Woman with cleaning supplies standing in kitchen.

How To Clean Smoke Damage From Your House

Lauren Nowacki8-Minute Read
June 03, 2022

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 a layer of film seems to coat everything.

When it comes to cleaning smoke damage from a home, there are some crucial steps to take to minimize the cost and energy spent repairing damage. The more prepared you are for what’s ahead, the better plan of action you can take. The following tips can help.

1. Assess What Smoke Damage You’ll Need To Clean

When you’ve had a chance to take a breath and get over the initial shock of the situation, the first step of cleaning smoke damage is to assess the damage and determine what you can handle and what needs professional work. Before you do anything in the home, make sure you have the fire department’s permission to go back inside as they may deem it too dangerous or may still be investigating the incident.

Saving What’s Salvageable

There’s a lot to process after a house fire. Along with working through a range of emotions, you’ll have to go through your belongings to determine what’s salvageable and what’s destroyed or damaged beyond repair. As you go through your property, create an inventory of discarded items to report in your insurance claim.

Inspecting Walls And Ceilings For Smoke Damage

There are different types of smoke and soot damage depending on what burned and what type of smoke came from it. Each type of damage may have different requirements for cleaning. Here are some common types of damage you’ll see:

  • Dry, ashy powder from burning wood and paper
  • Thick, smelly and sticky residue from burning plastic
  • Yellow-brownish, greasy and pungent residue from burning fatty or protein-heavy foods

Remember that during a fire, smoke can drift throughout the house, especially through open rooms and doorways. It can also penetrate walls, flooring and the ceiling. You should go through every room to assess any affected areas beyond where the fire was contained.

Determining Whether You Need A Smoke Damage Restoration Company

It can be hard to determine when you need to bring in the professionals. It’s best to reach out to your insurance provider to ask for suggestions about next steps, which may include connecting with a professional fire damage restoration company to determine what cleanup you can accomplish on your own and what will require a fire restorer’s services.

A professional fire restorer can also help determine the extent of water damage – for instance, whether drywall can be dried or if it’ll need to be replaced because its structural integrity or mold and mildew resistance has been compromised.

Let a pro do it for you.

Find a top-rated pro to help on HomeAdvisor.

2. Prepare To Get Rid Of Smoke Damage In Your House

Before you begin the actual cleaning, preparing your home and yourself is key. You want to make sure you’re practicing safety and not causing further damage to the home. Here are a few steps to take.

Ventilating Your Home

Not only will the interior look smokey, it will also smell and feel smokey. Open all doors and windows and position fans to help remove lingering smoke odor from the home, help dry any damp areas from when the fire was extinguished and encourage airflow when cleaning with chemicals. You should turn off the HVAC system to stop the spread of smoke and soot, since these systems pull in nearby air and circulate it throughout the home.

Gathering Necessary Supplies

You may have many of the products you’ll need for cleaning smoke damage around the house or available at your local grocery or hardware stores.

  • Safety goggles to protect eyes
  • Respirator mask to protect lungs
  • Work gloves and rubber gloves to protect skin
  • Chemical sponge (also called a dry-cleaning sponge)
  • Bucket filled with hot water
  • White vinegar
  • Degreaser such as liquid soap, detergent or Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) solution
  • Tile, wood or vinyl floor cleaner and a mop
  • Clean rags, terrycloth towel and #0000 steel wool
  • Sponge
  • Well-filtered shop-vac or vacuum with an upholstery attachment
  • Drop cloth

Putting On Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

You’ll be working with soot, dust and harmful, toxic chemicals as you go through the cleaning process. These substances can be dangerous to inhale or touch, so you’ll want to protect yourself. Protect your entire body by wearing long sleeves, pants and closed-toe, heavy-soled shoes. You should wear work gloves when handling items and rubber gloves when working with substances like bleach. Safety goggles will keep your eyes from getting irritated by the chemicals and debris, while a respirator mask will keep you from inhaling harmful substances.

You’ll also want to protect the space and items in any unaffected areas of the home. To do this, lay drop cloths over items and keep doors shut off from unaffected rooms.

Vacuuming Soot And Ash From Floors And Walls

This is technically part of the cleaning, but it can be considered prep work too. Begin the smoke damage cleanup by vacuuming loose soot from floors and walls. Gently use a dry-vac or standard vacuum with an upholstery attachment to suck up the loose, ashy particles. This helps prevent spreading or smearing the soot or driving it further into the carpet, floorboards, upholstery or textured walls.

3. Start Cleaning Smoke Damage From Your House

After a house fire, smoke and soot damage will be seemingly everywhere – even places you may not be able to see. The process can seem grueling, but once you start, little by little, you’ll get there. Here’s how to clean various surfaces of the damaged room.

