WHAT IS SOOT?
Soot is the carbon residue that remains after a fire when organic matter is burned.
Because of the acidic nature of soot, it can be very difficult to remove and precautions need to be taken when you do this work.
The process is much more than just opening a few windows to air things out.
WHY IS SOOT AND SMOKE DANGEROUS?
Fires burn and destroy all the materials they immediately come in contact with, but what you may not know is that further damage continues to occur through soot residue and smoke even after a fire is extinguished.
Fires are hazardous in many ways long after the flames are put out.
And negative health effects are not always felt immediately. There are cases where they don’t appear for months — even years.
WHAT SUPPLIES DO I NEED
TO CLEAN UP SOOT AND SMOKE?
Many of the supplies that you need in order to clean up soot and smoke damage are things you may already have at home.
The one item you will probably have to purchase is a dry-cleaning sponge.
This sponge is critical to removing the smoke and soot, so we recommend that use this very effective cleaning tool.
15 TIPS FOR CLEANUP
The chemical nature of smoke and soot make them very difficult to remove. Porous materials have air pockets in which smoke and soot can penetrate and stay.
The chemicals in the smoke and soot makes them cling and stick to building materials and furnishings. And, obviously one of the most difficult parts of the cleanup is removing the smell of the smoke which penetrates all the air pockets in the household and building materials.
Before you begin, make sure you are wearing protective clothing. Wear a respirator with a good filter to prevent the small particles from getting into your lungs.
Wear long pants and sleeves to protect your skin. You should also wear gloves and eye protection because the soot will irritate your skin.
As soon as you can after a fire, open those windows. You need to ventilate the house and get fresh air flowing. Open all doors and windows in the home. You can also use large fans to encourage airflow. Turn on any ceiling fans and open the vents, but be sure to turn off your HVAC system to prevent spreading of the smoke and soot.
As you are cleaning the soot and smoke from the walls, particles will float around the room and land on furniture, household items, and anything else that’s in the room.
You don’t want to clean everything, only to pick up something afterwards and release more soot and smoke back into the air.
To protect your contents, remove everything from the room that you can. This will also make cleaning easier. Remove furniture, paintings or pictures, plants, pillows, bedding or blankets, drapes and curtains, carpets and rugs, and any personal belongings.
If the damage is contained to one area, you will also want to close off the fire-damaged area from other areas in the house so that soot doesn’t get tracked to other areas.
Since you will be freeing soot from the walls as you clean, it’s important to put down protection on the floor. Be mindful of the shoes you’re wearing so you don’t track soot stains into other rooms in the home or office.
Cover the entire floor with a plastic drop sheet, newspaper, or canvas. The soot will float around on the air, so be sure to take the time to cover the whole floor and not just the section near where you’ll be cleaning. It is recommended that you position the drop cloth so it comes up and over the baseboards too. Tape the covering in place so it doesn’t move around as you work.
Begin your cleanup with a vacuum, removing any loose soot particles with a vacuum with an upholstery attachment.
It is best to use a shop-vac with strong suction for this job. You can also lightly brush the area with the brush attachment on the vacuum, vacuuming up the loose particles as you go. Be careful that you do it gently, without scrubbing, which can make stains worse or cause etching.
The next step is to use a dry-cleaning sponge to wipe the soot and smoke stains. This stage is absolutely essential, as these sponges use special chemicals to lift stains from walls.
Dry cleaning sponges are specifically made to absorb residue, which makes them ideal for cleaning up soot.
Remember that because of the oily nature of soot, it is easy to smear, so if you use a regular sponge, you run the risk of pushing the soot farther into the wall and causing a permanent stain.
Dry cleaning sponges are also called chemical sponges, but they don’t actually contain any chemicals. They are made from vulcanized rubber and can be found at building supply stores, hardware stores, cleaning supply stores, and online.
Never use water or soot cleaner before you use the dry-cleaning sponge, or you could spread the soot making it impossible to remove with a chemical sponge. Using the dry cleaning sponge is very important to be able to remove the soot.
Begin wiping the walls gently with the dry-cleaning sponge. Starting at the top left edge of the stain, wipe the wall using downward, overlapping strokes. Press the sponge firmly against the wall and wipe downward in a straight, vertical line.
Then, go back to the top. Keep repeating this, overlapping each line by a couple of inches, until you get to the bottom right edge of the stain and have wiped the entire wall.
Again, the key to cleaning soot off walls is to wipe, not scrub. Scrubbing can move the soot around and cause the stain to spread.
