the pail I use)
  • Vanity mirror – 4-6” size. To peer up the chimney as needed without putting a crick in your neck! (I concede to using a ladies makeup mirror from the dollar store)

Creosote Buster
(amzn)

HOW DO YOU PLAN TO HANDLE YOUR CHIMNEY WHEN THE SHTF?

[ Read: Fireplace Reflectors Improve Wood Burning Heat Efficiency ]

[ Read: Chimney Fire: Wood Stove & Fireplace Safety ]

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13 Comments

  1. Important issue Ken,
    I’m a manual brush guy. My roof isn’t too steep and it’s not a big deal to climb up there. The screw-together rods are really nice, but you don’t have to go that way $$$$. I utilize 1/2″ schedule 40 pvc for a handle. Cheap glue-on fittings if ya need sections. Yes, I’ve broken a few fittings through the years. Easily repaired and not a big deal. Just an inexpensive alternative for those of us with tight budgets.
    I used the old metal brushes for many years until I tried a plastic one. I was skeptical of the plastic, but I’m now convinced. It’s better. Last winter was a dandy. Ice and snow for a long stretch. Didn’t want to get on the roof in those conditions. I fashioned a hinged wooden handle made from 2″x2″ lumber with the brush attached. Cleaned it from inside the house. Just make each wooden section as long as possible from the floor to the “tee.” Make as many hinged sections as ya need.
    It’s quicker/cleaner/handier to run the brush down from the top (pvc handle). I did store the hinged contraption for future use if needed. Every stove is different, so what works for one may not work for another. I’m a BIG proponent for cleaning the chimney(s) often. I DO NOT want to burn my house down. It only takes a few minutes. Makes for good sleeping and better drawing stoves.
    I also fashioned a metal 5 gallon bucket with a lid cut to fit around the “tee.” Almost zero mess. It all goes into the bucket. Clean your chimney. I keep replacement single wall pipe, here at the house. It lasts a long time, but it will wear out, eventually.

  2. Our roof it 12/12 metal roof, 2 story, it is not for the faint of heart. Some pros swept our chimney this year, from the bottom up using a “viper” it’s a giant coil the un-rolls as you go up. Turns out they are on Amazon for just a little more than what they charged. They actually used a drone to check the top lol wood stove works much better now. I’ll be buying the viper next year though

    1. Charles, as in Chuck Finley?

      How the heck are you?

      Yep, my roof is a 12/12 pitch, 2 story.
      I gave up on climbing the roof top several years ago.
      I unscrew the pipe screw and clean from the bottom up, using 6 foot screw type connecting rods and a plastic 6″ brush.
      Makes a heck of a mess, but cheaper than a falling off the roof/ladder medical bill or death.

      I’ll burn a creosote log twice a heating season.
      All straight pipe, double wall, with no elbows.

      1. Also, if a person has a blower fan unit installed in their pipe, pay attention to the creosote build up on that. It collects there just as bad, if not worse than your chimney.

  3. there are three old brothers who live in our area. crazy old country boys, good as gold, you know the type. every year they will get up on the roof and drop two or three live yard chickens down their chimney to clean it. they keep their firewood stacked in the hall bath tub. to know em is to love em.

  4. I have a woodstove with a 6-inch steel chimney pipe. It is in the walkout basement, so it is 2 stories high on that side of the house. I was told that steel on steel causes scratches and scratches allow more/quicker soot to build up, so I bought a plastic/polymer brush.

    I have always gone on the roof, and I usually find I have more soot built on the cap with the screen to keep the birds out. I have a wet/dry shop vac with the special soot filter that I use because I don’t want the soot in the motor. I park the vacuum outside (in case something breaks) and have extra hoses taped together to reach the wood burner.

    Once down and up with the brush and the chimney is good. A flashlight, tied with twine, allows you to see the sides as you lower it.

    I have cheated when I tied some paracord to a brick, wrapped the brick with duct tape (so it wouldn’t scratch) and rattled it down the chimney. Not as clean as a tight-fitting brush, but adequate. Adequate was about the same amount of soot knocked into the wood burner, and assurance that there were no blockages.

    Been burning wood since 1983 but will probably pay someone to clean it next year. I always leave an extinguishing “log” near the burner and a fire extinguisher 10 feet away along with a couple wide mouth gallon containers of water. Never had to use them.

  5. I use an old set of tire chains on a rope start at the top and start spinning them down. Do this twice a year. Had worked for 30 years now

    1. Poorman and Sam – I too use a 6″ poly chimney brush with 18 feet of fiberglass extensions and have done so for the last 15 to 20 years in a stainless steel lined brick chimney. Before that? Glad you asked….8 lbs of potatoes in a burlap sack tied to 20 feet of poly rope. Worked just fine until I went ‘Hi-tech’…

  6. Poorman,
    i have heard of many people doing that with chains. it seems to work out well for them.
    you can tell the difference between country know how and city dwellers in how they do things. get it clean however. clean is clean no mater how you do it. spend money or use what ya got.

  7. We have 3 pellet stoves and 2 wood stoves and have found that the pellet stoves produce that same amount of soot as the wood, although the wood soot is much finer in texture. It’s always a good feeling to get all the pipes cleaned, wood stacked, and pellets under cover each year. With steep metal roofs, we had been doing the bottom up approach until we acquired an extremely valuable piece of equipment: a used Genie man lift. No more climbing on the roof for maintenance, painting, pipe cleaning, hanging Christmas lights, brushing snow off solar panels, etc. Not cheap, but probably less expensive than a medical helicopter flight to the nearest trauma center after a fall off a ladder.

  8. Some years ago we moved into a house with wood heat. When i went to clean the chimney i found shiny black creosote in the chimney. That is when i discovered a product called Cre-away. It cleaned that chimney and i have used it as a pretreat since with no issues. Any buildup i get now is just a fine powder and cleans off very easy.

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