If you haven't cleaned out your chimney in a while, but you also want to save money, you might have started looking for DIY methods. While it's possible to clean out a chimney yourself, doing it properly takes time, effort, and a trip up onto the roof. Other DIY methods that involve household items that magically clean out creosote are not so effective, and in some cases could be dangerous. Here's a look at three supposed home remedies for cleaning out the chimney and what they can actually end up doing.
Burning Potato Peelings
Supposedly, if you toss a bunch of peeled potato skins on a burning fire, the skins somehow make all the creosote in the chimney loosen up and disappear. Creosote is highly flammable, so a buildup of the stuff is dangerous, and anything that makes it go away should be a good thing. But the skins don't really make the stuff go away, and in fact, if you look at the results you're supposed to get, they can vary from just softening the creosote to drying it out to getting rid of it, depending on who is telling you about this method. When no one can agree on what a remedy is supposed to do, that's not a good sign and can indicate that the remedy isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Another remedy involves spreading table salt or rock salt on the logs in the fireplace and then burning the combination. Unfortunately, the salt residue can damage the masonry inside the chimney and any metal parts that the salt residue comes into contact with. Burning salt can sometimes cause the creosote to loosen -- in great big sheets that fall down onto the smoke shelf just above the fire. Given how flammable creosote is, bringing it closer to the flames in your fireplace is the last thing you want to do because of the increased fire risk.
Burning the Chimney
A very questionable remedy is setting the chimney on fire. Not on the outside, but on the inside, in an attempt to burn away the creosote. Mother Jones interviewed a professional chimney sweep in 2012 who said that sometimes this actually does end up cleaning the chimney -- but it can also light your house on fire. Once the chimney is on fire, there's no way to control the flames or sparks, even if you close off the fireplace opening. The heat from the fire can make surrounding materials so hot that your house can catch fire even if the actual flames don't get out of the chimney. Plus, if your chimney's spark arrestor is not working properly, sparks can fly out and set the roof on fire. Because this remedy is so unpredictable, it is not advisable to try at all.
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