6 Steps for Proper Smoke Damage Restoration

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: May 3, 2021

The devastation left behind after a house fire is difficult to deal with emotionally and physically. The flames are out, the first responders are gone, but the challenges are still there. You’re looking at extensive fire and smoke damage.

No one is ever prepared for a situation this overwhelming.

We know. For more than 10 years, we’ve provided expert smoke damage restoration for Chicago home and business owners.

Let’s take a closer look at what to expect after a fire and how to get things under control. You want to be ready if the worst should happen. This guide can help.

Is All Smoke Damage the Same?

oven fire

The smoke cleanup process would be easier to navigate if all fires produced the same type of damage.

They don’t, and that complicates the work.

Different materials create different sets of smoke remediation problems.

  • Structural Wood – Burning structural wood contaminates air with soot and volatile organic materials.
  • Natural Materials – Smoke produced by other natural materials covers surfaces with a penetrating ash.
  • Synthetics – As plastic burns, it releases thick smoke that spreads sticky residue through affected areas.
  • Proteins – Typically kitchen-based, protein fires leave behind greasy, yellow-brown stains.

Why Does Smoke Damage Need Immediate Cleanup?

smoke damage on wall

You can see the effects of smoke damage on streaked walls, discolored floors and stained ceilings. What you can’t see are residual chemicals and carbon particles left behind in layers of soot covering every surface.

The contamination becomes trapped inside wall cavities. It permeates insulation, spreads into areas over the ceiling and seeps into subflooring. Most concerning, exposure to acidic soot can cause serious respiratory problems.

To protect your property, belongings and health, you need to start cleanup as quickly as possible. It’s also very important to wear OSHA-rated respiratory gear while you’re working.

How Does Smoke Damage Affect Your Home’s Contents?

Your first concerns during a house fire are always centered on immediate evacuation and everyone’s safety. Once the flames are out, you navigate a plan for returning home. That’s when you realize smoke damage in the house affects everything from furnishings to personal belongings.

Within minutes of smoke exposure, your home’s contents are covered with sticky soot that leaves permanent stains. After just a few hours, the residue penetrates porous structural materials, drywall and tile grout.

If several days pass without smoke damage restoration, irreversible discoloration sets into carpets, drapes, upholstery and bedding. If a week or more goes by, corrosive soot permanently etches and pits glass in windows, shower doors, mirrors and picture frames.

How Do You Start Smoke Damage Cleanup?

First, give your property a room-by-room inspection. Make note of deep stains and heavy layers of soot, but look for less obvious signs of smoke damage, such as light discoloration on walls and ceilings.

As you work through each room, sort out personal belongings. Bag and move ruined items outside for disposal. This helps control smoke odor inside. Transfer things that may be salvageable to a location unaffected by the fire.

Finally, put together the following work gear and smoke damage cleaning products.

  • Latex or nitrile gloves, heavy work boots and coveralls
  • OSHA-rated respirator and wrap-around goggles
  • Dry sponges specifically made for soot removal
  • Wet sponges and trisodium phosphate or a similar degreaser
  • Sturdy ladder, large buckets and plastic drop cloths
  • Vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters and an upholstery attachment

Soot and Smoke Damage Restoration: 6 Steps to Recovery

This type of restoration starts with careful soot removal from all surfaces and finishes up with property-wide smoke cleanup and deodorizing techniques. These six steps outline the process. Always suit up in your personal protection gear before beginning the work.

1. Be Aware of Air Circulation

Fresh air currents help reduce smoke odors, so keep windows and doors open during cleanup. Leave fans running in rooms that need to dry, but turn them off while you’re working on soot removal in these areas.

2. Vacuum Soot From Surfaces

vaccuming soot

Start by laying down plastic drop cloths. Remove powdery soot from furnishings with a HEPA filter vacuum. Slowly pass the vacuum’s upholstery attachment over affected areas, but don’t press the nozzle into surfaces.

Hold it so that the residue is drawn upward and into the vacuum attachment. This technique minimizes the risk of embedding contaminated particles deeper into soot-covered surfaces.

Power Tip: Renting a soot vacuum or shop vac makes this job a little easier.

3. Dry-Sponge Walls and Ceilings

soot on sponge

Running the vacuum on walls and ceilings isn’t practical. Instead, use a dry sponge specifically made for cleaning up soot. The material in these vulcanized rubber products absorbs the powdery residue, so don’t overload the sponge.

Pass it over surfaces with vertical, overlapping strokes. Wipe away soot a few inches at a time, working from the bottom of walls towards the ceiling. This helps reduce streaking. Clean the ceiling with the same overlapping stroke technique.

