How to Clean Smoke Damage

There are few events more devastating than a house fire. Not only is it a terrifying experience emotionally, but it also can be truly disastrous, not only severely damaging your home, but destroying possessions and memories along with it.

Apart from the loss of furniture and personal items, you’ll likely have to make a bunch of other repairs such as patching holes and window replacements. You may even find yourself grappling with lingering smoke and water damage.

Once the initial shock of fire damage has subsided, it is time for the homeowner to begin recovery efforts. Possessions can be replaced, and a home can be rebuilt, and eventually the blaze will be simply a chapter from your past.

And the first step to moving onward towards your family’s future involves knowing how to clean smoke damage. The task might seem daunting at first, but with a little elbow grease, and the support of your community, you can hopefully restore your home back to its original beauty.

Before Cleaning Up Smoke Damage

Initial Fire Cleanup

Smoke Damage cleanup is an often forgotten part of fire damage restorationIt might be startling to see the immediate aftermath of a fire in your home. Apart from the soot and smoke damage, there’ll likely be damaged and destroyed furniture, books, articles of clothing, and other prized possessions.

Once you get over the initial shock, the first step of cleaning up is similar to decluttering your home— you’ll want to go through your belongings and keep the items that are salvageable, while throwing away those destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

This step will likely be the most emotional. It really does drive home how much damage the fire caused. Clear the space at your own pace, it does not need to be rushed.

Once you’ve cleared out your debris, you can start surveying the area to determine your next steps.

Look for Any Additional Smoke Damage in House

First, you need to go through every room in your house to figure out if any other rooms or areas were affected.

While it’s usually fairly easy to tell where you need to clean smoke damage in the room that the fire was contained to, smoke has a tendency to drift from room to room. It could cause damage in areas that were not even close to the fire.

Inspecting your ceilings is an important part of this task. When surveying smoke damage, it’s fairly common to focus on the walls, as their damage is the most noticeable. However, it’s important to check your ceilings, which often will have extensive damage and will require just as much attention as your walls.

Gather the Tools You’ll Need to Clean Smoke Damage

Now that you’ve determined where the damage is, it’s time to get started. Open up as many windows as you can throughout the house. Ventilation can help limit the damage and speed up the cleaning process, so turn on any fans, and get the air blowing.

It’s important to have all of the tools you need to clean up smoke damage, even the specialized ones. Make sure you have all of the below:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Goggles/Mask to Protect Eyes and Lungs
  • Dry-Cleaning Sponge/Chemical Sponge
  • 2 Buckets and Hot Water
  • Various Smoke Damage Cleaners of Your Choice (Commercial Soot Remover/Vinegar/Paint
  • Thinner/Rubbing Alcohol/Bleach)
  • Liquid Soap or a Degreaser (like trisodium phosphate)
  • Rags
  • Smoke Vacuum

Now, you may not have a smoke vacuum, or other tool used for smoke remediation, but that’s okay. A standard vacuum can work wonders in clearing up soot that gathered during the fire.

Cleaning Up Smoke Damage

Vacuum All Soot and Ash Off Ground

Now you should begin the first step in your smoke damage restoration, which involves removing any and all soot that is on the floor of the affected areas. Soot can be quite dangerous to your lungs, and affect breathing or even cause some types of cancer, so you’ll want to remove it as soon as possible, while taking precautions wherever possible.

While wearing gloves, a mask, and goggles, start off by vacuuming up the loose soot in or around the affected area. Ideally, you’ll have a smoke vacuum, or at least a powerful dry-vac for this task. However, a standard vacuum, with an upholstery attachment, can do the job as well.

Be gentle as you vacuum up the soot and debris, since just running a vacuum cleaner over the smoke damaged areas is more likely to spread the soot and drive it further into the floorboards and walls.

Once you’ve delicately removed as much soot and ash as you can from the ground, it’s time to focus on the walls.

How to Clean Soot off Walls

The next step is to inspect the walls for any soot particles. This is different from cleaning the walls of smoke damage, which will happen later. First, all of the larger pieces of soot, both on the floor and on the walls, must be carefully vacuumed before you can move on to the important next step.

Otherwise, in trying to clean smoke damage, you could inadvertently make it worse by spreading unvacuumed soot into your walls.

Cleaning Smoke Damage Once Soot Is Removed

The cleaning process for soot and smoke damage takes place in three phases.

First, you will be removing the bulk of the smoke with a dry-cleaning or soot cleaning sponge. These are meant specifically for smoke restoration projects.

Have several on hand, and use it gently on a dry surface. You don’t want to use any water or cleaners at this point, simply take the sponge and softly rub it at affected areas, careful to not use the same part of the sponge for more than a few strokes.

Use the sponge until it has no areas that aren’t blackened—at that point, cut off the surface area with a knife and start again, or just use a new sponge, until you’ve covered the whole area.

After that, you’ll want to go in with your cleaning solution in warm water, using rags. A commercial soot cleaner would be great here, paint thinner or even vinegar in warm water can also do the job.

Once you’ve cleaned the area you’ll have one final step, using your second bucket filled with warm water. This time around, you’ll be using a degreaser or mild dish soap with hot water, so you can finally scrub off the more oil-soluble smoke and soot particles.

Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned the area with all three of these products, you should rinse the walls down with hot water, to fully clear the area of the cleaning products you’ve used.

How to Clean Smoke off Walls and Windows

When cleaning smoke off walls, you must make sure to follow the three steps laid out in the previous section. Start with blotting every area and getting rid of as much smoke as possible with the dry-cleaning sponge.

For the windows, it’s significantly less complicated. First, clean the windows with the cloths and soot cleaner, then use the degreaser to remove anything that’s left.

As you clean your smoke damaged walls, it’s important to focus on small areas at a time, going from the floor up towards the ceiling, to avoid streaks and stains. As always, make sure to rinse the area thoroughly once you’ve finished.

If you have wallpaper, you’ll want to dry the walls as soon as you’re finished, to avoid water soaking through and damaging them. With painted walls, it may not be a bad idea to repaint after removing the soot damage.

How to Clean Smoke Damaged Ceilings

Finally, you’ll want to clean any smoke damaged ceilings. Again, you’re following the same steps as the previous sections. Expect the ceiling to be harder to clean.

You’ll want to bring in a ladder, so you can access these hard to reach damaged areas. Once you’ve taken care of that, you’ll want to work in small, manageable sections, with all three of your cleaners.

Removing the Smoke Odor

Even once you remove the smoke and soot damage, you may still need to remove the smell of smoke. If the damage was minor, a bowl of white vinegar or baking soda will absorb the odor. For more prevalent odors, you may need an ozone treatment.

If the Damage Is Too Severe, Call a Professional

Once you’ve followed these steps, hopefully your home has begun to look like it did before the fire. Unfortunately, most smoke damage cases are too severe for these methods alone to be enough. If smoke damage and soot still persists, or if you have other damage to your home from a fire, call a professional fire restorer, such as Jenkins Restorations, to make your home feel like new once again.

Steps to Take After Fire Damage[Download]

Download and Print a copy of these 7 tips above and use them as your “What to do after a fire checklist”. Keep them on hand and mark them off as you complete the steps.

It’s just a working document to help you collect your thoughts at a time when your mind will be all over the place.