Removing soot stains from bricks and stone

Fireplace SootSoot stains over a fireplace can ruin a focal point in a room and detract from the beauty of the stone, tile, or brick facing. Long thought to be irremovable, there are some new techniques and products that can do the job.

Soot stains are one of the most difficult stains to remove, especially if bricks or stones are porous rather than hard. But it is worth a try no matter what type of masonry is used to frame a fireplace opening. The first thing to consider is that plain water should never be used on soot because it will make the problem worse.

First, vacuum the stained area using a small nozzle or brush to remove as much of the soot as possible. Then try one of the following products:

Soot Eraser: This is an item manufactured by Hy-C Company in St. Louis, Missouri, and is available at hearth retailers, hardware stores, and from chimney sweeps. The product looks like a big eraser or sponge, and when used to wipe stone or brick it often takes the soot off. The soot eraser works on most surfaces including woodwork, walls, blinds, and shades in addition to masonry.

Speedy White Hearth & Stove Cleaner: This product can be used to remove soot from glass doors, tiles, metal, and masonry.  Speedy White also works on cloth, vinyl, carpeting, plastics, grills, and fiberglass.  It comes in spray container and is available from hearth retailers or chimney sweeps. The product is sprayed on then wiped off with a soft cloth.

DIY Degreaser: Mix up a degreasing solution by placing 1 tablespoon of Tri-sodium phosphate in a 1 gallon bucket of warm water. Protect the floor with plastic and put on safety glasses and heavy duty rubber gloves. Open windows and run a fan facing out the window. Wipe the stain off in one direction using a sponge. Rinse out the sponge after each pass. Do not scrub or the soot stain may become worse.  

Paint-N-Peel: This is a newer environmentally friendly product and service which is available from professional chimney sweeps, who will first protect glass doors, then apply the product to the masonry. The product works on marble, granite, slate, tile, concrete, mortar, brick, and stone. It works best on smooth hard surfaces. The sweep will return 24 hours later to slowly peel the dried product from the masonry, taking soot with it. The product is like a very thick paint with absorption qualities. Use for difficult to remove soot stains. Depending on the type of masonry more than one application may be necessary. Paint –N-Peel is available from retailers, but it takes some training to do the job right so a professional should do the application and removal.

Next, try to figure out why the soot stains occurred in the first place. The most common reasons are that a damper was not opened prior to using a fireplace. This happens more often than most people think! The second most common reason is not so apparent and has to do with house pressures. During cold months when the house is closed up negative pressure is at its worse. The condition can cause fireplaces to smoke and soot up fireplace faces. This is something that should be tested by a professional chimney sweep during cold weather in order to get accurate readings. If the house is found to be under negative pressure the sweep may be able to offer a solution by installing a whole house ventilator. 

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