Ah, the cozy glow of a warm fire as you cuddle under a blanket and sip hot tea. That, of course, is the picture we all have of flames in our fireplace. But what we never consider is how that can go so wrong. In fact, according to the the Chimney Safety Institute of America, there are 25,000 chimney- or fireplace-related fires each year. But don’t worry. These fireplace cleaning tips will help you make sure every fire you have is of the cozy variety.

1. Have a professional inspection

It’s always smart to have someone professionally inspect your fireplace at least once, to get tips on how to clean and maintain it yourself, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America. And while some of your ongoing maintenance might be fine as DIY, it’s safest to have a professional “chimney sweep” clean the chimney itself since creosote buildup can be dangerous. But for the rest, you can burn it out in an afternoon.

2. Protect yourself

Stirring up ashes gets gray dust everywhere. And it can also be dangerous to inhale the creosote dust, which is why it’s best to wear a respirator during fireplace cleaning. Ensure that the ashes are not still hot. Give them ample time to cool from the previous fire before starting your cleaning process. Believe it or not, ashes can stay hot for up to 3 days.

3. Start with the firebox

This is the main area where your fire burns and it stays relatively clean, aside from the ashes that might accumulate. Use a brush to gently scrub the walls, but use a light touch as firebrick can crumble.

Then collect and dispose of the ashes. Shovel ashes into a paper bag. (Pro tip: sprinkle coffee grounds over the ashes first to make them easier to clean up). Then spread them in your garden as healthy mulch that’ll deposit potassium and other nutrients into the soil.

4. Next clean the screen

Whether yours is the black metal or tempered glass variety, it can be cleaned the same way. Mix ½ cup vinegar with one gallon of warm water and add one teaspoon of ammonia. Carefully wipe down both sides and then wipe with a clean towel that’s been soaked in warm water.

5. Then tackle the grate and tools

Take these outside and give them a good hose down. Unlike the rest of the fireplace parts, these can handle a good scrubbing with an abrasive cleaner and a wire brush or steel wool pad.

6. Check the chimney

First, look from the inside to make sure that there aren’t obstructions in the chimney. Then check outside for wear and tear, such as crumbling or missing bricks or tree limbs that are too close. Also, if you have access to a tall enough ladder and have experience using it, you can go up to ensure your chimney cap isn’t damaged so it’ll do its job, keeping birds, rodents, rain, and debris out. (But remember, this is also something a professional could do for you.)

7. Watch what you burn

Don’t throw in paper or other refuse. Make sure you only burn well-seasoned wood. (Check out this article for more tips on ensuring your firewood is suitable.)

DIY hacks | Home safety | Homeowners 101

about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.