Creosote is a by-product of burning wood, coal, pellets, or oil, which create gases as they burn. These gases rise through the chimney, coating the inside of the chimney liner as they do. Today’s fireplaces are designed to allow maximum airflow, which reduces the problem of creosote buildup, but still, this design doesn’t completely eliminate the issue. It’s crucial to remove creosote before it becomes problematic and, even worse, dangerous.
Having a chimney professionally cleaned is one method to remove creosote, but it isn’t the only way. Handy individuals can clean the chimney themselves if they have the right tools, and a variety of creosote-dissolving products are available to help. The best creosote remover for cleaning a chimney will vary based on the amount of buildup and the cleaning method necessary to remove the accumulation. Ahead, learn why creosote buildup can be detrimental, explore several of the factors to consider when purchasing creosote remover, and discover some of the best creosote removers on the market to keep your chimney clean and safe.
- BEST OVERALL: MEECO’S RED DEVIL 5-pound Creosote Destroyer
- RUNNER-UP: Gardus SLK-24 SootEater Rotary Chimney Liner Cleaning
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Rutland Products 2 lb Creosote Remover
- BEST FOR MILD CREOSOTE: Quick N Brite Fireplace Cleaner with Cleaning Brush
- BEST CREOSOTE SPRAY: Rutland Products Rutland Liquid Creosote Remover
- BEST CREOSOTE REMOVER LOG: Pine Mountain 4152501500 First Alert Creosote Buster
- BEST FOR GLAZED CREOSOTE: ACS Liquid Creosote Remover – Anti-Creo-Soot
What to Know About the Dangers of Creosote
Creosote deposits in a chimney can release toxic gases while a fire is lit below. If the gases back up into the home because the fireplace (or stove) isn’t adequately vented, they can cause health problems, such as headaches, burning eyes, skin rashes, and breathing difficulties.
In addition to health concerns, heavy creosote buildup is highly flammable. It may lead to chimney fires that can catch a roof or other parts of a house on fire. So, in addition to removing the creosote, remember that it’s important to always keep a fire extinguisher near the fireplace or stove. When neglected, creosote buildup is also corrosive and can eat through steel chimney liners and flues.
Degrees of Creosote
It’s essential to understand and identify the various degrees of creosote buildup in order to select the most effective product and removal method. Various products remove different creosote levels, indicated by degree as determined by the thickness and physical properties of the deposits.
First degree is the least dangerous level of creosote buildup. It consists of a loose, sooty film that adheres to the chimney liner, much like a layer of dust. At this stage, the creosote is dry and flaky and can be easily brushed away during fireplace cleaning.
As more creosote deposits stick to the chimney’s liner, the heat from subsequent fires transforms them into a thick, sticky substance that adheres to the liner—this is the second degree of creosote buildup. At this point, chemicals are necessary to dissolve the creosote, and scraping or brushing may be required.
If further neglected, the intense heat from fires can turn sticky creosote deposits into a hardened glaze—third-degree creosote buildup—which is difficult to remove and will likely require a professional chimney sweep. At this point, scorching fires in the fireplace can cause the glazed creosote deposits to melt and drip to the bottom of the firebox. This creates an even greater health and fire hazard. Why? Creosote was once used to treat exterior wood timbers, such as those used to construct railroad tracks, to prevent rotting. Studies suggesting that creosote could be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) ended the practice.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Creosote Remover
When it comes to chimney cleaning, the best plan is to take action sooner rather than later. Whether they use chemicals or poles and brushes to eliminate the buildup, creosote removers are most effective when the creosote is at the first- or second-degree stage. After that, it may still be possible for a professional to remove the hardened, glazed buildup, but if the deposits are particularly heavy, the solution may require replacing the chimney liner.
The various types of creosote removers all work best before creosote develops into a hardened residue on the inside of a flue or chimney liner. However, while they go a long way toward keeping a chimney free from residue, they are not a substitute for professional chimney service. For the best results, have the chimney professionally inspected and cleaned before the colder season arrives. Then, use the following products to keep it clean while enjoying the fireplace:
- Creosote sweeping logs: Resembling fire-starter logs, creosote sweeping logs contain heat-released chemicals that reduce the buildup of soot on a chimney liner. Periodically burn a sweeping log, usually every 30 to 60 fires, as directed on the package. During the first and second degree of creosote buildup, sweeping logs can dry out soot and dissolve sticky residue, causing it to fall to the firebox. It can then be swept up and discarded with the wood ash.
- Liquids: Liquid removers often contain liquid manganese, which breaks down creosote buildup. Liquids are suitable for use on first- and second-degree creosote deposits; they’re especially well suited for pellet stoves, in which the pellets fall through a burner pan. The liquid is squirted or sprayed on the fuel, such as pellets or the wood gathered from a fireplace rack. When the fuel burns, it releases chemicals that penetrate buildup, loosen it, and (if it’s not glazed) turn it to ash. If the creosote is glazed, some types of liquid removers can soften the residue in preparation for professional cleaning.
- Powders: Powdered removers are typically sprinkled over logs in the fireplace. When preparing a chimney with glazed deposits for professional cleaning, the powder may need to be applied multiple times to sufficiently soften and loosen the glazed creosote before a chimney sweep can remove it.
- Manual: This type of creosote remover product features scrapers and brushes, similar to the ones used by professional chimney sweeps to remove creosote. Some DIY-type products allow for cleaning from the bottom of the chimney rather than the top.
