How do I stop the stinky smokey smell coming from my dormant fireplace?

Q: In the Spring and Summer my fireplace sits unused and unloved. When it gets warm outside, and especially when it is raining, my fireplace smells like smoldering sweat socks! When I have visitors over the smell is embarrassing. I have tried every air freshener ever made, and it doesn’t help. How can I stop the stinky fireplace smell? – JO

 

A: Dear JO,
This is a very common problem. Before you invest in a 55 gallon drum of Febreeze, lets talk over what is causing it. In the spring and summer we close up our houses and start using the air conditioning. This gives your house limited access to outside air. When you turn on your bathroom fan or clothes dryer you start taking your inside air and you chuck it outside. This makes your home search for the path of least resistance to suck in air. Often that is through your loose and leaky fireplace damper.

Heat and humidity make ash and creosote acrid and stinky. Creosote is acidic and it releases a gas when it gets wet. So you have this stinky dirty snorkel tube (also known as a chimney) that you house is using to suck through, yuck!

Now that we know why the fireplace stinks, lets talk about steps to stop it:

  1. We have 3 types of chimney draft excluder plugs that work well to stop odors. The Chimney Balloon usually installs in the smoke shelf, The Flueblocker installs below the damper, and the Chimella installs in the upper smoke chamber or flue tile. Here is a link to an article that shows a diagram of where each product installs at.
  2. Once you have one of these products installed, you will shut off the flow of intake air through the chimney, and your house will be forced to find another location to draw air from.
  3. If it has been more than a year since your last chimney cleaning, you may want to have it looked at by a CSIA certified Chimney Sweep. But be forewarned, that a scrubbing and cleaning will often make the chimney odor stronger just after cleaning. So make sure you get your chimney plug right back in after the chimney sweep has done his thing.  *

* Some Chimney Sweeps put a hard sell on you to put a top seal damper on your flue. They run anywhere from $650 to over $1000 installed. We have another blog post about top seal dampers.