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Have you ever cleaned your stone fireplace surround? I bet the answer is no. I mean, how are you supposed to clean craggy rocks? We’re been in our house for more than 13 years and I know we’ve never cleaned our fireplace surround. My guess is that no else in the 70 or so years previous to our ownership did either.

What spurred me into action on this completely unfun project was some photos I took in the living room. One thing stood out: There was a big soot streak in the middle of the fireplace surround.

So I did a little searching on the Internet for how to clean fireplaces. As far as I could tell, there are two options, pay a professional to come do something that sounds super messy, or go at it yourself with a variety if different cleaning methods. Turns out that what I did worked pretty well, but I’ll warn you now that this is a job that’s going to require your best Cinderella (pre-ball) impersonation. There’s some serious elbow grease involved.

A before picture that shows how much soot had built up over the firebox.
Here’s what I did:
1. First I moved all the furniture and taped off everything with plastic to make my living room resemble a scene from “Dexter.”
2. Then I mixed a powdered TSP substitute with a little water to make a paste. I found that making it slightly more liquid worked better. I used the entire box and wished I had another, so plan on using quite a bit. I smeared the paste on the stone and mortar with the most staining. I wore a respirator and rubber gloves for this. Then I let it sit for a good 20 minutes to really soak in there and hopefully do some of the hard work for me.

Scrub and then scrub some more.

3. The next bit required safety glasses. Unfortunately the only safety glasses I could find were ones with bifocals so I was feeling a bit woozy. Anyway, then I took a really stiff bristle brush and went to town on all that paste. I mean I scrubbed, and hard. A lot of the paste fell off onto the hearth, which was fine since that was plenty dirty too.

Take a close look at the mess I have going there. It’s ugly.
4.  It was clear to me right away that a lot of built-up grunge was coming off and I didn’t really want to stop with just the part over the firebox. So I mixed up some dish detergent (Dawn, which I keep in the house for cleaning but not for washing dishes for some reason) and a little liquid Barkeeper’s Friend with a bunch of water and used that to scrub the rest of the surround under the mantel, just to get the dust and regular dirt off. I made a point to not go over the areas that I had used the TSP substitute on with the soap solution because I’m no chemist but I know bad things can happen when you start mixing random things.

I had to change out the water at least five times before it wasn’t this color anymore.

5. This all created a huge mess, so if you do this, be prepared. It gets a lot worse before it gets better. Then I had to rinse all this stuff off. The garden hose or a pressure washer would have done a fine job, but since I don’t have a drain in my living room, I had to use a bucket and rags (I tried a sponge but the stone just ripped it apart). So I rinsed, and rinsed, and rinsed, changing out the water every time it got dirty, until the water in the bucket wasn’t dirty when I rung out the rag.

Ah … that’s better. 

Then I just towel dried off what I could and left it to dry.

Isn’t it amazing what a difference that made? Look at the hearth, which I only scrubbed with soapy water; it’s a completely different color. You can see that I didn’t scrub close to the edges of the hearth because I was afraid of water damaging the wood floor, even though I had protected it. 

Isn’t it so much better? Now I just need someone to come clean the years of dust off the 15 or so feet above the mantel.

So fess up, have you ever cleaned your fireplace surround?

8 Responses

  1. I just vacuumed mine and took a mop and vinegar water and wiped it down. A hundred yr old cabin. It looks better and smells good in here!!

  2. Did you need to seal it also? At what point would you do that? I’m asking because I want to know completely what I’m getting into on our 50yr old fireplace. Thanks!

  3. We decided to switch to gas and had them install extra large framing that went up to the mantle and over the left and right sides. Covered the worst stuff. Our space from the top of the firebox to the mantle is less than a foot. Your elbow grease teally paid off.

  4. Never – I bet it hasn't been done in the 80 years the house has stood here. Fortunately it's ceramic tile, which will be a lot easier to clean.

    I can't get Barkeepers Friend here in Canada – it sounds like an amazing product.

    Your fireplace looks amazing – ready for the holidays.

  5. Am I allowed to say yes? Haha I have a limestone hearth and it smudges so damn easily so I had to get used to cleaning it some time ago. I like the barkeepers idea though. I'll bet that made it waaay easier. Yours looks so beautiful. I just love your fireplace! Can't wait to see how you decorate it for Christmas this year. Do you have access to large amounts of bittersweet? I think your mantle would look stunning all wrapped in bittersweet.

    1. Believe it or not, I have never seen bittersweet growing by us, but I'm sure it's out there. I have an even better idea: Can you just come decorate my mantel for Christmas? That'd be great. Thanks!

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