How To Clean a Brick Fireplace
Keep your brick fireplace functioning well and looking good inside and out with these tips for how to clean fireplace brick.
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Whether it’s been there for decades or part of a modern build, a brick fireplace adds authenticity and warmth to any home. It conveys a sense of sturdy longevity that few other interior features can impart.
“Exposed interior brick is a beautiful addition to any home, and commonly appears on fireplace mantels because it’s fireproof,” says Alex Forte, a fire safety merchant at The Home Depot.
But the more you use your fireplace, Forte says “the more dust, dirt, ash, and soot can build up over time.” So naturally, you want to keep your fireplace brick looking good.
Forte says it’s not just about aesthetics. Cleaning fireplace brick and the rest of your fireplace is essential to keeping it operating safely and efficiently. And a thorough cleaning, he says, “gives indoor brick walls and mantels a new, refreshed look.”
Let’s walk through the steps of how to clean fireplace brick.
Before you get elbow-deep into your dirty fireplace, assemble the right gear to do the job efficiently. Mike Swanson, a cleaning merchant at The Home Depot, recommends the following items. You probably already most of them in your garage or under the kitchen sink:
- Mini-broom and dustpan. Use these to sweep up accumulated ash and wood remnants.
- Vacuum. Use a hand-vacuum, shop vacuum or your upright vacuum’s hose attachment to remove the dust and dirt that eluded the broom.
- Spray bottle. Use this to saturate brick with water before you apply cleaner (see below for recommendations) and to apply the cleaning solution.
- Masonry sponges. Swanson recommends a basic masonry sponge for removing grime.
- Scrub brush. A small one will help lift dirt out of grout and uneven brick surfaces.
- Bucket. For your chosen cleaning solution
- Disposable gloves and safety goggles. “Even if you’re using natural products,” says Swanson, “wear gloves and goggles when cleaning to protect your eyes from splashes.”
Go Easy on That Brick
Despite its resilient good looks, fireplace brick needs to be handled with care. “Less is more when cleaning brick,” says Swanson. “Stick with gentle DIY cleaning methods, if possible, when learning how to clean bricks. This is especially true for older brick, which may require special care.”
The Brick Industry Association offers similar advice in its guide to cleaning brick: “Reactions between cleaning solutions and certain minerals found in some brick or their surface coatings may cause stains or worsen existing stains. It is always best to test a small area before subjecting the entire project to the cleaning procedure.”
- Saturate first. “Brick is very porous and will absorb cleaner immediately, which can discolor the brick,” says Swanson. Spraying brick down with clear water creates a barrier inside the brick that will keep it from absorbing the cleaning solution.
- Start with a mild cleaner. Take baby steps. Swanson recommends starting with the gentlest solution, then working up in strength based on how well the dirt and soot come off (or don’t) and how the brick reacts. The Brick Industry Association also suggests going with the gentlest effective cleaning method. Try these solutions, from the mildest to strongest:
- Water and cream of tartar;
- Household vinegar;
- Dish soap and baking soda;
- Dish soap and salt;
- Quick N Brite Fireplace Cleaner;
- Boric acid and water;
- Foaming bathroom cleaner;
- Ammonia and dish soap;
- Trisodium phosphate cleaner (follow manufacturer recommendations or your community guidelines for disposal).
- Wipe. Starting from the top of the brick and working down, wipe the surface with a sponge soaked in the cleaning solution. Squeeze out the sponge and change the solution as needed. Alternatively, you can spray on the cleaning solution, then use the sponge to scrub grime and wipe down the bricks.
- Rinse. Once the bricks are cleaned to your satisfaction, rinse with clear warm water and a clean sponge. Per the Brick Industry Association, don’t allow the cleaning solution to dry on brickwork. You don’t want it to absorb into or change the surface consistency of the brick.
While the brick inside the fireplace will be dirtier and take more time to clean than the on the outside, Swanson says the same cleaning steps work for both. Just make sure you change out your cleaning solution frequently, and rinse or swap out sponges so you’re not working with a dirty sponge.
Looking for ideas to revamp your plain brick fireplace? Consider German smear, a mortar wash technique that transforms the look of plain brick.
Safety note: For peace of mind, especially in the winter months when you use fireplace more, install a smoke and carbon monoxide detector or make sure your existing one functions properly.