White brick fireplaces look absolutely amazing, so it’s no wonder why they’re so popular. They bring a clean and bright look to the fireplace, which is already a central point of the living space. The only problem is that they can get so dirty!
Seriously, the soot and smoke from the fire can darken the white paint in the time of just one fire. However, there are some ways you can clean your white brick fireplace (and keep it clean!).
Cleaning a white brick fireplace can be accomplished with solutions like soap or borax. The cleaning process involves pre-treating the brick for loose dust and dirt, applying a cleansing agent, allowing it to sit on the brick to penetrate the surface, and wiping the brick clean, allowing it plenty of time to air-dry.
You can also prevent stains from building up in the first place by choosing the right types of firewood to burn.
While this is a nice summary, we can still dive into more details. Details like: exactly which cleaning agents should you use, what types of wood should you burn, and how can you keep your white brick fireplace (or other white fireplace surround) clean? Let’s take a closer look and answer these.
1. Pre-Treat Your Brick
First, use a rag or a vacuum attachment to remove any dust, dirt, or other small solid particles from the face of the brick.
Then, you’ll need to use a spray bottle to saturate the area with water. This step can get pretty drippy, so be sure to remove any nearby wall or mantle decorations and protect your floors with a tarp or towel.
This pre-treating accomplishes two things. One, getting rid of the dust and dirt makes your cleanser more effective when you do put it on. Two, the moisture on the surface of the brick will fill its pores and prevent the cleanser from going deeper into the brick, where it could cause staining or discoloration.
2. Choose Your Cleaner
The kind of cleaning agent you use will depend on how severe your stains are, as well as how your particular bricks respond. Consider doing a patch test on a small, inconspicuous section of the brick to make sure that the cleaner you choose will actually clean instead of damage your brick.
Remember to clean a completely cold fireplace, never one that is still warm or actively burning!
Dish Soap + Salt
You may have heard stories about how Dawn dish soap is used to clean crude oil off of animals that have been affected in an oil spill. Dish soap also works very well to gently de-grease a brick fireplace.
Salt is a gentle but effective abrasive that is less reactive and corrosive than baking soda, which is why we prefer it. This combo is especially good for older or more porous bricks.
To use dish soap and salt for cleaning your white fireplace, follow these steps:
- Combine a cup of dish soap with a cup of salt to make a gritty paste. We recommend Dawn or Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds. This amount will cover a three-foot square area of brick, so size up or down according to the surface area you need to cover.
- Use your hand or a clean rag to spread this paste evenly over the surface of the brick. With a bristle brush (not a wire brush), gently massage the paste into the brick.
- Let it sit for up to ten minutes, then wipe it clean with a wet rag. If necessary, you can use a vacuum to clean up any salt granules left behind.
This product works surprisingly well on stained fireplace brick, especially to spot-clean if you have areas that are more discolored than others.
Scrubbing Bubbles lists its active ingredients as “quaternary ammonium compounds,” and ammonia, in general, is very effective at breaking down stains and restoring brightness to a white or light surface.
To use Scrubbing Bubbles for cleaning your fireplace, follow these steps:
- Pre-treat your brick and place some rags at the bottom of the brick surface you are cleaning. The foam created by Scrubbing Bubbles will drip down with gravity.
- Hold the spray can 6 to 8 inches away from the brick and coat the stained area with the white foam. It is best to clean 1 to 2 bricks at a time with Scrubbing Bubbles, as opposed to trying to get the whole facing of your fireplace at once.
- The foam should subside in 2 to 3 minutes, at which point you can use some elbow grease and a rag to scrub the brick and remove even more grime.
You can repeat this process a couple of times to get the bricks as clean as possible. If a stain is particularly stubborn, try leaving the foam to sit for longer before scrubbing it away.
Borax + Water
Borax is a powdered form of boric acid that is easy to use to remove stains of all kinds, including those on fireplace brick. That being said, it’s still smart to armor up with rubber gloves and eye protection when using this or any type of acid as a cleaning agent.
To clean your fireplace bricks with Borax and water, follow these steps:
- Combine 2 tablespoons of Borax with 4 cups of hot water in a bucket or a spray bottle.
- Apply the solution to the brick in small sections and use a bristle brush to scrub the brick in circles.
- Wipe the bricks clean with a damp cloth.
You can also add 1 tablespoon of dish soap to this mixture to up the grease-cutting ante.
Trisodium Phosphate + Water
Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is a very effective cleaner, but is also genuinely toxic to people, animals, and the environment, and is outright banned in several states.
You must—repeat, must—use personal protective equipment when using it, and take the proper measures to dispose of it afterward. If your brick is whitewashed, you’ll want to avoid TSP altogether, as one of its many uses is stripping paint.
To use TSP and water safely and effectively, follow these steps:
- Don your rubber gloves and eye protection.
- Combine ⅛ cup of TSP with 1 gallon of hot water in a bucket.
- Dip a bristle brush in this solution and scrub the bricks with a circular motion until clean.
- Rinse the bricks with a warm, wet rag.
Avoid getting this solution on any metal parts on or around your fireplace.
3. Burn The Right Wood
One of the best ways you can keep your white fireplace brick pristine is by using firewood that burns clean and hot. Stains and discoloration on white brick fireplaces are largely caused by a buildup of gases and impurities released from burning bad firewood.
Select a hardwood with a high heat value like beech, oak, hickory, or maple that has been seasoned for at least one year, and don’t use pieces that are larger than 5 inches in diameter.
Never burn wood that is “green,” that is, is less than a year old and not fully dried out. Never burn plywood, particleboard, or other kinds of pressure-treated wood, as these are loaded with bad chemicals that can harm you and put some really gnarly stains on your brick.
If you have firewood that is moldy or wet, don’t burn these either, as both of these will release discoloring compounds into your brick.
4. Stay On Top Of It
If you do notice stains starting to build up, be proactive and treat them right away!
If you tackle stains on your brick before they have a chance to set and become stubborn, they’ll be easily removed by dish soap and salt. Then you won’t have to mess around with Borax, TSP, and personal protective equipment.
Regular maintenance is going to protect and preserve your white brick much better than emergency measures after things have already gotten bad.
Inspect your white fireplace brick frequently for buildup of soot or grime, and make cleaning it part of your normal housekeeping rotation.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Fireplace Tips, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Chimney Safety Institute of North America (CSIA): The CSIA is your BEST resource for fireplace and chimney safety at home. They’re a non-profit governed by a volunteer board of directors dedicated to the education, training, and certification of chimney and industry related professionals.
- Self-Sufficiency and Off-Grid: If you’re like me and passionate about off-grid and self-sufficiency, see my number 1 resource—Abundance Plus. Check out their Frugal Homesteading Course on growing 90% of your own food. Get 7-days free and 10% off with the code: TYLER10