Power Tip: Get more mileage out of dry sponges by slicing off soot-saturated areas to expose fresh cleaning material.

4. Finish Soot Cleanup With a Degreaser

Once you’ve removed surface layers, finish cleaning with a mixture of 1 gallon of warm water and 1 tablespoon of degreaser. You can also use a solution of warm water and white vinegar. The combination of dry sponging and degreasing also removes soot from glass.

Power Tip: Degreasers are strong chemical cleaning agents, so follow product instructions carefully.

5. Address Residual Smoke Odors

Soot cleanup is the biggest part of smoke damage restoration. Vacuums and sponges remove surface contaminants, but you still have to deal with strong, unpleasant smoke odors. Eliminating this invisible problem takes time and patience.

DIY options include setting out bowls of vinegar or baking soda in smoke-affected areas. You can also use small bags of activated charcoal to absorb lingering odors. Fire-damage restoration pros handle the job with specialized equipment that speeds up the process.

Power Tip: Optimize baking soda’s effectiveness by spreading it in thin layers in large cookie sheets.

In most situations, it’s better to let fire damage restoration pros handle this step with specialized equipment that speeds up the process. Our teams use thermal foggers with solvent-based deodorizers to quickly eliminate heavy smoke odors. We also work with advanced ozone generators in affected areas.

Disclaimer: This type of equipment is only meant for professional use by industry-certified technicians.

6. Assess Personal Belongings

Furniture, bedding and clothes that weren’t directly exposed to soot and smoke can be cleaned and washed. However, it’s best to let a restoration company take care of fire-damaged belongings.

For example, our teams here at ServiceMaster by Zaba can often salvage belongings that survived the initial flames. We help homeowners recover furniture, electronics and personal items, including photos, artwork and important documents.

What Can Be Saved After Smoke Damage?

We recently cleaned up a smoke damaged sofa with specialized equipment; on the left is the cleaned area

As we’ve noted, some items can be saved after a fire. Lightly smoke-damaged clothes can be cleaned by pre-washing with a cup of baking soda or vinegar. Restoration specialists can salvage a wide range of personal belongings.

However, the building components and surfaces inside your home present a different set of challenges. These are just a few post-fire problems that need attention from certified fire damage professionals.

  • Structural framing that’s been weakened by fire and smoke damage
  • Drywall heavily exposed to water during the extinguishing process
  • Any insulation contaminated by absorbing soot and smoke
  • Subfloor problems due to carpets and pads heavily affected by water and fire damage
  • Hardwood floors that need sanding and refinishing after exposure to soot and smoke
  • Countertops, tile and grout contaminated and discolored with soot and smoke stains

How Do You Know When Contents Are Damaged Beyond Repair?

smoke damaged ceiling

Fire restoration technicians use special equipment and advanced techniques to restore a home, but some damage can’t be repaired. When we assess a property immediately after a fire, we look for these signs of irreversible damage.

  • Structurally compromised wood framing charred more than 1/4 inch deep
  • Drywall that must be torn out due to smoke trapped inside wall cavities
  • Deeply stained tile and grout that can’t be cleaned or replaced with traditional techniques
  • Solid countertops permanently discolored by smoke that also permeated counter underlayers
  • Carpets and padding heavily soaked by water and other extinguishing products
  • Laminate flooring with smoke-damaged absorbent foam underlayment
  • Engineered and real wood floors warped and buckled due to extreme heat and water exposure

What Are the Benefits of Hiring Fire Damage Professionals?

Our fire damage experts use specialized equipment to restore homes in the Chicago area after smoke damage

When you call in an experienced fire restoration company like ServiceMaster by Zaba, highly trained technicians take care of everything. They remove soot from all surfaces, eliminate smoke odor and replace damaged drywall. Letting pros do the heavy work also comes with these benefits.

  • Immediate fire, soot and smoke damage cleanup
  • Extensive tear-out and reconstruction capabilities
  • Specialized odor removal and air purification techniques
  • Property-wide HVAC air duct cleaning and sanitizing
  • Mold removal and remediation using certified antimicrobial products
  • Knowledgeable assistance with processing homeowners insurance claims

Do You Need Help With Smoke Damage in Chicago? We’re Here For You

It’s always very difficult to deal with the aftermath of a house fire. Cleanup can quickly overwhelm your best recovery plans. Don’t try to take care of extensive soot and smoke damage by yourself. Let us help.

Our teams get the job done quickly and efficiently. From caustic soot removal to smoke odor elimination, we specialize in restoring fire-damaged properties and belongings. We work just as hard to restore your peace of mind.

When you need us, we’re here for you at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba: 773-647-1985