How to Clean Smoke Damage and Restore Your House

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Smoke damage, if left untreated can turn your walls yellow within days, even if they were not directly invoked with the flames. Smoke and soot are acidic which makes them difficult to remove and the unpleasant odors come from particles that are harmful to breathe so it is critical to your health, and to your home and possessions that the smoke and soot cleanup be undertaken as soon as it is safe to do so.

A fire in your home can be devastating. Watching your home and your prized possessions being consumed or damaged by fire, smoke and the water and chemicals used to put out the fire is heartbreaking. Depending on the severity of the fire, you may be able to salvage some of your possessions.

People often forget that damage from a fire typically goes beyond the damage done by the heat and flames. Smoke odors and soot can be difficult to remove and can linger in your home long after a fire if not properly and promptly leaned. Safe and professional clean up can remove smoke odor and soot. Remember to always put safety first, and make that part of your decision making in deciding whether you can clean up after a fire yourself, or if you need to call in a fire and water damage restoration company

smoke damage

Cleaning Smoke Damage- DIY or fire damage restoration professionals

The first decision you’ll need to make is whether the clean up is something you can safely and effectively take on, or if you should call one of the many skilled fire damage companies in your area. This starts with an assessment of the actual damage. If the fire was a small kitchen fire or another small event that was quickly contained and extinguished, and there is no standing water or heavy building materials that need to be removed, you may be able to manage that yourself.

It is critical that you are 100% sure it is safe to enter the house, and that there is no hidden structural damage or lingering embers that could be dangerous. If you have any doubt a fire inspection by your fire marshal or a fire damage specialist will answer all of our questions.

Fires can leave your home with standing water from the firefighting, holes in the roof, broken windows, soot and ash damage to your possessions, and more. If you see evidence of this you likely need to hire a professional. These are all biohazards and must be handled correctly.

A home fire is disruptive and emotionally upsetting and often will require you to move out of your home during restoration. Trying to manage smoke damage clean up on your own, unless it is a very small area, with minimal damage will only add to your stress and disruption.

Tips to handling smoke damage clean up yourself

If you are ready to handle the clean up yourself, here are some tips to help you address soot damage and smoke smell in your home, as well as some steps to safe fire restoration.

Once your home has been inspected and you are certain there is no hidden damage to electrical wiring, the walls, or other structural items, and you know it is safe to enter you will still need to be cautious.

  • Wear protective gear

Be sure you are wearing closed-toe shoes, long sleeve shirts, and long pants, heavy work gloves and eye protection as well as a face mask. No kids or pets allowed at this stage!

  • Call your insurance company

This is a good time to be sure you fully understand our insurance coverage and ask any questions you may have.

Your insurance company may want access to the home as well to assess the damage.

  • Start with any damage to the exterior.

If there is any ash or soot on the outside walls, clean them with a power washer or a stiff brush if appropriate. You may need to use borax and water or a commercial cleaner. Windows can be washed with a regular window cleaner.

  • Cleaning inside your home after a fire

Ventilation is critical. Open the windows and turn on any fans to help with air circulation.

Pull out any wet flooring or carpets. Run your heat or air conditioner and change the filters daily. Remove any smoke or soot damaged furniture.

A dehumidifier may help you prevent mold from any moisture that may have been introduced to the house during the fire fighting.

Look for any soot or staining on your walls, ceilings, cabinets, counters, or other surfaces. Use a dry cleaning sponge to wipe loose soot and smoke stains. They have special stain-lifting chemicals. After cleaning a small area, turn the sponge to a fresh area. Continue to do this. When all the sides are soiled, slice off the sides with a knife to open up a new surface. Avoid scrubbing the stains as that will spread the stains. Work in a wiping motion.

You are now ready for a liquid cleaner. A good soot remover for walls, cabinets, etc is white vinegar, rubbing alcohol or a solution of two tablespoons of dishwashing soap, four to six tablespoons of trisodium phosphate, and a cup of chlorine bleach with a gallon of warm water. Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is an inorganic compound that when mixed with water produces an alkaline solution often used for difficult cleaning jobs. Every surface must be wiped even if you see no evidence of stain. Refresh your water frequently.

Don’t use scents that are just masking the odor. You need to remove the problem.

Wearing gloves, wash the affected areas with a sponge. Rinse each section immediately as you go and let it air dry. Wait until the walls are completely dry- 48 hours- before painting.

For lingering smoke odors, you can try thermal fogging. Smoke damage professionals will do this for you. You can also ask a cleaning professional about an ozone generator. Also, consider having your HVAC cleaned.

If your drapes or throw rugs can be salvaged, wash it immediately adding a cup of baking soda to the final rinse cycle. Repeat if the odor persists. Ask your dry cleaner to treat any dry clean only items for the smoke. Shoes and purses can be wiped down with water, dried, and then treated with a leather conditioner.

Damage Buddy Tip: After a fire, toss any non-perishable food that may have been exposed to heat or fire fighting chemicals. Throw out cosmetics and medications that were exposed to very high temperatures.

Have any small electrical appliances checked out after a fire before using them

Professional fire and smoke damage remediation.

A trained fire damage professional will have the expertise, staff and equipment to restore your home as quickly as possible. If you fail to fully address the smoke issues this can be a health hazard and can lead to further damage and more expensive repairs later.

The fire damage restoration process will vary depending upon the extent and type of damage incurred. These are the basic steps you can expect for most situations.

  • Assess the areas that are wet and remediate any water damage
  • Remove all damaged items and pack up other home contents if restoration is extensive.
  • Evaluate what can be restored.
  • Remove the smoke smell – this depends upon the material. For example, blistered walls and ceilings would be scraped and sanded, before being repainted. Finished wood could be stripped, sanded, and refinished.
  • Soot removal involves several dry and wet techniques.
  • Professionals use industrial-grade dehumidifiers, air movers, and other special equipment as well as disinfectants and antimicrobials to prevent mold and mildew.
  • They will handle the reconstruction of any affected areas and move your personal items back into your home.

Tips for removing smoke damage to Clothes and Shoes 

  • Sort out the items that can be salvaged and put the clothes in piles by washing instructions
  • Separate any dry clean only items
  • Shake the clothes outside to remove and lose soot.
  • Launder clothing according to label directions.
  • If they still smell smoky, wash several more times in warm water, adding one cup of baking soda to the water.  
  • If the smell lingers, check with a smoke damage cleaning service.

Will homeowners insurance cover smoke damage?

Every policy is different but smoke damage is generally covered by a homeowner’s policy. Your policy often covers cleaning and repainting as well. Double-check with your insurance carrier to be sure you are clear on coverage, as well as any exclusions or limits on smoke damage coverage

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