What is Creosote, and Why is it So Dangerous? Ask an Apex Chimney Company

August 6, 2019

Longtime readers might have noticed that we discuss creosote—an oily, black substance the builds up inside chimneys—fairly often. But what, exactly, makes creosote so dangerous? In today’s Apex chimney company blog, we discuss why creosote is far from a fire hazard or a cause of a nasty smell (all though both those things are good enough reason to get your chimney cleaned out regularly.)

What is Creosote, Exactly?

We’ve already answered this a little with “black, sticky, smelly stuff.” To elaborate, creosote is a byproduct of burning wood that consists mainly of tar. The smoke that rises from an open flame contains trace amounts of creosote. When the smoke travels upward and mixes with the cold air and water near the top of a chimney, it solidifies and sticks to the chimney liner (or, if the chimney is unlined, which it really shouldn’t be, to the brickwork itself).

Interestingly enough, creosote isn’t all bad—it’s actually what gives “smoked” meat its distinctive flavor and scent. However, in excessive amounts, it can produce some nasty effects, which we’ll discuss below.

Skin Irritation

Physical contact with creosote buildup can cause rashes and other major skin issues.

Eye Irritation

Creosote debris that gets on, or in, the eyes will irritate them, sometimes to the point that the sufferer feels sensations similar to chemical burns. Excessive creosote exposure can also cause sensitivity to light.

Respiratory Problems

Chimney soot, not creosote, is the main concern when it comes to respiratory problems and chimneys; however, excessive exposure to creosote particles can also cause lung and breathing problems.

Abdominal Issues

Creosote has been shown to irritate sensitive abdominal organs, such as the kidneys and liver.

Seizures and Mental Health Hazards

These issues have mainly been studied in workers who work closely with coal and wood burning, and are therefore exposed to a lot of creosote. With that said, it is still possible that creosote can cause seizures and brain damage to homeowners, especially in those who are elderly or in poor health.

Skin Cancer

Again, this effect has been primarily observed in workers who spend decades working closely near and around creosote. However, it is most likely still a risk factor for homeowners, as well.

The Bottom Line: Clean out Your Chimney!

Unfortunately, there’s really no way to stop creosote completely. Because it forms naturally when fuel sources are burned, trying to prevent a fire from creating creosote is a bit like trying to prevent a fire from creating smoke. The only way to get rid of creosote is to hire a chimney company to periodically clean it out.

You can also reduce the rate at which creosote compounds by making sure that your chimney is adequately ventilated. If you have any reason to suspect that the chimney’s inner mechanisms aren’t working properly, then have it inspected as soon as possible.

Nexus Chimney Services is a chimney repair, inspection, and cleaning company based in Apex, NC. To schedule an appointment with us, click here.