How To Clean Smoke Damage Off Walls And Ceilings

It’s important to follow a sequence of steps when cleaning ceilings and walls to ensure you don’t cause more damage:

  • Lay a drop cloth below the areas you’ll be cleaning to catch any soot, droplets and other falling particles.
  • Gently run a vacuum over the area to pick up any loose particles, trying not to touch the vacuum to the wall. Instead, hover the vacuum over the areas to avoid breaking the soot particles and causing them to smear. Vacuuming is especially important for textured ceilings, like popcorn ceilings, which may have areas your cleaning equipment can’t get into.
  • Depending on the type of paint on your ceilings and walls, you’ll want to use either a dry removal method or a cleaning agent.
    • If you have flat paint, remove the majority of the dust and soot with a chemical sponge. If you don’t have this special sponge, use a dry towel or sponge. You do not want to use liquid cleaners on flat paint because it will stain the wall.
    • If you have semi-gloss, gloss or oil-based paint, wash the walls with a degreaser such as liquid soap or TSP, making sure to mix the cleaning agent with water, per the instructions on the bottle. Wear protective gloves, especially when working with TSP. Be careful not to oversaturate the wall if it’s drywall.
  • Repair any damaged areas as necessary. You may come across chipped or peeling paint or additional stains. Fill in any chips or holes, then apply paint sealer to the affected areas. Once that dries, you’ll want to paint the entire wall to ensure an even, well-blended coat.

How To Clean Smoke Damage From Hardwood Floors

The process for cleaning your floors, whether you have hardwood flooring, vinyl or tile, can be simpler, but still requires a few steps.

  • Clear the floors of any furniture or other items.
  • Vacuum the floor to pick up any loose soot.
  • Mix your wood, tile or vinyl cleaner with warm water per the directions on the bottle. And mop the floor section by section.
  • After mopping each section, dry the section with a shop-vac, dry mop or towel. This will help avoid streaks.
  • Wring out the mop and change out the water throughout your cleaning. You may need to mop the floor more than once.
  • If you have tile and grout, you may want to use a scrubbing machine for tough stains. If you have hardwood floors, you may want to use a buffer as well.

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 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 Carpet And Upholstery

If you haven’t done so already, run a vacuum over the affected areas to suck up any superficial debris. Do not use a brush attachment as it could drive soot into the fibers of the material. If you can, use a non-steam carpet cleaning machine. You can typically rent these at a grocery, home improvement or hardware store.

When it comes to upholstery, if it’s removable, take it off the furniture and wash it in cold water. If it isn’t, follow these steps:

  • First, run a vacuum over the upholstery, making sure not to touch the vacuum to the surface, smearing the soot.
  • Wipe the upholstery with a chemical sponge. Make sure the sponge and your hands are dry.
  • Use a foam cleaning solution or mix a tablespoon of shampoo with one gallon of water.
  • Use a sponge to get the mixture foamy, then scrub the upholstery in sections.
  • After each section, use a shop-vac to suck up the moisture.
  • Make sure you test a small spot before doing the whole piece. You’ll want to watch for dye bleeding, brown spots, bleaching and shrinking.

How To Remove Smoke Odor From Your House

Even with the soot removed and damage fixed, your home can still carry the smell of smoke. It’s a strong, heavy and stubborn scent. However, there are a few things you can do to remove smoke odor from your home. These include:

  • Leaving the windows of your home open as long as you can to air it out
  • Using cleaners that absorb or eliminate scents instead of masking them
  • Wiping surfaces with a mixture of water and white vinegar
  • Sprinkling baking soda on carpets then vacuuming it up
  • Replacing HVAC filters
  • Filling the area with more plants, which naturally reduce odors
  • Set out bowls of activated charcoal, kitty litter or baking soda, which all absorb odors

4. Hire A Professional For Smoke Damage You Can’t Get Rid Of

Some smoke damage may be beyond a DIY repair. For damage that’s more than surface-level, hire a professional. This can be beneficial no matter the extent of damage. Why? Because these professionals are trained in thoroughly inspecting a home and cleaning it correctly. They may find spots you missed or diagnose something as more damaged or a potential health risk. Professionals will also have access to specialized equipment, cleaning solutions and training to clean correctly and completely.

Let a pro do it for you.

Find a top-rated pro to help on HomeAdvisor.

How To Prevent Future Fire Damage

The top causes of house fires include candles, cooking, electrical outlets, space heaters and smoking devices. That means protecting our homes can be partly in our control.

Here are a few things to consider when thinking of ways to prevent a fire in your home:

  • Test all 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 clothes dryer inspected once a year.
  • Check the condition of electrical cords.
  • Store flammable products very carefully.
  • Don’t leave candles unattended.
  • Ensure the damper is open and the chimney is clear before using the fireplace.
  • Keep fire extinguishers handy.

The Bottom Line

Fires can be scary. The aftermath can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to cleanup. Assess the damage, then make a plan. While you can remove much surface-level smoke damage on your own with these tips, make sure you know when it’s time to call in the professionals.

From cleaning to home decorating, we have several homeowner tips to help you make your house a home you love.

Lauren Nowacki

Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.