How to clean a fireplace

A real fire is a treat but causes wear and tear, so you need to know how to clean a fireplace if yours is to stay looking good

How to clean a fireplace
(Image credit: Colin Poole)

It's a niche job but it's worth knowing how to clean a fireplace. There's no denying that a crackling fire is a domestic delight, but they can be a messy business and neglecting a dirty fireplace can lead to inefficiency, smoke stains and a build-up of creosote (an oily wood-tar by-product found on chimney walls) which can become a safety hazard. So we recommend cleaning your fireplace as regularly as possible. Not sure where to start? Just follow our step-by-step guide for tips to restore your fireplace to its former glory...

If you are after any more cleaning tips and hacks, go and check out our dedicated hub page too. 

How to clean a fireplace

living room with lit woodburner in 14th century manor house

A woodburner heats the room in this 14th century manor house

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

How you approach cleaning a fireplace is largely down to the material of the fire surround itself. Below are a few tips but keep scrolling for our step by step guide.

Cleaning cast iron fireplaces

  • Cast iron is the most common material used to make period fireplaces and can usually be brought back to life where it has deteriorated.
  • Protect neighbouring areas before removing loose material and rust
  • Use a wire brush to remove rust and loose material on the surround. 
  • Where necessary use a chemical rust remover.
  • Following the manufacturer's instructions, finish the metal with black stove grate polish and burnish with a brush or soft cloth.
  • A heat-resistant paint is another option.

Cleaning wood fireplaces

  • Look after wood surrounds like other joinery.
  • Buff wood regularly with a lint-free cloth.
  • Polish occasionally.
  • If cleaning, using a well-diluted detergent solution and a cloth without soaking the timber.
  • A good joiner can generally make repairs to a timber fire surround using life for like materials

Cleaning stone fireplaces

  • The surfaces of stone and marble are easily damaged by household cleaners if they contain any acid, so make sure you invest in specialist supplies.
  • Rust, red wine and soot stains are a particular problem, but poultices of white kitchen paper towels soaked in distilled water may remove some stains
  • If in any doubt, where the piece is valuable, consult a specialist conservator before undertaking repairs or cleaning.
  • Some 'marble' fireplaces are in fact scagliola, a mixture of plaster and aggregates that imitates marble and which is easily damaged.

Using cleaning products on fire surrounds

Always test cleaning products on a small, inconspicuous area first and, if the surround is particularly old or valuable, take expert advice, especially when dealing with excessive soot deposits, red wine or rust stains.

General fire surround maintenance

Left to right: Decorative tiles are a feature of many old fireplaces; in Victorian times this cast iron fireplace would have been blacked to protect the metal – a similar finish can be achieved today with Stovax Black Grate polish; it has become popular to strip cast iron fireplaces that were originally blacked to reveal their real silvery colour – to produce an even finish and to remove any loose material they should be wire brushed

  • If layers of paint are obscuring decorative details on cast iron and wooden fireplaces, apply proprietary strippers or poulticing systems that peel away.
  • Stripping is always best done in situ with surrounding areas well protected by dust sheets.
  • Removing a fireplace for professional stripping can result in damage and disturbance to the chimney opening so is best avoided if possible.
  • Check firebacks for cracks. Where these are minor they can be patched with fireproof cement but more major problems may mean that you have to find a replacement.
  • Plug gaps between the fireback and fire surround with fireproof rope or string as this allows for expansion and contraction between the surfaces.
  • Tiles are a feature of many fireplaces and would originally have been inserted from behind. This makes repair or replacement tricky so you may decide it’s better to live with a damaged tile — seek advice if in doubt.
  • Where draughts are entering a room through an unused fireplace opening, consider inserting a chimney balloon to temporarily block the chimney.
  • Want more? Follow our step by step guide to cleaning a fireplace.

Cleaning and maintaining a stove

Kitchen in a converted school at Christmas


(Image credit: Colin Poole)

Maintenance of a stove is vitally important to ensure that the components are working safely and that no combustion gasses are escaping into the room.

Action:

  • Ensure that the door fits snugly, the hinges are not misaligned or worn and the latch operates effectively.
  • Examine the fireproof seal of the door to check that it is not flattened or misshapen.
  • Test the stove by lighting a small fire, close the door and move a candle around its edges. If the flame is drawn towards the fire this means the seal has failed and must be replaced.
  • When the stove is cold, brush out all ash and vacuum. Using a torch, inspect the firebricks for damage and ensure air inlets are clear.
  • Clean the window with a stove glass cleaner. A soot or tar covered window can indicate that the stove it not burning efficiently. Replace cracked glass immediately.
  • Find out more in our step by step guide to cleaning a stove.

How to clean a fireplace – step by step

You will need:

 1. Prepare the room and sweep up

Restoring a fireplace steps 1 and 2

Don old clothes and work gloves before starting to clean a fireplace. Move furniture, roll up rugs, and protect floor with dust sheets and newspapers. Next empty ashes and unburnt wood or coal that is still in the hearth into a bucket. Sweep the fireplace clean or use a vacuum cleaner so you can better examine the fireplace beneath.

 2. Repair or replenish fire bricks

Check the insulating firebricks to the back and sides of the hearth. Badly deteriorated bricks will need to be replaced but cracks and chips can be made good with fire cement. The brick must be dry and dust-free – use a knife to push the cement in place. Following a repair you may need to light a fire to cure the cement. 

 3. Clean the ceramic tile surround

Restoring a fireplace steps 3 and 4

Clean tiles on the surround and hearth with warm soapy water – use a bristle scrubbing brush or nylon scourer. Badly broken tiles can be replaced, although cracked tiles on the hearth, could just be put down to part of the house’s history.

 4. Clean and replace grouting

An old toothbrush is useful for cleaning grouting. Missing grouting can be replaced too (have a read through our top tips for choosing tile grout and the best adhesive first). Check the new product is suitable for surfaces exposed to high temperatures and press firmly into joints. When partially set, run the end of a pencil along to make a neat finish. Next day clean off surplus grout with a nylon scourer. 

If you are starting completely from scratch, we've got a handy step-by-step guide to how to tile a fireplace.

 5. Remove really stubborn stains

Restoring a fireplace steps 5 and 6

If after the initial clean stubborn stains remain, apply a proprietary tile cleaner and leave an hour or two to lift the dirt. Scrub again with soapy water and a bristle brush. Wipe down the area with a clean cloth and water. Once completely dry polish with a soft cotton cloth to make the tiles shine.

 6. Remove build up of candle wax

Candles on the hearth can look pretty but avoid heavy build-ups of wax as it could present a fire hazard. Hold a scraper at an acute angle to avoid scratching the tiles, and scrape away the wax. If melted wax has run into the grouting, heat it with a hairdryer and mop the wax up with kitchen roll. 

 7. Spruce up the metal fire grate

Restoring a fireplace steps 7 and 8

Clean rusty metal with a steel brush. Then apply black grate polish sparingly with a brush. For a shiny finish leave for at least an hour and then polish with a bristle brush. Beware, grate polish easily rubs off on furnishings and clothing so use sparingly. Use stove paint for a longer-lasting finish.

 8. Polish the wooden fire surround

If you have a wooden surround to your fireplace, you might want to give that a clean too. To nourish the wood and protect it from the drying effect of heat, rub in a good quality beeswax polish. Leave to dry and buff up with a soft cotton cloth. To avoid a smeary finish always apply polish sparingly – too much will discolour the wood. 

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