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4 Ways to Keep Fireplace Smoke Out of the House

There is nothing quite like cozying up in the living room to the warm glow of a crackling fire. Sometimes though, the smoke can back up into the house which can definitely take all of the relaxation right out of the moment. Homeowners that experience this are not alone. It is a very common problem that many other people face when using a fireplace.

The 4 main ways to keep fireplace smoke out of the house are:

  1. Select the right wood
  2. Understand how to properly use the fireplace and chimney
  3. Perform regular maintenance
  4. Make sure your flue is the right temperature

There are a number of ways to keep fireplace smoke out of the house but before diving into that subject, one should first study how smoke gathers in the house in the first place, and what they can do to get rid of it. This list has been put together to bring all of the information under one source for easy reference. Read on for all the helpful tips!

What Causes Fireplace Smoke to Get in Your House?

There are three major causes of smoke back filling from a fireplace into a person’s home. They’re easily avoided when the proper precautions are taken. It is important to know what causes smoke to fill up the house so that a person is not having to constantly bother with it. Identifying the cause of the problem is the first place to start.

Some major concerns to consider about smoke rolling into the home from the fireplace are:

  • Damage to paintings, curtains, clothes, and furniture in the home
  • Unpleasant odors seeping into the furniture in the home
  • Damage to the respiratory health of the inhabitants of the home

Downdrafts can occur even when a roaring fire has been going for quite some time.

A downdraft is a gush of cold air that goes into the chimney and pushes smoke into the house. This can fill the home with dangerous gasses that could cause serious trouble. Another term for downdrafts is back puffing. This is a likely cause of smoke build-up.

Some firewood might not be ready to burn. If the wood is still “green”, which means that it is freshly cut and is still retaining a large part of its moisture content, it is very likely to create a build-up of smoke that the chimney is not prepared to handle. The excess smoke will build-up until it is forced to spill into the home. One needs the right wood.

Some do not get their chimney cleaned regularly. This can cause obstructions which can lead to smoke entering the home. Another cause of obstruction could come from misusing the fireplace. If the damper isn’t opened all of the way an obstruction could occur which would cause smoke to pour in.

How to Get the Current Fireplace Smoke Out of the House

There are a few ways that someone can clear the smoke from a fireplace out of their house. The smoke from a fireplace can be toxic for those that breathe in it.

Homes that experience a backdraft of smoke are susceptible to all kinds of damage, including:

  • Electronics that could be damaged from the debris that smoke residue can leave behind
  • Furniture from developing extremely unpleasant odors 
  • The inhabitants from exposure to toxic fumes from the smoke

An artificial draft can be created by opening a door or window on each end of the house and placing two fans at those positions. One of the fans will draw air in and the other will draw air out, resulting in the creation of an artificial draft. This is by far the best way to clear smoke out of the house. People should use this method to keep their homes safe! 

Something that can aid in the process of removing smoke from the home is to open and shut doors like a set of bellows. This will help the smoke waft out of the structure and keep those inside safe from exposure. This is an excellent method to use when a homeowner is looking for some way to expedite the process of removing toxic smoke.

Smoke will often rise to the top of the house that it is filling. An easy way to draw the smoke out is to open a window on the top floor. This will allow the smoke to take the path of least resistance and leave the home efficiently. This can be a great way to passively help out the process of smoke removal when creating an artificial draft inside.

4 Ways to Keep Your Fireplace From Smoking Up Your House

1. Select the Right Wood

The first place that people go wrong when making a fire for the fireplace is selecting the wrong wood. The wood they use should be something that is not resinous like pine and it should be completely dry. Using wood that is not up to a certain standard will create loads of smoke that will surely back-fill into the house. This should really be avoided.

The three most effective wood types to use in the fireplace for the best results are:

  • Properly aged, dry oak that is free of dirt and debris
  • Maple oak that has had time to dry and hold no troublesome moisture 
  • Birch wood with the bark on will look great in the fireplace

Pinewood should be avoided at all costs. It is not an acceptable source of firewood for the fireplace. The soot produced from the pinewood contains resin that is highly flammable. This can kick smoke back into the house very easily and could cause the home to go up in flames. Choosing the proper type of wood is essential to success.

If the wood has sat outside for a while, the fire maker should ensure that it has first had a chance to dry completely before finding its way into the fireplace. The moisture in the wood can cause excess smoke to fill the chimney and pour into the house. The best way to ensure that wood is properly dried is to remove the bark. This will dry it fast!

A big cause of smoke can come from debris that the wood has gathered while being stored. This debris can be paper, dried grass, spider webs, and anything really. When the debris on the outside of the wood meets the flame, it is possible that excess smoke can be created which will have the tendency to pour back into the house unsafely. 

2. Know How to Use Your Fireplace and Chimney

Some of the most common causes of smoke back-filling into the house stem from a lack of experience from the homeowner. People can make simple mistakes that can cause large plumes of smoke to fill the house from the fireplace. These mistakes can be avoided quite easily. All a person needs to do is think a few steps ahead and they’re ok. 

Common mistakes can be avoided by keeping these tips in mind:

  • Ensure that the smoke has a place to go and will not back fill into the home
  • Know the capabilities of the chimney and do not start fires too fast
  • Ensure that proper precautions have been taken to limit the amount of smoke that could enter the home

The flue must be opened all of the way. Even a partial obstruction could result in tons of smoke filling the house. People often overlook this step, especially when they have used the fireplace recently with no issues. It is possible that the flue could have shifted since it was last used. It takes less than a minute to take care of this concern. Do it. 

