Cleaning your fireplace bricks can be a pain. It's messy, tedious, and requires a lot of scrubbing. While using time-saving commercial cleaners to power away soot may be tempting; their toxic ingredients can harm your family, pets, and the planet.
Before turning to toxic chemicals, try these all-natural ways to clean a fireplace first. Common ingredients in fireplace cleaners, like trisodium phosphate (TSP) and ammonia, create toxic fumes and pollute waterways. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency listed TSP as a "hazardous substance."
The damage caused by these harmful chemicals— both to your health and the environment— is not worth the convenience. The Brick Industry Association also endorses this approach. In this guide to cleaning a fireplace without harsh chemicals, we'll break down three proven ways to clean fireplace bricks using all-natural ingredients (and a bit of elbow grease).
How To Clean A Brick Fireplace Without Harsh Chemicals
Gather Your Cleaning Supplies
First things first, you'll need to gather your cleaning supplies. Regardless of which of the DIY fireplace cleaners you choose to use, you'll need the following items before you clean:
Waterproof drop cloths
Broom and dustpan/ vacuum
Spray bottle with water
Firm scrub brush or brushes of various sizes (Opt for ergonomic brushes that make scrubbing a bit easier.)
Face mask and protective eyewear (soot can easily irritate your eyes, lungs, and skin)
The soot and ash inside your fireplace can easily stain clothing, so you also want to change into clothing you don't mind getting dirty. Once you've donned your paint clothes and waited for your fireplace to cool after use fully, you're ready to begin cleaning!
Prepare Your Fireplace For Cleaning
Before you begin cleaning with a scrub brush, you'll want to prepare your fireplace for cleaning. Start by covering your floor— particularly carpeted areas— with waterproof drop cloths. Remove any grates or andirons and set them aside on a towel. As you clean, be mindful of tracking any soot on your hands or the bottom of your shoes.
Next, sweep out any ash, debris, small pieces of firewood, and as much soot as possible inside the hearth. Then, vacuum out any remaining soot and dust. While this step may seem a bit redundant, removing every bit of dirt you can beforehand dramatically reduces the amount of scrubbing required later.
Prepare Your Cleaning Solution
The Cream of Tartar Method
The cream of tartar method works best on smaller areas of unpainted brick. Use it to clean the front of your fireplace and to spot-clean any stubborn soot-stained areas. To make a cream of tartar cleaner for fireplace brick, simply combine two tablespoons of cream of tartar with enough water to make a thin paste.
The Baking Soda Method
The cream of tartar method can get a bit expensive when cleaning more extensive areas, like the inside of your fireplace. To create a baking soda and dish detergent cleaner for fireplace brick, add three tablespoons of dish soap to ½ cup baking soda. Mix until it forms a thin, spreadable paste.
If your paste isn't spreading easily onto your fireplace bricks, try adjusting the ratio of dish soap to baking soda to find the perfect consistency.
The Vinegar Method
If your fireplace isn't dirty enough to require deep cleaning, but you still want to make your bricks sparkle, try using a vinegar-based cleaner. Simply mix equal parts vinegar and water into a spray bottle and shake.
It's important to note that vinegar-based cleaners should not be used on fireplaces older than 20 years, as they require less abrasive cleaners.
Now, it's time to roll up your sleeves and start cleaning. As we said before, using natural cleaners instead of harsh commercial cleaners requires more elbow grease. But the hard work required makes it all the more satisfying the next time you're enjoying the warmth of your freshly cleaned fireplace.
How To Clean Fireplace Brick With Cream Of Tartar Or Baking Soda Paste
If you're using a baking soda or cream of tartar paste, spread a thin layer of the mixture over sooty areas. Scrub in small circular motions to avoid spreading the soot to nearby bricks.
Let the paste sit for five to ten minutes while you move on to the next area. Once the paste has worked its magic, rinse the area with warm water. Repeat if necessary.
How To Clean Fireplace Bricks With Vinegar
If you're using the vinegar fireplace cleaning solution, spray the bricks with the vinegar cleaning solution. Let it sit for five minutes, and respray the bricks with the mixture.
While the bricks are still wet, clean the area with a scrub brush. Use small circular motions to avoid creating streaks of soot. Then, spritz the bricks with a mix of baking soda and water to neutralize the vinegar's acidity.
How To Clean Fireplace Bricks With Foaming Bathroom Cleaners
Cleaning fireplace bricks with a foaming bathroom cleaner is an efficient method. Begin by protecting the area with newspapers or a drop cloth and wearing gloves and safety goggles. Avoid using chemical cleaners as Scrubbing Bubbles and opt for natural options.
