How to Clean Ash from a Fireplace – [Can you use a Vacuum?]

Quick Answer: You can use a vacuum to clean ash from a fireplace but you need a specialized ash vacuum with a HEPA filter. Regular vacuums do not have filters capable of catching ash and they end up spitting the ash back out over the room.

Fireplace ash is a fire hazard if left to accumulate. According to the NFPA, fireplaces and chimneys cause no less than 15,000 fires per year [1]. A fair chunk of these are due to poor maintenance and build-up of flammables in and around the fire.

There are many reasons to clear out ash:

  1. Among your ash is dried, flammable, half-burned wood that can re-ignite with a small breeze or shuffle of the ashes. Ashes can also blow over onto carpets or flammables in the room, igniting a house fire.
  2. Clearing out ash can also improve air intake in the fire, helping it to burn more smoothly. Ash often accumulates under the grill grate, preventing the grill from serving its purpose: sucking air up from under the fire! A smooth burning fire causes less smoke and spits less embers due to less stuttering.
  3. A clean fireplace also reduces the stale smoke odors caught in ash. So, by keeping the fire clean you will also be able to keep a pleasant home environment.  

So, it’s important to clear out fireplaces regularly. Try not to allow excessive build-up of ashes or charcoals in the fireplace. Here are some things to keep in mind.

How to Clean Ash from a Fireplace

Option 1: Fireplace Ash Tray

The fire hearth shouldn’t be the direct surface on which to build your fire. This is for several reasons. First, you need the fire to be raised on a grate to allow air to access the fire from below. This allows the fire to burn more cleanly. Second, the hearth will quickly become stained, devaluing the aesthetic.

So, if you place a tray under your fireplace grate, you’ll both save the hearth and have better fires. But more importantly for this article: an ash tray will help you to be able to catch most of the ashes from a fire. The tray can easily be taken out once the fire has fully cooled for the coals to be dumped in the garden as compost.

There is often still left over ashes, not only around the periphery of the hearth, but also caught inside the grate. So, you’d also want to use one of the following options intermittently.

Option 2: An Ash Vacuum

The most effective solution for cleaning ash from a fireplace or pellet stove is using a vacuum. But you can’t use any old vacuum. A regular vacuum doesn’t have fine HEPA filters capable of catching ash. So, they’ll suck ash in only to spit it out the other side! You’ll end up circulating ash around the room and irritating the lungs of everyone in the room.

So, there are specialized vacuums for gathering ashes. These usually have two filters: a pre-filter and a HEPA filter. HEPA filters are used in industrial and commercial settings such as on airplanes to filter viruses out of the air. And – they’re used in these vacuums to catch fine ash particles.

But these filters in the vacuums aren’t perfect. While often designed to be fire retardant, it’s best not to vacuum hot ashes. This can cause serious damage to the filters. Some models, such as the Powersmith and Pellethead, do have some protections for this – including metal hoses and filters that can handle embers up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In general, though, we’d strongly advise letting the ashes cool for 24 hours.

For an affordable model, consider the Snow Joe.

Most ash vacuums come with attachments as well, including crevice tools (such as in the Shop Vac) and even pellet stove cleaning kits that have specialized tools for cleaning out ashes in the small nooks and crannies of home appliances. This makes them significantly more useful and effective than the next option – dust pans.

Option 3: Dustpan

A dustpan is probably the most common choice, but certainly not the best. Dusting out your fireplace regularly will clear out most of the charcoal and ashes, but still leave build-up and residue in corners, edges, nooks and crannies. Many fireplace tool kits come with dedicated brooms and dustpans for this purpose.

Make sure to dust out the fireplace regularly to prevent build-up of ashes that can be both a fire hazard and lead to poorly burning fires.

Option 4: Chimney Sweep

It’s usually good practice to get a professional chimney sweep to your house once a year [2] to thoroughly clean out the chimney. Chimneys slowly build up ash on the walls of the chimney. As this gunk builds up, the circulation is decreased, and it could catch fire inside the chimney which is a serious hazard.

But chimney sweeps also offer the service of cleaning out the hearth thoroughly with professional tools.

The one downside of this is that it’s not reasonable to pay someone to clean out the hearth too regularly, unless you have multiple fireplaces in a setting such as a hotel.

Conclusion

It is important to keep a tidy fireplace an not allow residual ash, charcoal, wood and other flammable. Clean your fireplace after each use to ensure a well ventilated fire and to minimize fire risk. There are several methods to use: a vacuum, fireplace ash tray, dust pan, or even calling in a professional. It’s a good idea to dump the cool ashes in the garden to help your plants grow healthily!

References

  1. National Fire Protection Association (2018). Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment. Retrieved from: https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/US-Fire-Problem/Fire-causes/osHeating.pdf
  2. Chimney Safety Institute of America (n.d.) FAQs. Retrieved from: https://www.csia.org/faq.html