How a Dirty Chimney Can Make You Sick

Chimney Sweep in Amherst, NHThe fireplace is a respite for comfort at any time of year. Whether it’s staying warm on a chilly night, or entertaining guests on a Saturday afternoon, many families spend a lot of time gathering around the fireplace. Most homeowners are probably unaware that a dirty chimney can make them sick.


Creosote is a naturally occurring by-product produced during combustion. It is most prevalent in burning wood fuel, but it also happens to a lesser extent in gas fireplaces. While the chimney expels most of the creosote, some of the residues will stick to the walls, flue liner and other components on the way out. The creosote, soot, ash, and other particulates will continue to accumulate every time the fireplace is lit. Over time, the creosote will become a tarry, crusty, flammable, and toxic contaminant. Not only does excessive creosote in the chimney increase the risk of fire, breathing in its vapors can make you sick.

Some of the warning signs to watch for include:

  • Eye and skin irritation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion

Exposure to creosote can also be more severe for those with asthma, allergies, and respiratory ailments.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

A dirty chimney reduces the efficiency of your fireplace resulting in the potential exposure of dangerous gases, such as carbon monoxide (CO). Also, twigs, leaves, pests, and other debris can obstruct the flue opening preventing the chimney from expelling toxic fumes. A chimney obstruction can cause exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning. CO poisoning is especially dangerous because it is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas. Most individuals don’t even realize they are being exposed to it. That’s why it is also known as the silent killer.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, include:

  • Dull headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Confusion

Chimney Cleaning in Concord, NHThe symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flue. Prolonged exposure to CO can cause unconsciousness and even death.


Even a small water leak inside a dirty chimney can make you sick. The combination of dirt and moisture are ripe for mold growth. Homeowners who haven’t had a chimney cleaning or inspection recently are unaware that they have mold in the chimney. As the mold continues to grow unabated, the tiny spores will circulate throughout the air. Mold can travel through air ducts where they can multiply, resulting in millions of spores throughout the home.

Exposure to mold can cause health problems, such as:

  • Cough
  • Headaches
  • Sinus congestion
  • Sore throat


Individuals with allergies and respiratory problems like asthma are at increased risk.

A Clean Chimney is a Safe Chimney

Don’t let your chimney make you sick. The best way to keep your family safe and healthy is to maintain a clean chimney. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends homeowners have a qualified technician inspect and clean the chimney annually. Also, make timely chimney repairs to reduce health and safety hazards. We also recommend homeowners install a battery-operated CO detector.