It's probably no surprise that chimneys get so dirty. Technically it isn't "dirt" per se, but actually creosote exposure.  Creosote is that heavy sticky black substance that you see inside your chimney. When you burn wood in your fireplace, the unburned wood particles, tar, smoke, and other debris that goes out of your home through the chimney combines with water vapor to create creosote. If you have a chimney, you're going to have to clean it!

When your chimney is not cleaned for a long time, the creosote keeps building up in the flue during the use of the fireplace. This creosote is highly flammable and can lead to a dangerous chimney fire. Your chimney could actually catch on fire and burn uncontrollably! An unattended chimney can also gather a lot of ash and tar, which may eventually find its way back to your house. This mixture of ash and tar may cause severe breathing problems for you and your family.

Clearly, this is something you need to do. You should inspect and clean your chimney at least once a year. If you use your fireplace regularly year-round, you will need to clean it more often than this. Heavy use of a wood burning fireplace will cause soot and creosote to build up quickly and need to be cleaned more often than once a year. Whenever creosote glaze is present, it needs to be attended to. The question is, what do you use to clean it? 

  1. Wire chimney brush

Chimney sweep brushes, a trusty wire brush, attacks hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. These are especially effective for cleaning masonry chimneys with clay flues. Chimney sweeps have been using brushes like this for hundreds of years! Now, modern wire chimney brushes come in round, square, rectangle, and U-shapes to fit every corner of every chimney.

  1. Flexible chimney cleaning rod

Wait… your chimney is really tall. You can't possibly clean it all with a brush and your arm. You are correct! A flexible chimney cleaning rod fits a variety of brushes. They are several feet long and give you the extra reach you need. Their flexibility provides an ideal solution for cleaning chimneys with turns. You may need a variety of rods to which you can affix brushes, so you can swap out as needed.

  1. Powder-based creosote remover

Maybe you need something a little more than just elbow grease to get the job done. You want a chemical cleaner that works with airtight fireplaces. Zero-clearance fireplaces are common in newer homes and traditionally built with a metal flue. A powder-based formula will improve the overall performance of the fireplace by removing any accumulation of ash and soot, directly enhancing airflow. 

This list is a great place to start, but only just the beginning. You'll also need a few other basic supplies, like a canvas drop cloth and face respirator. Better safe than sorry- or sick!