Have you ever walked into someone’s home and immediately got hit by the smell of a campfire right after it’s been doused by water? Kind of wood-burning/mildewy odor that makes you wonder what’s been burning?

Chances are, the smell is coming from their fireplace. If you notice this odor in someone’s home – or in your own home, for that matter – we have solutions. Call to schedule your chimney inspection.

Why Does a Fireplace Smell?

Usually when your fireplace smells, it’s due to creosote.

When you burn wood in your fireplace creosote is produced as a byproduct. The greener and/or softer the wood you are burning, the more creosote is produced, and over time it will build up in your chimney and give off a strong odor. If it’s mixed with water in any way (water intrusion from a missing cap, a cracked crown, or just moisture in the flue), that’s when you also get the mildew on top of the campfire smell.

If left untreated, the smell can cling to a lot of other items – things like your furniture, clothes, and even the walls and window treatments. You can do what most people do for some relief and open up windows and doors, use fans, buy air purifiers, and invest in other natural deodorizers, but ultimately you’re going to have to get your fireplace and chimney swept. The only way to get rid of the smell is to get rid of the creosote!

Another reason to get rid of creosote (outside of the smell) is it is highly combustible and the reason for a lot of chimney fires. In fact, many of these fires ignite then go out until you either get it swept (cleaned) and the chimney technician finds signs of the chimney fire, or one day someone walks by your house and sees flames shooting out of the top of your chimney. Not good.

Are There Other Causes of Chimney & Fireplace Smells?

Definitely – creosote isn’t the only culprit! Here are some other reasons your chimney may be stinking up the house:

original infographic on common reasons for chimney odors
  • Animal Infestation: Birds, raccoons, squirrels, or other animals can nest or get trapped in the chimney, causing unpleasant odors.
  • Moisture: Rainwater or other moisture entering the chimney can mix with creosote and other debris, leading to a musty smell.
  • Negative Air Pressure: This can draw odors from the chimney into the house, especially if the house is tightly sealed.
  • Soot & Ash: Residual soot and ash from previous fires can create a smoky smell.
  • Dirty Firebox: Ashes and unburned logs left in the fireplace can create odors.
  • Mold or Mildew: These can develop in damp, poorly ventilated chimneys and produce a foul smell.
  • Faulty Chimney Cap: A damaged or missing chimney cap can allow water, animals, and debris to enter, leading to odors.
  • Old or Decaying Debris: Leaves, twigs, or other debris blocking the chimney can lead to odors from trapped moisture and decay.
  • Burning Trash or Non-Wood Items: Burning inappropriate materials can produce unpleasant odors. The only thing to burn in your fireplace is seasoned wood.

How Do You Get Rid of Creosote When Sweeping a Chimney?

Because creosote is a sticky, messy substance, you can’t simply take a rag and wipe it off the walls of the flue. A professional has to knock it off with a brush specially designed for the job. The brush is attached to a rotary drill, so it revolves very fast to knock as much as possible off and into the firebox, where it is then swept up and discarded back at the shop.

Once I Get Rid of the Smell, How Do I Keep It From Coming Back?

Keeping the smell from coming back is really easy to do.

  1. Get your chimney and fireplace swept or cleaned annually or after every cord of wood is burned.
  2. On top of this, get a moisture meter from Amazon or a local hardware store and make sure the wood you are burning has less than 20% moisture in it.
  3. Make sure the wood you are burning is hardwood. Examples of hardwood are oak, maple, hickory, walnut, and cherry.

If you do these 3 things consistently, then you won’t have a lot of creosote buildup to smell up your house.

Trust a CSIA Certified Sweep

Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) certified chimney sweeps are the premier sweeps in the United States. They understand your chimney and venting system and are here to help you understand it better, so you get the best performance out of it.

When thinking about who to hire, think CSIA. And if you’re in the Northern VA area, turn to the techs here at Winston’s Chimney Service. We only send out CSIA certified sweeps to your home. They’ll be wearing their badges, so you know who they are and that they’re proud of what they do.  For all repairs, sweepings, inspections, and more, there’s no better crew to trust.

Reach out now – call today or schedule right here online.