Tips for cleaning a cast-iron fireplace

Whether you're cleaning or restoring one, cast-iron fireplace grates need special treatment. Here’s what to do.

Updated

Clean cast iron fireplace

Key steps

When you’re cleaning cast-iron fireplace elements:

  1. Sweep and vacuum away loose debris or ashes.
  2. Wipe the grate clean with methylated spirit.
  3. Finish with iron paste or grate polish.

A cast-iron fireplace adds a cosy, old-fashioned touch to a home — but only if it’s in good shape. Here’s how to clean cast-iron fireplace elements, with some guidance on how to restore a rusty cast-iron fireplace in case your grate needs heavier work.

You know this already, but it has to be said: don’t try to clean a fireplace while it’s still warm, and definitely don’t try to clean a fireplace if a fire’s burning in it. Fireplace cleaning tends to be messy, so it’s a good idea to cover the surrounding area with plastic sheeting.

Before cleaning cast-iron fireplace elements, you’ll often need to sweep up the ashes of previous fires. Scattering used coffee grounds on the ash before you start sweeping can prevent it from billowing into your face.

How to clean a cast-iron fireplace grate

You can’t use water for cleaning cast-iron fireplace elements; it’ll encourage rust. Instead, try this water-free method for getting your grate clean:

  1. Sweep out any ashes with a dustpan and brush. If any ashes are still in the grate, you can knock them through to the space below, where they’ll be easier to sweep.
  2. Once you’ve got rid of as much as possible through sweeping, vacuum up any remaining dust and debris.
  3. If any dirt is clinging to the iron, put a little methylated spirit on a cloth and use it to wipe down the grate. Keep going until it’s clean. You may go through several cloths in the process.
  4. If your grate’s looking a little dull, use a commercial iron paste or grate polish to restore its blackness. This is usually applied, left for a few hours and then polished with a cloth, but follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

How to restore a cast-iron fireplace

Maybe your cast-iron fireplace is beyond simple cleaning, and it needs some restoration work. You could get a professional in, but there’s a lot you can do at home. Here’s a quick guide to restoring cast-iron fireplace elements (you may find it easier to remove the fireplace from the wall first, if it’s moveable):

  1. Lay down plastic sheeting to protect the floor.
  2. More importantly, you also need to protect yourself. Paint strippers tend to be harsh on skin and give off toxic fumes. Make sure the room is well-ventilated. Put on some old clothes and gear up for safety: gloves, face mask, and goggles.
  3. If you’re looking at an old cast-iron fireplace that hasn’t seen use this century, it could be covered in layers of flaking paint. Use a commercial paint stripper and follow the instructions on the bottle.
  4. When you’ve removed the paint, grab a soft cloth and give the grate a rub-down with white spirit to remove any residue.
  5. Clean any rust away with steel wool.
  6. Finish off with iron paste or grate polish, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

With your cast-iron fireplace now looking great, you might want to pay some attention to the surroundings as well. Check out our articles on how to sweep a chimney , how to clean a marble fireplace , how to clean a stone fireplace or how to clean a hearth. If the cleaning’s been messy, our article on how to clean soot from brick and carpet may also be of use.

Originally published