How to Clean Smoke Damage in Your Home: 5 Actionable Steps

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: December 4, 2019

The first responders finally give you the OK to go back in. You’re still in a state of shock. It’s never easy to recover from a home fire, but you have to start putting things back together as quickly as possible. Looking around, you realize that you’re facing extensive smoke damage cleanup.

Is this something that you can tackle by yourself?

As Chicago’s leading fire restoration contractor, we know that some situations can be handled with DIY tactics. However, this kind of project is very different from routine housecleaning chores, so we’ve put together this guide outlining how to clean smoke damage and deal with soot.

Protection, Products and Patience

Smoke coats and stains surfaces with oily soot, and it leaves the house filled with unpleasant odors. Cleaning requires personal protection, the right products and plenty of patience.

1. Suit Up Before You Start

Because soot is a microscopic carbon-based particle, it easily enters your system through your lungs and eyes. The contamination is known to cause serious health problems. Before cleaning any fire-damaged areas, protect yourself with snug goggles, a face mask and respirator rated for smoke and soot cleanup.

Many products used in removing smoke stains are very harsh, so you need protection from their chemical compounds. Wear heavy rubber gloves that extend above the wrists, and stay steady on your feet with slip-proof boots.

2. Set the Right Stage

You can count on making a mess as you attack soot and smoke stains, so throw down some protection for your flooring. Only use plastic drop cloths on floors that aren’t wet. If an area is still damp or scheduled for water extraction, overlay it with breathable canvas while you work.

If possible, open doors and windows for fresh air. Turn off the HVAC system, and close its vents to keep soot from contaminating ductwork. Instead, rent high velocity floor fans from the home improvement center to help maintain indoor air quality.

3. Vacuum and Let Go

Start your cleaning by thoroughly vacuuming all surfaces and materials. This isn’t a job for your canister or upright. Rent a shop vacuum, and slowly work in sections. Keep a good supply of heavy trash bags at your side. Now is the time to start throwing away things that can’t be salvaged.

Power Tip: As you vacuum, don’t run the nozzle or attachment in direct contact with the surfaces you’re cleaning. Instead, work just above soot-covered areas, and let the vacuum’s suction remove contaminants. This minimizes staining and makes the next cleanup step easier.

4. Wash, Rinse, Dry and Repeat

Effective products for soot and smoke cleanup range from very strong solutions to regular household cleaners. It takes several passes to clean most surfaces, and materials like sheetrock must completely dry after each treatment.

Your best choices for cleaning soot- and smoke-damaged surfaces are:

• TSP – An industrial-strength product that mixes with water but must be used very carefully
• Degreasers – Easier to handle than TSP solutions but still require wearing protective gear
• Chem Sponges (no chemical on it) – Work very well but must be thoroughly rinsed and dried between uses. If you wonder what a chem sponge is and how to use it, take a look at this great video.

(no affiliating links here, all just to help you)

Power Tip: Walls finished with semi-gloss or satin paint usually clean up after several treatments. If you’re dealing with heavy soot on walls with a flat finish, they’ll probably require repainting, but they still have to be cleaned first.

5. Be Patient with Odors

Once you’ve removed soot from all materials and surfaces, let the HVAC system kick back in. Be sure to open all vents and change out filters. Don’t expect the equipment to immediately remove that smoky smell throughout the house. It takes time, but you can speed up the process.

Start by deodorizing carpets with baking soda. Sprinkle it on, let it sit for an hour, and then vacuum. Follow up by using a room freshener spray that contains cyclodextrin. Set up odor-absorbing stations around the house with bowls full of white vinegar or activated charcoal.

Time Isn’t on Your Side

Once a fire has been extinguished, chemical components deposited by smoke and soot continue to cause damage. Stains and odors that contaminate surfaces and materials quickly become very hard to remove.

If you’re considering going DIY, we hope this blog helps you get started – however do know that smoke damage cleanup is a dirty job that requires a methodological, careful approach. If you can’t address cleanup right away, it’s best to call in professionals who take care of fire damage restoration with:

• State-of-the-art equipment and products
• The latest, industry-proven techniques
• Scheduling that speeds up your recovery process
• Help navigating your insurance company’s paperwork requirements

We’re Just a Phone Call Away

smoke damage cleanup expert

If you should ever face the aftermath of a fire, we hope that you find our guide on how to clean smoke damage helpful.

It’s very hard to recover from a fire at your home or business, but our teams stand ready to help you get back on your feet 24/7. When you need professional fire restoration and smoke damage cleanup in Chicago or the suburbs, we’re just a phone call away here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba.