Cleaning your fireplace is not the funnest job around your home but it is something that you need to do once a year or even more often if you rely on your fireplace as your main source of heat.
There are three places that you need to watch for ash and creosote buildup. Your fireplace box will be the primary place that ash will buildup and you should make sure that you clean the box before you start a new fire or continuously throughout the day as needed.
Many fireplaces are outfitted with a ash trap that allows you to empty your firebox by brushing buildup into the trap and emptying it outside your home. This trap must be free and hot ashes should not be forced into it or it may result in a fire if unburnt material smolders.
Cleaning Your Chimney
The most difficult and dirty part of cleaning your fireplace is cleaning your chimney. How often you need to clean your chimney depends on how much you use your fireplace. A good rule of thumb is to clean your chimney when you are cleaning the leafs from your gutters in the fall.
To clean your chimney you need to open your flue all the way and block off the firebox with plastic and duct tape. The better you seal it off the easier cleanup will be later so take your time and make it tight.
Using chimney brushes and poll extensions begin at the top of your chimney by removing your spark arrestor then working your way down with your brushes.
Using an up and down plunging motion work about a foot at a time to clean the sides of your chimney. Add additional polls as necessary to make it to the bottom.
Remove your brush and polls then inspect your chimney with a bright flashlight. If necessary make additional passes. If you see damage to your chimney liner either cracks or large chunks missing you will need to have a professional inspect and make repairs before using your fireplace.
After you have cleaned the chimney you will need to remove the lose material that is in your firebox and pay close attention to your flue. Make sure the flue operates correctly and buildup is removed from any ledges above your firebox.
Having a professional clean your chimney is definitely much easier for you but it is also something that you should do often enough to ensure the job is getting done right and your liner is in good condition.
Liners that leak can be a fire hazard and they can allow carbon monoxide to enter your home.
If your liner is damaged it can be repaired or replaced with a stainless steel liner.
So the basic rule is that you clean your chimney at the beginning of the heating season and then if you use your fireplace daily for many months you may need to inspect the flue and give it a brushing.
For your firebox and ash trap you want to clean them as often as necessary and that may be after each use or every couple days.