Here are secrets for dealing with the messy ashes and sooty surfaces of a wood-burning fireplace…
Ashes: Wait until every bit of ash is cool. Leave a small layer of ash at the bottom of the fireplace as insulation to make it easier to build and maintain the next fire. Before removing the top layers of ash, sprinkle them with damp coffee grounds to keep down dust. Gently scoop up the ash with a fireplace shovel, and place in a metal container. Wood ash has a variety of uses, including adding traction on icy walkways and lowering the acidity of garden soil.
Blackened glass doors: Clean the glass facing the fire whenever you notice a buildup of soot, which comes from the carbon particles in smoke. Rub with a cloth and a commercial cleaner such as Rutland Hearth and Grill Conditioning Glass Cleaner. It leaves an invisible coat of silicone that keeps glass clean longer. Cost: About $14 for eight ounces. For baked-on soot, you first may need to scrape the glass with a glass scraper (available in paint stores).
Sooty surfaces surrounding the chimney opening and mantel: For marble, tile, stone and brick with minor stains, rub with a cloth and a mixture of one-half Tide laundry detergent and one-half water. For tougher stains, especially on brick and stone, use a nylon brush and an enzyme cleaner such as Speedy White Hearth and Stove Cleaner. Cost: $13 for 22 ounces.
Stained walls and ceiling: Wash with dish soap and water. If the stain does not come out or the paint doesn’t stand up well to washing, you may need to cover the area with a primer that blocks stains such as Kilz (available at home-improvement stores) and then repaint.
Important: If you have frequent soot buildup on your chimney surround, mantel, walls or ceiling, have a chimney professional evaluate why your chimney is not drawing up the smoke from your fire effectively. For example, the damper (the metal flap inside the chimney flue) may not be functioning properly or the height of the fireplace opening may not be in proportion to the size of the flue.
Odors: A persistent smoky odor throughout the house is due to the buildup in the chimney of creosote, the highly flammable by-product of burning wet or newly cut wood. Solutions: Have your chimney cleaned in the spring rather than waiting until the following autumn. In the meantime, you can absorb the odor by filling a container with kitty litter and putting it in the fireplace and changing it every few days.