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 to your home, 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 fire is extinguished.

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 Smoke Damage Cleanup

Initial Fire Cleanup

Smoke damaged home | How to clean smoke damage

It 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 the smoke damage restoration process 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 for smoke damage cleanup.

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.

What Does Smoke Damage Look Like?

Before cleaning smoke damage, you’ll have to know how to identify which parts of your home has been effected by it. Smoke damage can be found in areas well away from where the fire happened, making even a small fire a danger for large amounts of smoke damage. Ways to know how to determine smoke damage include:

  • Blackened or Soot Streaked areas
  • Black Dust
  • Discolored Paint

Can Smoke Damage Be Removed?

Many people might assume smoke damage is permanent, when in fact, it can be removed. How to clean smoke damage depends on the extent of the soot and whether the surfaces are porous or nonporous. How well you take care of these items will determine how long it takes for your smoke damaged walls, floors, clothes, etc., to be renovated back into their original state.

What To Use to Clean Smoke Damage?

Now that you’ve determined where the damage is, it’s time to get started with cleaning smoke damage. 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.

If you’re wondering what to use to clean smoke damage, know that it’s important to have all of the tools available to you, even the specialized ones. To remove smoke and soot damage from walls, furniture, and other parts of your home, make sure you have all of these smoke damage cleaning products:

  • 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

You may not have a smoke vacuum or other specialized 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 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 and smoke particles that are 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.

Have You Recently Dealt With Smoke Damage?

After a fire, make sure to call Jenkins Restorations to take care of your smoke restoration needs.

How to Clean Soot Stains from 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. If this happens, make sure you call a restoration company with a professional soot removal team.

Cleaning Smoke Damage Once Soot Is Removed

The cleaning process for soot residue and stains 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 one 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 to wipe the wall. A commercial soot cleaner would be great here, but 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 Fire 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.

How to Clean Smoke Damaged Items

Sometimes, fires can be smaller in scale causing only partial structural damage to your home and its contents.  Yet there may still be significant smoke/soot damage on any personal possessions inside. When it comes to cleaning smoke damaged items, be sure to follow these steps listed below:


The safety of everyone involved in a fire damage cleaning situation is crucial. Specialists in fire damage restoration can take necessary precautions to ensure the safety of all workers and anybody entering a structure after a fire. Prior to the evaluation and restoration, it is critical that the structure is safe.


When evaluating your personal items, it’s important to inspect what is and is not salvageable.  The items that are no longer of use can be safely discarded.  Items that are significantly damaged, melted, broken or exposed to the elements, should be thrown away safely. On the other hand,  items that are still intact (such as clothing, bedding and linens) can be sorted and taken to a laundromat.  Furniture and other usable items can be cleaned by a fire damage restoration team.  

Keeping Track

With your salvaged items, you may want to take into account all the items you saved, and where they will be stored and where they will be sent to get cleaned.  You can also create an inventory of the essential items that you had to discard, as it is imperative to receive adequate compensation once you’ve begun filing an insurance claim.

Cleaning Process

For the items you can still use, you must begin by carefully cleaning smoke damage from your personal items.   Trisodium Phosphate (or TSP) is an effective, heavy-duty cleanser for problem areas around the house that may be sooty, greasy, or dirty.  For every tablespoon of TSP use a gallon of warm water.

Use rubber gloves, goggles and rags to safely get the job done. With walls and ceilings, be sure to avoid oversaturation and give surfaces plenty of time to dry before you continue to clean.

How to Clean Smoke Damaged Clothes

It’s frustrating to have soot and smoke damage on your clothing. It’s not just an eyesore but also a health hazard that needs to be taken care of as soon as possible.

Use a good, strong laundry detergent and wash on as hot a water temperature as the fabric will allow. Once set on the rinse cycle, use a quality fabric freshener

Once you’ve finished washing your clothes after they’ve been damaged in a house fire, don’t dry them in a dryer. Instead, hang them to dry naturally.

If smells still linger, you can contact your local dry cleaners for further assistance.

How Do You Clean Smoke Damage off of Floors?

For hard flooring that has been stained from fire and smoke damage, a gentle dish soap with warm water can be used.  Gently scrub the floor to remove the residue.  Dry quickly and carefully to avoid any water damage.

Carpets can be vacuumed to remove loose soot and shampooed to give a deeper clean.  You can call a professional team of specialists to do this, as they have the skills and the proper equipment to get the job done well.  But if you prefer a DIY approach, invest in a quality carpet shampooer and cleanser which you can easily find at your local home improvement store.

Odor Removal

Smoke from fire damaged items can leave a lingering smell that can be unpleasant.  In order to remove any smoky scents from your salvages items, here are a few ideas that can help:

  • White Vinegar – White vinegar is a great natural cleaner and can be used to wipe and clean most surfaces.
  • Baking Soda– Baking soda absorbs odors naturally.  You can leave an open box of it in the affected rooms or you can sprinkle some onto your damaged items in order to reduce or remove the odor.
  • Activated Charcoal – Similar to baking soda, charcoal is another natural odor absorber that can be left around the room in powdered form to deal with smoke odor.
  • Other Odor Reducing Products –  An odor-reducing product such as Febreze, oil diffusers or incense can be used along with the other steps to reduce the odor.

Other Options

Ozone Treatment for Smoke Damage

If you still are experiencing smoke odor, ask a professional fire restorer about an ozone generator. Ozone generators make ozone gas that is compatible with pollutants and alters their chemical composition. This is a popular method because the machine can be turned on and left unattended, while the ozone spreads throughout the area and breaks down the smoke molecule. This process works fast and can be done typically within a day.

Thermal Fogging Odor Removal

One way to eliminate the smoke odors from your home is through thermal fogging. It involves heating a deodorizer and spraying it in fog form. In addition to neutralizing the unpleasant odor, thermal fogging reduces health issues related to cancer-causing debris.

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. Our team includes soot removal services, water removal after the fire is put out, and deodorizing in our fire damage restoration process.


Yes, you can paint over smoke damage. However, you should make sure all soot is cleaned off the wall before you begin. The best way to do this is to use a primer first, then apply two coats of paint.

Dry cleaning removes all types of stains, including those caused by smoke. However, it cannot remove smells from clothing that has been damaged by fire. If you want to remove the smell of smoke, you should wash your clothes in hot water.

Have You Recently Dealt With Smoke Damage in Your Home?

After a fire, make sure to call Jenkins Restorations to get your home – and your life – back to normal again.