A huge reason that smoke comes back into the house is the process of back-drafting. This can occur when the homeowner fails to warm the air within the chimney before starting a fire. On days that are especially cold, a homeowner that is hoping to make a fire should light a small piece of wood or a rag and hold it in the fireplace as heat climbs.

People need to take the time to do these little things right. It will save a world of trouble down the road and takes probably five minutes altogether. By ensuring that the flue is opened properly, and that the chimney has had a chance to warm up, the homeowner is going the extra distance to ensure that his or her home is not going to fill up with smoke.

3. Perform Regular Maintenance

A dirty chimney can pose serious risks to a person and their home. Obstructions caused by built-up soot and debris from fires can lead to a buildup of smoke that will have no other exit than back through the house. This can be easily avoided by proper upkeep and maintenance. Do the little things now before they become big things later. 

The main types of maintenance tasks that can prevent smoke will benefit the user by ensuring: 

  • Their home stays free of damage from back-filled smoke
  • Their family remains healthy without the exposure to toxins from the smoke
  • That everyone has a pleasant experience on days that the fireplace is used
  • That their clothing does not reak of the smell of wood smoke
  • That their electronics do not sustain damage from the smoke

Soot and debris from fires can build up, and cause the flue to become obstructed or flammable. This is a huge risk to the home and the homeowner as well. Hiring a chimney sweep to clean out this gunk and debris is a great way to mitigate the chances of smoke back-filling into the home. Good maintenance is the best defense to use.

A great way to reduce the risk of smoke filling the house is to cap the chimney in the off season. This will keep the flue free from obstruction and debris from outside. It is imperative that a homeowner remembers to remove the cap before they make a fire though. This will be a complete obstruction and will cause all of the smoke to backfill.

To ensure that the chimney, fireplace, and various components are in working order, it is a good idea to have them inspected before the season and after. This will keep the fireplace, chimney, and components in a good working order and cut down significantly on the chances for the smoke to back-fill into the home. These are easy up-keep tips.

4. Make Sure Your Flue is the Right Temperature

If the temperature of the flue is similar to the air outside, the chimney will have trouble creating a good draft. This is when the chimney is releasing the smoke and fumes from the fire while simultaneously taking in fresh air. When this process is interrupted, the excess smoke will more than likely wind up in a person’s house which can be troubling.

The ideal temperature range between the inside air and the outside air should be around 20ºF. Waiting to start a fire until there is that significant difference between the two will go a long way towards ensuring that smoke does not come back-filling from the chimney into the home. This could be very dangerous. 

If the flue is filled with cold air the best thing to do is to create a small fire with some available materials, and hold it within the flue. As the heat rises, the air within the flue will warm and become ready for the big fire to begin. This will increase the chances of creating a good draft that will carry all of the harmful smoke away from the home. 

Possible items that could be used to warm the flue:

  • A rolled-up newspaper could be held and burned easily
  • A tightly twisted rag on a stick or fire poker would work very well
  • A candle could work in a pinch but it might require more time to warm the air
  • Tightly wadded and twisted bunches of straw or dry grass
  • Cardboard could work very well since it is made of flammable paper

If the air within the flue is too warm then smoke could pour into the house as well. To fix this, a person should lower the temperature on the thermostat to bring the heat down in the home. This is probably the fastest way to bring down the temperature of the flue and ensure that there is enough differentiation with the air inside the flue to mitigate smoke.

How to Get Rid of Fireplace Smell (When There’s No Smoke)

If someone was unable to prevent smoke from accumulating in their house, they can face another problem after clearing it out. The scent of a fire can linger in a home for ages and leave everything covered in an invisible film of grime. There are a few ways to remove the smell and grime from a home that has been contaminated with toxic smoke.

A great method for removing the smell of smoke from a home is to mix vinegar and water and use it as a cleaning agent. This works well on hard surfaces and can be applied to the flue directly. Vinegar and water do not mask the odor. The mixture will actually remove the odor from most, if not all surfaces.

To remove the lingering scent from the air, a homeowner should use a mixture of baking soda and water. The homeowner should place this mixture in bowls around the house to get the scent of smoke out of the room. This is a great remedy for those who find the scent of vinegar more off-putting than the scent of smoke and ash from the fireplace.

To attack the scent at its source, the homeowner should also place charcoal briquettes in a bucket or other receptacle with damp paper towels. The charcoal briquettes have a natural quality to filter out foul smells. The damp paper towels will help to attract the odor to the charcoal. This will be a great way to attack the odor at its strongest point.

Final Thoughts

Smoke can very easily build-up in a home and cause the occupants to become ill. Back-fills of smoke can be avoided by following the steps listed above. It is as simple as taking the time to do the little things the right way. Homeowners that take the time to do those little things the right way will mitigate their risks of smoke back-fill.

Keeping smoke from back-filling, removing it from the house, and eliminating lingering odors can all be confusing tasks. The good news is that these things can be done quite easily when a person takes the time to ask how. This guide will include everything that a homeowner needs to use and enjoy their fireplace properly. Good luck, and stay safe! 

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