Woman with cleaning supplies standing in kitchen.

How To Clean Smoke Damage From Your Home

Victoria Araj5-Minute Read
July 18, 2019

Dealing with the aftermath of smoke or fire damage in your home is an overwhelming endeavor. Paint peels and chips away, thick oily residue clings to the walls like permanent marker and there seems to be a layer of film on everything.

While cleaning up a smoke-damaged home is a nightmare, there are some crucial steps to take to minimize the cost and energy spent cleaning up. The more prepared you are for what’s ahead, the better plan of action you can take.

Here are the steps you should take when repairing smoke and fire damage:

Assess The Situation

First and foremost, take a good look at the walls and ceiling to see if the damage goes beyond something you can handle. Check for any underlying issues that could cause problems for you in the future. Assess what you can save, what you need to discard and if you need to hire a professional.

In some cases, you won’t necessarily know if you need to bring in professional help. Try reaching out to your insurance provider and ask for suggestions about your next steps. Your insurance provider may be able to point you in the right direction and connect you with a professional. If they don’t have a point of contact, consider reaching out to a professional fire restorer.

You can find your local professional on a website like Angie’s List or by merely googling “fire and water damage restoration.” Contact a few fire restorers in your area to get quotes and to help you assess your situation. These experts can help you determine what you may be able to accomplish on your own and what will require their services.

Of course, hiring a professional is costly, but it’s the best way to remove smoke and soot from your property. Since they have the appropriate tools and gear, they can clean your home thoroughly. However, there may be some areas that aren’t as damaged, and you can tackle those alone.

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Gather Your Supplies

Once you determine the areas of damage you’re ready to take on, you’ll need to gather some supplies. Just as drastic times call for drastic measures, so goes your approach in cleaning up that pesky soot. Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) is a good way to get through that tough grime on your walls and ceiling, and you can buy it at your local hardware store. However, you will need to take some precautions because it can irritate your eyes and skin. Since TSP is so strong, you’ll want to dilute it with some water. Be sure to wear long gloves, a mask and goggles while scrubbing.

Here’s an essential list of some items you can begin to collect:

  • Safety goggles to protect your eyes
  • Gloves to protect your skin
  • Terrycloth towel to wipe down the furniture
  • Grade #0000 steel wool to deep clean furniture if a terrycloth won’t do the job
  • Cloth for polishing your furniture
  • Drop cloth to protect the furniture once it’s clean
  • Vacuum for cleaning up excess debris
  • Chemical sponge
  • TSP solution for cleaning walls, masonry, roofs and grout

Start Cleaning

Before you begin cleaning with harsh chemicals, make sure to protect the unharmed areas with drop cloths. You will also want to protect your entire body by wearing long sleeves, pants and closed-toe shoes.

Now that you have protected yourself and the unharmed areas, you can begin working.

How To Remove Smoke Damage From Furniture

If your furniture is salvageable, start by wiping all wood surfaces with a dry chemical sponge to remove the soot. However, don’t scrub too hard because you don’t want to grind the smoke participles deeper into the wood grain. Then, lightly wipe down all wood surfaces with a cotton cloth using a ¼ cup oil soap solution (or wood cleaner) in a gallon of warm water.

You may need to use a grade #0000 steel wool to remove the tough soot from the wood. Once you properly remove the soot, you can wipe the furniture down with a damp cloth and let it air dry.

How To Remove Smoke Damage From Textiles

Before you can remove the smoke smell from your textiles and carpet, you will need to remove the soot. If you don’t hire a professional to clean the soot, use a vacuum to clean the areas. Stay away from brush attachments because they tend to force extra dirt and soot into the fibers of the material.

Once you remove the soot, you can now deodorize the areas affected. Professional fire restorers and some dry-cleaning companies use an ozone treatment technique to remove the smell of smoke from your textiles. This treatment forces the breakdown of smoke molecules and eliminates the odor. Because household products may only temporarily remove the smell, it may be best to hire a professional.

How To Remove The Smell From Your Walls

Give the walls and ceiling a quick wipe down to get rid of any easily removable surface residue. Then, dissolve one tablespoon of TSP per one gallon of warm water. Again, be sure you have rubber gloves, a face mask and goggles on. Then, you can use the sponge to wipe down the damaged areas small sections at a time.

After you use the cleaner, you will need to go over the walls again with water to rinse it away. If you have drywall, be careful not to oversaturate with water since this can damage the wall and encourage the growth of mold. You’ll also need to repair damages as required, such as chipped and peeling paint or bubbled wallpaper. If you have wallpaper, you may even need to remove it and repaper.

Jennifer Okhovat, Residential and Commercial Realtor at realty company Compass, stated, “If you’re cleaning up your home after smoke or fire damage, don’t forget to put a fresh coat of paint. The smell of smoke (even if you can’t smell it) will exist in walls and paint.”

Hire A Professional For The Rest

For heavy soot or smoke damage from a fire, call a professional. The process of cleaning walls and furniture, as well as deodorizing, is hard, complex and best left to experienced professionals.

Ben Mizes, Licensed Realtor and the CEO/Co-Founder of Clever Real Estate, suggested, “While the techniques above are effective, your best bet is to hire a professional to deep clean your home. By the time you invest in all of the supplies needed and spend your own time trying to clean the damage, it may have been worth investing in professional help.”

So, before you start scrubbing your home from top to bottom, consider bringing in the big guns to do the dirty work for you. You may find that you’re happier with the result.

How To Prevent Future Fire Damage

The key to protecting your home from a house fire is prevention. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the top causes of fires in homes include candles, cooking, electric, heating and smoking devices. Seeing as how these causes are very preventable, protecting our homes is in our control.

Here are a few things to consider when preventing your home from becoming a fire victim:

  • Test all of your smoke alarms and replace batteries as necessary.
  • Don’t place flammable items near or around your stove or oven.
  • Don’t leave the kitchen unattended when cooking.
  • Change heating filters regularly.
  • Inspect space heaters after use.
  • Have your dryer inspected once a year.
  • Check the condition of cords.
  • Store flammable products very carefully.
  • Don’t leave candles unattended.
  • Use fireplace responsibly.
  • Keep fire extinguishers handy.

The Bottom Line

Repairing your home after smoke damage can be an overwhelming and time-consuming task. Before taking on this endeavor, be sure to assess the situation and prepare for the project. But if you’re at all in doubt, hire a local professional to take care of the heavy lifting.

Fund your renovations with a cash-out refinance.

Get preapproved online now!

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Victoria Araj

Victoria Araj is a Section Editor for Rocket Mortgage and held roles in mortgage banking, public relations and more in her 15+ years with the company. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in political science from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan.