Nothing spoils the appearance of a fireplace, often a room’s major focal point, like soot. You can often help prevent soot from forming in the first place by always remembering to open your flue before starting a fire, and by keeping the size of your fire manageable—don’t over-stack the wood. If soot has already formed, you can remove it with a little effort and these techniques:
PAINTED MANTELS: Often, much of the soot on painted mantels can be removed by using a dry cleaning sponge, such as Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Just rub in small circles until soot disappears. For stubborn soot, mix a solution of warm water and ammonia in a bucket—about 1 cup ammonia to ½ gallon water is the right proportion. Soak a clean rag in the solution, wring out excess, and wipe mantel. Let dry, then repeat if necessary.
UNPAINTED BRICK: First, lay down a drop cloth, plastic sheeting or old towels on the surrounding area. Fill two buckets with warm water. You’ll also need rubber gloves, two sponges, and a can of foaming bathroom spray cleaner. Starting from the top of the bricks, apply water liberally to the bricks with a wet sponge that has been dipped in one of the buckets. Spray bathroom cleaner over the wet bricks and allow it to foam and soak in for about 1 minute. Then, using your scrub brush, scrub the cleaner into the brick using a small circular motion, again from the top down. The foam will turn the color of the soot. Using the second sponge and the second bucket of water, wipe the sooty foam off the brick. Work your way down the brick and then start the process over again, using the clean sponge and bucket of water to re-wet the brick and the other bucket of water to wash away the foam. Repeat until all soot is removed.
CARPET: Soot can end up on carpet around the fireplace hearth, or sometimes be tracked in from outside sources. To remove it safely, first sprinkle a generous amount of cornstarch on the entire soot stain. Let stand for an hour. Vacuum thoroughly. Then apply a liberal amount of carpet cleaning solution to the stain, but don’t soak the carpet. Blot the stain with a clean white cloth until solution and soot is absorbed. Repeat spraying and blotting as necessary until soot is gone.