You Gotta Have Hearth ‐ Cleaning the Brick Fireplace
If you have a working brick fireplace, at some point it will be necessary to clean it. Smoke, soot, and dirty hands all leave their mark. Over time, these go beyond charm and character, and demand scrubbing. Several cleaning options are available, most of them effective in and of themselves. If it has been a while since you hit the bricks, combining several of the methods may be necessary to get the old hearth back to a better state.
When cleaning brick, in particular old or colored surfaces, care must be taken to avoid damage. Contact a brick mason if you have doubts as to the composition of the brick in your fireplace, and ask for recommendations.
Methods for cleaning brick
Good old S. and W.
The first and most common method is to use soap, warm water, a cleaning cloth or brush, and elbow grease – about half a gallon. Good dish soap with degreasers can be the biggest help. Start from the top and work down. Make sure you cover the floor to keep the dirt and grime from finding a new home there.
For particularly stubborn areas, make a soft paste using liquid soap and baking powder. The baking powder is a mild abrasive, and will not do damage; this is especially important if you have older brick.
An acid bath
If you have standard red brick, a mild acid wash may be effective on tough to clean areas. Muriatic acid is the most common product. Dilute it in ten parts water to one of the acid, and apply it with a brush. For added protection, wear rubber gloves. Keep a pail of fresh water handy and use it to wash the surface after applying the acid. Again, be sure to cover all surrounding areas, especially flooring and carpet. This process is not recommended for any color other than red brick.
Oxygen based bleach
This will work on many surfaces. Apply with a scrubbing brush and rinse after using. Pre-test an inconspicuous area to find the right strength and to test for colorfastness.
Good results may be achieved using cleaning erasers available in the cleaning supply section of most grocery stores.
Removing smoke from brick fireplaces
Removing smoke damage can be a tedious chore. Scouring powder (ideally with chlorine or oxygen bleach) applied with a stiff brush is the first wave of attack. If this does not yield success, try alkali detergents applied with a brush or by spraying and allow the solution to set a short time to allow it to work. Test them first. If this is not successful, contact a janitorial supply store for suggestions.
Removing soot from brick fireplaces
In smaller areas, play dough and silly putty will lift soot out of pores. Use caution, though, as it might lift paint or other materials. Muriatic acid will also work on soot, but exercise caution. Removing soot is a chore and takes a good deal of effort.
If the fireplace is stained or too damaged, the most sensible thing to do might be to consider alternatives to cleaning your brick fireplace. Painting the brick to match your decor, using a kit designed specifically for fireplaces to give them a new brick look, or covering the surface with brick veneer or refacing it with another material are all affordable options.