Chimney Sweep, Sort Of.

When working on a house this old, it’s so easy to get distracted and want to do all the things!, and it’s equally easy to question the order in which to do so. You all know that our lack of baseboards in the entryway (and living room and studio) are driving this girl right up a wall, and while we keep saying, it’s next on our list!, it’s totally not. We don’t think.

This is partially due to funds (each room will be upwards of $200+ on the low side due to the much larger trim we chose) and partially because there are other items that are more important. (Oh, studio, studio. I’m looking at you.) There’s also the need for much needed down time (as we recently discovered during life’s messy moments), and we’re also at a point where we need to pick and choose how we spend our money. In between the more costly projects, we also need to do things that’ll make an impact on us now without requiring too much receipt tracking and account draining.

So! Over the weekend, I finally took care of something I had meant to do before we painted the studio pink. Again, sometimes the order gets fuzzy when you have tunnel vision – and in that case, family in town meant painted walls were way, way more important than this nagging to-do: Cleaning that chimney!

The chimney in the studio was uncovered when we tore down the crooked wall that divided the room in half, and at this point, it’s purely for aesthetic purposes. (You might remember that our contractors added support into our first floor ceiling to handle the weight.) It’s not gorgeous by any means – tuck pointing, anyone? – but we love the added element in the big, open floor plan. It’s charming. It has imperfections and flaws, and it’s well over 100-years-old, still standing, and we love it.

The one thing we could easily fix though? The black soot that trailed down the front. It never once crossed our minds to paint the brick (a few of our friends asked if we would do so, but we love the look in its natural state), so it would need a good scrub down. My first round of internet searching for what to do, what to do? brought up a whole lot of nothing (mostly a good power washing – um, no!), but I eventually stumbled upon this forum thread suggesting Greased Lightning, which by the way, can do about a hundred things – laundry, household cleaning, wine spills! We’re not affiliated with them in any way, just genuinely impressed! Here’s what we did to get our perfectly imperfect brick chimney looking its best:

Greased Lightning
Spray bottle with water
Old towels
Handle bristle brush (soft-medium)
Coarse bristle brush
Protective respirator  mask

WHAT WE DID: The process was really simple, although it did require some muscle and a couple of hours. Before doing anything, I wrapped a few old towels around the base of the chimney to catch all the gunk. I then worked in small sections down the front (and a little bit around the sides where the soot had trailed over), starting at the top and working my way down. Over and over (and over again), I did this: Saturate with Greased Lightning, scrub, rinse with water, repeat. I did each section 2-3 times, allowing my softer bristle brush to do most of the legwork and switching over to the course brush for really tough spots. I also found that if I sprayed some water after the Greased Lightning, it would suds up more, which I liked. Note: This stuff smells pretty strong, so I’d recommend a respirator mask!

After completing each section, I did a final rinse with a lot of water, pointing the nozzle at a downward angle to direct the grimy water towards the base of the chimney. Every 15-20 minutes, I’d rinse my scrub brushes and wipe down the surrounding walls of any splatter.

Two hours later, I was done! I’ll admit that it was a little bit of a guessing game since the brick was so wet; right after completion, everything looked pretty dark:

But the next morning, we had a clean chimney! There’s a small section down the front left side at the top that’s a teeny bit darker than the rest of the bricks, which might maybe mean it’s still wet – even now (is that possible?). Or are the bricks just a bit discolored after decades of soot filth? Overall, the Greased Lightning really did the trick, and now that it’s clean, I can’t believe we let it go for this long. (But isn’t that always the case? I’ll be saying the same thing about those f@!*ing baseboards.)

One last step that we’ve considered is sealing everything in, either with a low sheen Polycrylic or a made-just-for-this brick sealer. We don’t have any issues with the chimney being dusty or crumbly, so it might not matter at all – but perhaps it’ll be just what it needs. Have any of you sealed your interior chimney/fireplace surrounds, and if so, did it make a difference?

Now, just imagine the studio with baseboards! (Okay, I’ll stop with that. For now.)

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  • Julia@Cukoo4Design2.26.14 - 7:36 AM

    Love the exposed chimney and cleaning it made a total difference. It might be a good idea to seal it with brick sealerReplyCancel

  • Sarah @ 702 Park Project2.26.14 - 8:11 AM

    Wow, it looks great!! What a cool feature! :)ReplyCancel

  • Brandi G2.26.14 - 8:19 AM

    Just found your blog and love it. We are seven years into a remodel of a 1950’s ranch house and still don’t have baseboards. Soon though!! Good luck with your reno.ReplyCancel

  • Helen2.26.14 - 8:46 AM

    I did seal some similar aged brick on our second floor and it made it noticeably darker and most definitely orange-er. I think the brand of masonry sealer I used was called Jasco? If it’s not dusty or crumbling, I might skip it. If you want the color to look richer and darker, go for it!ReplyCancel

  • Laura @ Rather Square2.26.14 - 8:50 AM

    What a difference! It really looks great. I think I’d go ahead and seal it, just to keep all your hard work protected for years to come.ReplyCancel

  • Cait2.26.14 - 8:58 AM

    The chimney looks great! I’m still totally jealous of the exposed brick. Crossing my fingers that our fireplace is brick under the tile and can be salvaged.

    And I know what you mean when you say “I can’t believe we let it go this long”! Sadly I feel that way about a lot of things around our house.ReplyCancel

  • Kim2.26.14 - 9:04 AM

    Thanks, guys!

    Helen, oh, that’s good to know! I didn’t even think of it potentially changing the brick color. Hmm, something to think about.ReplyCancel

  • This is such a fun feature in the room! Also, we are in the midst of similar projects… halfway through baseboards after many months in the house, and noticing how sooty the chimney is looking. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel2.26.14 - 9:57 AM

    Wow! What a difference that made!! I will definitely have to look into that type of cleaner. (and your baseboards will be in at some point and they will be gorgeous :-))ReplyCancel

  • Jessica@CapeofDreams2.26.14 - 11:16 AM

    The brick will probably be easier to clean in the future if you seal it. It looks great!ReplyCancel

  • Jackie2.26.14 - 7:56 PM

    The chimney looks good :)

    On a baseboard related note, have you looked for a door & trim store in your area, as opposed to just a hardware store or home improvement store? When we replaced ours we found they were *significantly* cheaper at the specialty stores.ReplyCancel

  • Marie2.27.14 - 9:08 AM

    The sealing idea looks great, I’d vote for it. With the great job done, it’ll keep it as long as possible without you needed to clean the chimney too soon.
    About the baseboards, I can’t wait to see it done, too. What about a whole post on the subject ? I’d like you to show us how to do because I’d need your advice, and also because I LOVE your awesome US baseboards. We don’t see them often in Europe, most of the time only flat boring ones. What a shame. Please, baseboards post, please ;-)ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.27.14 - 10:16 AM

      Marie, thanks! We’ll keep that in mind. We have so many rooms to do, so a better break down of what we do / how we did it could be helpful. Thank you for the input!ReplyCancel

  • stephanie@babasouk3.5.14 - 11:07 AM

    Wow this is impressive work guys! It looks so clean now…incredible. Hard work pays off!ReplyCancel


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