Why Does My Fireplace Smell Like Smoke Without a Fire?


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Fireplaces are a great way to add warmth and a cozy feel to your home. They are also a nice alternative to heating your home. However, when warmer weather rolls around, you may notice that your house or fireplace has a smoky smell. 

If your fireplace smells like smoke without a fire burning in it, you may have creosote and soot build-up. Creosote is a wood-tar that has been released from burning wood in the fireplace. Soot is an ashy residue leftover after burning wood. To get rid of the smell, you should clean your fireplace. 

This article will discuss how to properly clean your fireplace to eliminate the smoke smell that occurs when there is no fire burning. I will also discuss other odors that may be happening, what they are from, and how to eliminate them.

Why Your Fireplace Smells Like Smoke Without a Fire

There are several reasons a fireplace will smell like smoke while you are not burning wood in it. As discussed above, two of those are the build-up of creosote and soot. However, it may also mean that your fireplace is damaged. If you smell smoke long after you have put out the flames, determining what is causing the smell is key in getting rid of it. 

Creosote and Soot

Creosote and soot are the most common culprits for a smoke smell coming from a dormant fireplace. Both of these are caused by burning wood in the fireplace. Creosote is a dark, flammable tar that gets absorbed into the masonry of your fireplace and that traps the smell in your fireplace. Soot is black, powdery, and is created from wood that has not burned completely. 

Preventing Creosote and Soot

Unfortunately, you cannot completely prevent creosote and soot from forming, as they are a naturally occurring process in burning wood. 

However, you can reduce these chemicals’ build-up by burning wood that has dried for 6 months and by having your fireplace cleaned by a professional. Of course, the smell will remain somewhat, as these chemicals are trapped in the brick and stone masonry of your fireplace, but it will keep it from spreading to the rest of your home.

Other Factors Causing a Smell in Your Fireplace 

Creosote and soot are not the only factors that can lead to your fireplace having a smell, and smoke isn’t the only smell you may be getting. If you smell a musty or a rotten odor from your fireplace, you may have other issues happening. 

Leaves and Debris

One source of a rotten odor is leaves and other debris that have gotten into your fireplace. If you see leaves, twigs, or other plant materials in our fireplace, you need to have it swept out and checked for damage. 

If there is no damage, you can install a chimney cap to keep the debris from accumulating. The HY-C SCADJ-L Adjustable Clamp-On Chimney Cover is a great choice for a chimney cap because it is easy to install and comes in various sizes to fit your fireplace needs. 

Dead Animals

Unfortunately, animals can and do get inside fireplaces, especially structures that don’t have a chimney cap. If you have a rotten smell in your chimney, get it swept by a professional cleaner and add a chimney cap to it. If you prefer to sweep it yourself, the Supplim 33FT Chimney Sweep Kit is a great way to ensure that you get every nook and cranny of your fireplace clean. 

Water

Water can lead to a musty odor in your fireplace, and it can cause rust and damage to the structure. If you notice water or suspect that some have gotten into your fireplace, you need to have a professional check it for damage and dry any water they find. If no damage is detected, a chimney cap can help prevent water from entering the fireplace.  

Negative Air Pressure and Blockages

When you think about keeping your fireplace in tip-top shape, physics most likely doesn’t come into play, but negative air pressure and chimney blockages can cause some problems for how your fireplace performs. Poor performance can lead to odors and dangerous situations. 

Negative Air Pressure

Bathroom fans, clothes dryers, range hoods running above your stove, and much more push air out, which causes your house to look for ways to suck air in. This creates a negative air pressure situation. That leads to the air from your fireplace being sucked into your house, which circulates the fireplace’s smell. To counteract this, you can crack open windows in your home to circulate more air. 

The Stack Effect

Warm air rises, so taller houses will have less negative pressure from the heated air of a hot fireplace, and shorter houses, or houses with a fireplace in a basement, will experience more pressure.

This is called the “stack effect,” and in houses with more negative pressure, the chimney has to work harder to pull air out of the house. If you have a chimney in a basement or have a short house, you can help your fireplace with a fireplace fan. Most newer model fireplaces have one already, but if you need one for an older fireplace or if you want to upgrade your existing fan, the Gemi Elettronica Chimney Fan Fireplace is a good option to help your chimney perform better. 

Chimney Blockages 

It doesn’t take a lot to get a chimney blockage. Chimneys that are blocked cannot perform properly, and while that can lead to a bad smell in your home, it can also lead to something much more dangerous- a fire that gets out of control. You can prevent many of these issues with routine maintenance and regular cleaning and repairing your fireplace. 

Maintaining Your Fireplace

Keeping your fireplace safe and in working order is easy. The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that you have your chimney inspected once a year. You should clean it and replace anything that is beyond repair, and repair what can be fixed. You should do this after it has been dormant in warm weather and before lighting a fire for colder weather. 

Other Causes of Smoke Smell

Once you have thoroughly cleaned and repaired your fireplace, if you still smell smoke in your home, the smell may be trapped in your fabrics. Curtains, rugs, and furniture can all hold onto odors, so if you have done everything you can do for the fireplace, you need to clean your fabrics and open windows to allow fresh air into your home to eliminate the bad smells.  

Final Thoughts

Fireplaces add warmth and ambiance to a home, but there are several factors associated with having a fireplace that can lead to your home smelling like smoke, decay, and must even when your fireplace is not in use. 

Chemical build-up from burning wood, debris, water, dead animals, and even your home’s air pressure can all impact how your fireplace performs and smells. With regular cleaning and fireplace maintenance, however, you can keep those smells from making your entire house smell like a chimney, allowing you to enjoy your fireplace for years.

Alanna Greene

Alanna is an avid traveler who lives in Michigan. In addition to writing for Temperature Master, she also sells crafts on Etsy and takes long walks through the forests near her home.

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