Test the cleaner in an inconspicuous spot first. Apply the foaming cleaner generously, starting from the top and working down, letting it sit for the recommended time. Then, scrub the bricks with a brush, focusing on stains and soot. Rinse with a cloth or sponge dipped in water, removing all cleaners. Dry the bricks to prevent streaks. Inspect for any remaining stains and repeat the process if necessary.
Inspect for Stains
Look at the cleaned bricks to check for persistent or stubborn soot stains. To make scrubbing a bit easier, fill a spray bottle filled with warm water and spritz it on an area before you begin cleaning. Keep the spray bottle close by, as you'll want to keep spraying to prevent the brick from drying out and maximize the power of your cleaning solution. If you notice any soot stains, you can repeat the cleaning process for those specific areas or consider using a specialized stain remover.
Rinse with Water
Using a sponge soaked in clean water, gently rinse the bricks, ensuring that you remove any remaining cleaning solution. Remember to replace the water in the bucket as it becomes soiled.
Dry the Bricks
After cleaning and rinsing, it's crucial to dry the bricks. Use towels or rags to absorb excess moisture and ensure no water is left on the surface. Damp bricks can attract more dirt, so thorough drying is essential.
You can apply a brick sealer if you want to provide extra protection to the bricks and make future cleaning easier. Follow the manufacturer's instructions precisely, as the application process may vary between products.
How Often Should You Clean Fireplace Bricks?
It would be best to clean your fireplace whenever you notice black streaks and stains from soot. While cleaning your fireplace is a bit of a hassle, frequent cleaning helps prevent permanent damage and discoloration. The more often you clean, the easier it'll be to keep your fireplace looking pristine and also prevent chimney fires.
Tips to Keep a Fireplace Clean
Regular Inspection: Periodic inspections help identify issues like cracks, loose bricks, or debris accumulation in your chimney or fireplace. Detecting issues early can help you avoid expensive repairs in the future, safeguarding the safety of your home.
Use Proper Tools: High-quality fireplace tools, including a brush, shovel, and poker, are essential for efficiently managing ashes and maintaining a tidy hearth area. Investing in durable tools ensures they'll last for years.
Ash Removal: Waiting for ashes to cool before disposal is crucial for safety. Utilize a fireplace shovel to carefully remove ashes and place them in a metal container with a securely fitting lid. This prevents ash particles from escaping and potentially causing a mess.
Chimney Cleaning: It's essential to schedule annual chimney cleanings conducted by certified chimney sweeps to eliminate creosote buildup, a potential trigger for chimney fires. A well-maintained chimney guarantees optimal ventilation and minimizes fire risks.
Fireplace Grate or Screen: A fireplace grate or screen not only adds a decorative touch but also prevents sparks and embers from flying out, enhancing safety and cleanliness.
Burn Seasoned Wood: Seasoned hardwood burns more efficiently and cleanly, reducing the amount of creosote produced. It's an eco-friendly choice that lowers the need for frequent chimney cleaning.
Clean Firebox: The firebox should be kept free of loose ash and debris. A clean firebox promotes proper airflow, which is crucial for efficiently burning and reducing smoke buildup.
Maintain a Clean Hearth: Regularly vacuum or sweep the hearth area. This keeps the area looking tidy and prevents dirt and debris from being tracked into your home.
Store Firewood Properly: Proper firewood storage is essential to prevent moisture buildup, leading to mold, insects, and poor combustion. Keep firewood dry and well-ventilated, ideally in a woodshed or covered area.
Burn Clean Fires: Burning clean materials like well-seasoned hardwood reduces the production of soot and creosote. Avoid burning materials that generate excess smoke and debris.
Install a Cap and Screen: A chimney cap equipped with a spark arrestor serves as a barrier, effectively blocking animals, leaves, and debris from entering your chimney. It also stops sparks from escaping, enhancing safety.
Use Safe Fire Starters: Safe and approved fire starters are a better alternative to flammable liquids or newspapers, which can produce excess smoke and soot. They ignite fires more cleanly and safely.
Properly Ventilate: Adequate room ventilation ensures that indoor air quality remains healthy when you're using the fireplace. Good airflow minimizes soot buildup and prevents indoor air pollution.
Regular Cleaning: Periodically wiping down the exterior of your fireplace with a damp cloth helps maintain its appearance. This simple step adds to the overall appeal of your hearth.