How to Clean Soot on Your Walls from Smoke & Fire Damage

Cleaning Soot & Char on Walls

Fire damage doesn’t only refer to structures that have been burnt to the ground. Small fires caused by electrical shorts or grease fires can cause extensive smoke damage to various materials. Smoke char and soot should be dealt with immediately—or as quickly as possible—since the stains can become more difficult to remove over time. We’ve provided some safe methods for removing char and soot from most walls (painted, drywall, plaster, wallpapered). To be on the safe side, it’s best to test the cleaning solution you’re using on a small hidden area of the wall or ceiling initially, observing any possible adverse reaction to that chemical.

Removing Soot and Char from Walls

Char and soot are actually smoke particles and are easy to smudge if not cleaned properly. Use the following strategy for removing char and soot without making it worse in the process and causing even more damage to your walls.

You will need these items:

•    Rubber gloves
•    Safety glasses
•    Chemical dry-cleaning sponge
•    Paint thinner or rubbing alcohol
•    Soft cloth or sponge
•    Fan, to help with the ventilation
•    Ladder or step stool
•    Drop cloth

Now you’re ready to clean:

Let the air in. You’re going to be using various cleaning products which will likely produce toxic vapors—not to mention the fumes from smoke-saturated materials. So that you don’t pass out in the process, you’ll need to make sure the work area is fully ventilated. Open windows, and even doors, which are near the affected area. The fresh air will provide sufficient air circulation so that you can do the job effectively.

Protect your eyes and skin. Make sure you have safety goggles and rubber gloves at hand. The goggles will protect your eyes from the fumes generated by the leftover smoke and the fumes from the cleaning products. The rubber gloves should provide a safe barrier between your skin and harmful chemicals.

Protect your floor. You certainly don’t want to add to your cleaning chores by transferring soot and char stains to your flooring. Always place a drop cloth or tarp beneath the area(s) that you plan to clean.

Safety first. Don’t scramble up on top of counter tops and kitchen chairs to reach the high areas. Make sure you use a ladder or a sturdy step stool to reach those high areas instead. Also be methodical and work from side to side and top to bottom.

Use the right sponge. Don’t use the same type of sponge that you scrub your dinner plates with. Those sponges won’t remove the soot stains from your walls and might even make the damage worse. You’ll need a Chemical Dry Cleaning Sponge for the job—they will expertly remove that nasty soot from your walls. Just use a completely dry sponge to wipe the stains—no moisture is required. The only time you’ll need to wet the sponge is when it’s become saturated with soot, then simply wash the sponge and allow it to air dry. You can find these miraculous sponges at art supply stores and in the wallpaper section of most hardware and home improvement stores. If you’re unable to locate these particular sponges, skip to the next step.

Finally, getting rid of the stains. After you’ve removed as much of the soot residue as possible, wet a soft cloth or sponge with paint thinner or rubbing alcohol—be sure NOT to use water-based cleaners. Always test whatever cleaner you’re using on a small hidden area of the wall first. If you haven’t further damaged the test area, proceed with the remainder of the clean up on the affected areas. Simply wipe the wall gently until the remaining stain is gone.

The last step. Once the stain is gone, allow the area to air dry. And you’re done!

Removing Odor from Walls

There may be areas, after a fire, that show no physical damage like soot or char stains. This doesn’t mean that there is nothing wrong with your walls. Smoke can spread quickly, penetrating multiple surfaces. It’s very difficult to locate these odor-saturated sections and just as difficult to remove odor once discovered. Wall materials can absorb smoke odor and release it back into a room. It’s important to assume, after a fire, that despite not appearing smoky or dirty, affected walls should be cleaned anyway.

You will need these items:

•    Plastic drop cloths
•    Mild detergent
•    Warm water
•    Bucket
•    Sponge or soft cloth
•    Dry towel
•    Ladder or step stool

Now you’re ready to clean:

Protect your flooring. Just as when you are cleaning soot stains from your walls, you’ll need to protect your flooring. Plastic sheeting, placed around the base of the walls, will help to avoid any accidental water damage during the cleaning process.

Safety first. As mentioned above, don’t scramble up on top of counter tops and kitchen chairs to reach the high areas. Make sure you use a ladder or a sturdy step stool to reach those high areas instead. Also be methodical and work from side to side and top to bottom.

Wash the walls. Take the bucket and fill it with warm water, adding just enough detergent to create some bubbles. Be careful with the amount of detergent that you add to the water, though. If you add too much you’ll end up with soapy residue on the walls.

Wipe the walls. Now it’s time to wipe down the walls with the (mildly) soapy water. Be sure to use a soft cloth or sponge. Please Note: It’s not wise to use only water on a soot-stained wall. If there are soot/char stains on the wall, you’ll need to complete the removal process for that particular damage first.

Finishing touch. It’s time to soak up any extra moisture with a towel in order to prevent water damage.

The last step. Once the odor is gone, allow the area to air dry in a well-ventilated room. And you’re done!

Additional information and important reminders…

•Never use water-based cleaners to remove soot/char from plaster. Doing so will cause the stain to bleed into the wall.

•You should always open windows, and if possible, use fans for proper ventilation in work areas, particularly when exposed to toxic chemical fumes.

•Use of safety glasses and gloves when dealing with chemicals is an absolute must.

•Be sure to test a small section of a wall, preferably an area that is hidden, with any chemicals you’re using. Think of this as a test run for spot cleaning.

•You should replace all air filters for air conditioning and heating systems. Smoke particles can travel from one area to another via the ventilation system contaminating all filters and air systems. These particles can remain in these filters and continue to circulate throughout your home.

•Contact your insurance company before beginning the cleaning process if you’re planning on filing a claim. However, if you don’t want to wait for your claim to be processed, be sure to document any damage as thoroughly as possible. Photographing the damage is advised.

•Should the smoke damage be near an area with structural damage, it’s best to wait for a safety inspection. Once you’re given the “all clear” by inspectors, you can re-enter the building.

•If the smoke damage is extensive and the idea of doing it yourself is overwhelming, it’s best to contact a professional fire damage restoration company like Orange Restoration.