As you work, switch to a fresh section of sponge as necessary. After each stroke with the sponge, check the sponge to see how covered and saturated it is with soot.
When the sponge gets clogged and full of soot, flip it over and use a clean side. Repeat with all four sides of the sponge until the upper layer of the sponge is clogged with soot.
Just like the wall itself, do not rinse the sponge with water to clean it, or it will become unusable for cleaning soot.
As you go, you can cut off layers of sponge that are clogged with soot. Use a utility knife, or a razor blade to slice off the soot-covered outer layer of the sponge to get a fresh clean surface to wipe with. You can also just grab a new sponge, but make sure you are using a clean sponge as you work.
After you’ve removed as much soot as possible with the dry-cleaning sponge, you are going to clean the wall using a degreaser.
You can either purchase commercial soot and smoke remover or citrus degreaser, or you can make your own with vinegar, TSP, or degreasing dish soap in a gallon of hot water.
Using a clean cloth, wipe all the walls with the degreaser.
Keep in mind that even if there is no sign of soot or smoke damage, it’s important to wipe every surface in the room (even light bulbs or simply replace them). Use the same wiping technique you used with the dry-cleaning sponge.
You may need to use a combination or repeated treatments of these chemical cleaners, depending on the severity of the damage. Make sure you use a clean rag as you work, so as not to redeposit the soot from one area to another.
As the cloth gets dirty, rinse it out in the bucket or get a new one. The same applies to your cleaning water: Refresh your water if it’s black or smells like smoke. You will probably have to do this often.
Once you’ve completely washed all the surfaces in the room with your degreaser and hot water, wipe everything down with fresh clean water and a clean rag to rinse the walls of the cleaning agents.
When the wall is clean and rinsed, use a towel to completely dry all the surfaces. Let the walls air-dry for several hours and set up industrial fans
Once the walls are clean, you can carefully remove the protective cover you placed on the floor. Peel the tape from the wall or baseboards at a 45-degree angle, being careful not to disturb any soot that has landed on the cover. Starting at the edges, fold the drop sheet over on itself without throwing up any soot into the air.
The smell from a fire can be very persistent. Even after you clean up the soot, you will probably still smell the odor of the smoke. It may take a few days or weeks to dissipate.
If there are materials in the room, such as furniture or carpets, etc. that may have absorbed the odor, remove them and see if the smell dissipates. You can have carpets and upholstery and curtains professionally steam cleaned to help reduce the smell of smoke.
Be sure to replace all the HVAC filters in your system and consider having your HVAC professionally cleaned so that you don’t recirculate smoky air in your home when you turn it on.
Cleaning your home after smoke or soot damage can be an extremely difficult job. Smoke permeates the smallest pockets of air. If you are cleaning up a small area in a small room or the damage isn’t significant, we encourage you to try it yourself with the 15 tips that we’ve shared in this article.
But you may find that even your best efforts are not enough to effectively remove all the soot and smoke from your home. In these cases, do not hesitate to call a professional restoration company, trained in proven methods to completely remove the smell and appearance of smoke and soot from your property.
One of the most important things a restoration company can do after a fire is to improve the air quality and the ventilation of the property and remove the smell of smoke.
Restoration companies have access to lots of specialized equipment, state-of-the-art filters, alkaline cleaning agents, and years of experience and training to eliminate the smoke.
Remember that not only is the smoke smell offensive, but its presence indicates that the chemicals in the smoke are still doing damage to your property and the people in the building are breathing the contaminated air in. This is why it is so important to remove every trace of the fire, including the smell.
Always choose a restoration company that has a proven reputation as well as years of experience in fire damage. To protect yourself and your property, be sure that they are licensed, bonded and insured and have stellar consumer reviews.
At Titan Restoration of Arizona, we are experts in fire damage cleanup, remediation, and restoration. We have teams of technicians and the very best equipment that can help you clean up any smoke or soot damage, no matter how severe.
Titan Restoration has been helping people face the cleanup and restoration due to fire for over two decades, and we have built an incredible reputation based on our quality work and responsive customer service.
We know that there are few things more stressful or overwhelming than a fire, and we are here to reduce your worry and work, as well as keep you and your family safe by removing every trace of smoke and soot. From beginning the very beginning steps in the claims process all the way through to the final inspection, Titan will be with you every step of the way.
You can rest easy knowing that all traces of the fire, the soot, and the smoke have been completely removed from your property. If you have a fire, no matter the size or the extent of the damage, we are here to help. If you have questions or concerns about the cleanup process after a fire or if you need help removing smoke and soot from your property, please contact Titan Restoration today.
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