Our Top Picks
A good creosote remover should be relatively simple to use. The product should treat the appropriate degree of creosote buildup and help the user to maintain a clean chimney. The following products represent some of the best creosote removers on the market, featuring different types designed for the various degrees of creosote buildup. When using any creosote remover that contains chemicals, always carefully follow the manufacturer’s application and safety instructions.
Preventing creosote from building up in a chimney liner and removing existing creosote can be as simple as sprinkling a few teaspoons of Meeco’s Red Devil Creosote Destroyer over firewood or coal every third time a fire is lit in the fireplace. As the fire burns, the remover’s chemicals—which include copper chloride, silicon dioxide, and fixed carbon—coat the chimney liner and keep creosote residue from adhering while also breaking down any existing buildup.
This powdered formulation comes in a 5-pound tub, enough to keep a chimney clean for a whole season of fires. Keep in mind that it is not intended to remove thick, hardened creosote deposits.
No need to climb up onto the roof to remove creosote with the Gardus SootEater Rotary Chimney Liner Cleaning System. Designed to clean wood-burning fireplace chimneys and wood-burning stove flues, this system includes eight 3-foot, flexible quick-connect rods; a whip head; and a drill adapter. The user attaches the whip head to the top of a quick-connect rod and then joins the other end, via the adapter, to a standard drill.
When the drill is turned on, the whip head, which features strong 12 millimeter nylon strings, spins (like a weed eater) and removes creosote buildup from inside the flue or liner. The additional connect rods can be attached as needed to reach higher in the chimney, and since each one is flexible, it’s possible to clean around bends in a flue.
For an inexpensive way to remove creosote from a chimney or flue, consider Rutland Products’ 2-pound tub of powdered creosote remover. It’s like a smaller version of the Best Overall pick (above), containing enough remover to treat a wood-burning fireplace or wood-burning stove 16 times, and it can be applied once every third fire.
The heat from a fire releases the active ingredients, which then penetrate first- or second-degree creosote. This remover dissolves the sticky, tar-like residue and turns it into powdery ash that falls harmlessly to the bottom of the firebox.
Creosote buildup isn’t always limited to the inside of a chimney liner or flue. If a fireplace is not a newer, airtight model, it’s common for fires to emit tiny amounts of soot along the outside of the firebox, leading to dark stains on brick or stone chimney surrounds and mantels. This sooty creosote residue can be challenging to remove with regular household cleaners, but Quick N Brite Fireplace Cleaner helps dissolve the residue and make the fireplace look fresh and new.
The 16-ounce bottle of gel concentrate is biodegradable, nontoxic, and environmentally friendly, making it safe for people, pets, and the planet. Apply it to areas with stains and buildup with a wet scrub sponge, then rinse with water and wipe with a cloth. For even heavier residue, the included scrub brush can be used as well.
For pellet stove users, Rutland Liquid Creosote Remover is an optimal treatment that requires spraying the liquid on the pellets before loading them into the stove’s hopper. As the pellets burn, the chemicals release, and the gases penetrate first- and second-degree creosote buildup. The creosote dissolves and dries out, so it falls from the flue and into the bottom of the firebox.
This 32-ounce bottle of spray remover is also suitable for wood stoves and wood fireplaces, where users can spray it directly onto the logs. For the best results, treat pellets or wood once per week to help keep flues and chimney liners clear.
One of the simplest ways to prevent creosote buildup is with a creosote sweeping log, such as the First Alert Creosote Buster Fire Log from Pine Mountain. Simply remove the outer wrapping and then place the sweeping log atop already-burning logs in the fireplace. The log contains heat-released chemicals that become airborne and seek out first- and second-degree creosote in the chimney liner. These chemicals then penetrate soot and residue and break it down, leaving it to dry and fall to the firebox where it can be swept away. The manufacturer recommends adding a sweeping log to the fireplace once per season or, if the fireplace is used frequently, once every 40 fires.
Made from renewable resources, the log is also an environmentally friendly choice for fighting creosote buildup. It produces up to 75 percent less particulate matter and 80 percent less carbon monoxide than common types of firewood.
Soften glazed creosote and reduce the risk of chimney fires with the Liquid Creosote Remover from ACS. This potent liquid creosote treatment should be sprayed daily in the firebox, over the wood, and upward in the flue (sprayer not included). It works to break down hardened, glazed creosote deposits in preparation for a professional chimney sweep to clean.
This nontoxic liquid should be applied at least seven days in a row before scheduling a professional cleaning. Once the creosote is removed, continued use of the liquid will help keep deposits from reforming in the chimney or flue. It is suitable for use in wood- or coal-burning stoves and fireplaces as well as pellet stoves.
FAQs About Creosote Removers
Creosote is a natural by-product of a burning fire, but once heavy deposits form, it can be difficult to remove—even for a professional. For those who enjoy wood, coal, or pellet fires, some questions about creosote and creosote remover are common.
Q. Is creosote harmful to humans?
It can be. When hot, creosote can release fumes that cause respiratory problems, and contact with bare skin can lead to irritation, redness, or rashes. Some studies also indicate that creosote may be a carcinogen (a cancer-causing agent).
Q. Will a hot fire remove creosote?
No, the hotter the fire, the more likely it is to cause creosote.
Q. How often should I burn a creosote log?
Burn a creosote log once every 30 to 60 fires, depending on the brand of the log.
Q. Are creosote logs safe for wood stoves?
Yes, creosote logs will help clean away deposits in a wood-stove flue just as in a wood-burning fireplace.