The romance of a blazing fire in the hearth comes with its shadow side. Incompletely incinerated fuel -- generally wood or coal -- leaves behind greasy, sooty particles that cling to rough surfaces. When your firebox, the fireplace surround and the hearth are wonderful old -- or new -- brick, there are endless cracks and crevices to trap soot, and soot can stain brick. It's a mess -- and unless you are very, very lucky, you will be, too, when you try to clean it up. But you can clean fireplace brick with a combination of smarts and some manual labor. So evaluate your challenge, gather the right tools for the cleaning method you choose and sally forth to defeat the dirty fireplace and restore your beautiful brick.
Things You'll Need
- Protective gloves, goggles, mask (goggles and mask optional)
- Whisk broom, dust pan, vacuum
- Rubber soot eraser
- Child's modeling dough (optional)
- Table salt
- Liquid dishwashing detergent
- Clean cloths
- Scrub brush
- Brick cleaner
- Nylon scrubbie
- Measuring cup
- Spray bottle
- Gallon bucket
- Paintbrush (optional)
Qwik-Clean EZ Method: The Soot Eraser
Step 1: Whisk and Vacuum Loose Ash and Dirt
Wear a painter's face mask so you don't inhale the particles.
Step 2: Erase the Soot
Apply a 100 percent, environmentally friendly vulcanized rubber soot eraser to the sooty or stained spots. Give the whole brick area to be cleaned a once-over and then focus on the stubborn, stained parts. Swipe the dry chemical sponge over the dirty brick, just like an eraser, starting at the top and working down. The eraser lifts soot away from the brick, no water necessary.
Try this with a light-colored children's modeling dough when you're fresh out of soot erasers. Press the dough against the sooty area or stain and peel it off, taking the soot with it.
Old-Fashioned Soap and Water
Step 1: Make a Dishwashing Paste
Mix equal parts table salt and Blue Dawn or another liquid dishwashing detergent to make a paste. Add just enough water to create a thick cream and rub the mix into the brick with a clean cloth.
Step 2: Give It 10
Let the paste sit on the dirty brick for 10 minutes or so until it dries. Then scrub it with a stiff brush. Soap and water is generally safe for any color brick.
Step 3: Sponge It Off
Wipe the scrubbed section clean with a damp sponge. Blue Dawn is a nontoxic grease-cutter that is used to clean oil spills from marine life, especially the skin of sea mammals and the feathers of marine birds.
Always wear gloves when cleaning brick -- even when the chemicals you use aren't harsh, the brick is rough and your hands will take a beating without protection.
If your fireplace brick is really old -- 50 years or more -- test any cleaner on an inconspicuous spot. The old brick may crumble under the onslaught of vigorous soap-and-water cleaning, and you might be limited to vacuuming the brick with a soft brush attachment.
Get Out the Big Guns
Step 1: Tackle Stubborn Stains With Tougher Cleansers
Start with a special brick and stone fireplace cleaner. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for best results and always test it on a tiny spot first to ensure the cleaner won't damage your brick.
Step 2: Bring on the Borax
Mix 2 tablespoons of borax, 2 tablespoons of dish soap and 4 cups of very hot water to a large spray bottle. Spray the solution on the brick. Borax is alkaline, odorless, contains no phosphates, chlorine or other harsh chemicals, and it may do the trick to dislodge the dirt.
Step 3: Scrub the Wet Brick
Get out a nylon scrubby or scrub brush. Lean in; this is a labor-intensive project. Wipe the gunk away with a damp rag.
Step 4: Graduate to Phosphates
For soot that's tougher than you are, ventilate the space, put on your respiratory mask, safety goggles and long gloves, add about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of trisodium phosphate to 1 gallon of warm water.
Step 5: Test and Scrub
Test a tiny area first and then spray or wipe on the solution generously. Applying the TSP solution with a paintbrush will avoid spatters. Scrub it in a circular motion to dislodge soot and stains but be aware that scrubbing will spatter the chemicals, so work slowly and carefully.
Step 6: Rinse Well With Warm Water
TSP is caustic and toxic. Keep children and animals well away from the work area and dispose of the chemicals responsibly.