Things That Could Happen if Your Chimney is Too Dirty

Things That Could Happen if Your Chimney is Too Dirty

You probably already know that it’s important to keep your chimney clean. In fact, the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends cleaning your chimney at least once each year or every 36 fires – whichever comes first. Failing to keep your chimney clean can lead to numerous issues that range in severity from minor nuisances to devastating fires, so be sure you take the CSIA’s advice to avoid the potential dangers listed below.

Unwanted Odor

As soot builds up in your chimney over time, all the chemicals it contains – including flammable, carcinogenic creosote – will build up along with it. Creosote has a very strong and pungent odor, especially when it’s wet or exposed to high humidity. This odor not only enters the air, but it also penetrates your carpet, drapes, and furnishings where it will linger for weeks (or longer). The best way to prevent this is with regular professional chimney cleanings as per the CSIA’s guidelines.

Respiratory and Skin Irritation

Creosote and other compounds that can be found in your chimney liner can irritate your skin, eyes, and lungs – especially if you are prone to allergies or you have a medical condition like asthma or emphysema. By keeping your chimney clean, you can reduce the number of irritants and allergens that enter the air and cause health issues. Professional chimney sweeps use highly specialized tools to remove these irritants while preventing them from entering your home. 

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

As soot, creosote, and other compounds continue to build with every fire you light, they will stick to everything – not just the chimney liner. These compounds will build up on your damper over time, too, and this can prevent it from operating properly in the future. In turn, if your damper cannot open all the way due to built-up combustion byproducts, the smoke and carbon monoxide created by your fireplace will not be able to escape as it should. This can lead to potentially deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Keeping your chimney clean and well ventilated is the best way to prevent this.


Chimney fires are surprisingly common, and according to the CSIA, the majority are completely undetected by homeowners. Creosote is the number one cause of chimney fires; as it continues to build up between chimney cleanings, it becomes more and more flammable. Though most chimney fires do stay contained inside the chimney, some can and will travel to the nearby combustible structure of the home and cause devastating loss. Signs of a chimney fire include cracking and popping sounds coming from the chimney, a very intense burning odor, and a lot of dense smoke. Again, the best way to prevent chimney fires (and house fires caused by chimney fires) is to keep your chimney clean and in good repair.

A dirty chimney is the catalyst for numerous problems ranging from a strong odor throughout your home to deadly carbon monoxide poisoning and even fully-involved house fires. The importance of hiring a CSIA-certified chimney sweep to clean and maintain your chimney every single year simply cannot be stressed enough. In the long run, it may very well save your home and your life.