Soot, the black residue left behind after a fire, results from the burning of various materials including wood, plaster, natural fibers, synthetics, foams, and plastics. Soot sticks to any surface that's cooler than the fire, usually walls, ceilings, and other hard surfaces. Removing soot from walls is a cleanup job that requires expert attention. Before ServiceMaster® Restore begins soot and fire damage cleanup, there are several safety and cleaning tips to remember.
How to Remove Soot: Safety First
Professional cleaning teams know how to clean soot off walls properly without spreading it around and damaging the wall further. Follow these safety protocols before they arrive:
- Never touch anything during your first inspection of the room to avoid transferring the soot to other surfaces
- Always wear gloves, a face mask, and clothing that covers your skin (eg. long sleeves and pants) when working in a room with soot damage
- Keep the room ventilated to minimize breathing soot particles and dissipate smoke odors
- Remove as much debris from the room as possible to allow for easier cleanup.
Avoid attempting major cleanup yourself – improper cleaning protocols can create further damage and increase your chance of health risks associated with soot exposure. Tiny soot particles can enter the lungs upon inhalation, ingestion or through the skin and eyes, and lead to respiratory problems, bronchitis, coronary heart disease, or even cancer.
What Cleaning Materials Do I Need To Remove Soot?
Selecting the right cleaning materials is imperative to not causing further soot damage to your home and belongings. As with all cleaning materials, test out your soot cleaners in an inconspicuous area before moving on to the entirety of the surface.
Common cleaning materials used as soot removers include:
- A soot sponge, also known as a dry-cleaning or chemical sponge
- A HEPA vacuum cleaner
- Cleaning solutions made from vinegar, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide
- A high-alkali detergent or degreaser
- Commercial air scrubbers
A powerful vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter can safely remove soot, smoke, and odors from most surfaces. However, proper technique and process to use it is important since the soot may remain within the surface. Air scrubbers can trap soot particles released into the air during vacuuming and help deodorize the air.
Soot residue left by a high-oxygen fire is best cleaned with a dry-cleaning sponge or dry chemical sponge. Soot sponges can be useful on ceilings, floors, lampshades, and other surfaces you may not want to get wet. If wet methods of cleaning are attempted on this type of soot, the soot will only smear and cause further damage. However, a low-oxygen fire leaves oily soot residue that may respond effectively to wet sponge cleaning methods with a high-alkaline detergent.
Use wet methods on tile, glass, and other waterproof surfaces. Avoid using water to clean soot off wood, electronics, drywall, and other porous materials. Water can seep into porous materials and electronics and cause water damage.
How To Clean Soot Off Walls
- Wear protective gear: Soot can penetrate the skin and badly damage the lungs. Protect yourself by wearing gloves, a face mask, long sleeves, and pants to avoid transferring the soot to other surfaces.
- Ventilate the area: Keep the room ventilated to minimize breathing in soot particles and to dissipate smoke odors. Open windows and use fans to get the air flowing. Turn off your HVAC system to prevent spreading smoke and soot.
- Cover or remove belongings: Remove the items to avoid further damage and to allow for easier cleanup. You also need to clean them separately to remove the soot and smoke odor.
- Protect the floor: Cover up the floor with newspapers or sheets to prevent soot from falling on it and causing further damage.
- Vacuum: Vacuum obvious soot residue off the walls. When vacuuming soot residue from walls and ceilings, always hold the nozzle about one-half inch away from the area you’re cleaning to avoid contact with the surface, which can smear to the touch.
- Use a soot sponge: Wipe away stains with a soot sponge. This step will help ensure the soot doesn’t penetrate and cause a permanent stain.
- Wipe the walls in a downward motion: Don’t scrub the walls as this can cause further damage. Continue to wipe in strokes until the surface has been cleaned. Remember: do NOT wet the sponge as it will become ineffective in cleaning the soot.
- Clean residual stains: Once the soot has been removed, use a high-alkali detergent such as dish soap and water to wipe off remaining stains.
- Rinse and dry: Rinse off residual detergent and soot from the walls with plain water and pat dry with a towel.
- Remove the floor cover: Once the walls and ceiling are cleaned, remove and dispose of the floor covers carefully to avoid spreading any soot that may have fallen on them.
If your home has brick walls or a fireplace and you’re looking for how to remove soot from bricks, follow the steps above to safely remedy soot damage. Heavy residue will require assistance from smoke and fire damage professionals to ensure the job is done correctly the first time. Improper cleaning procedures can cause further damage and can unnecessarily expose you to the health dangers of soot.
How To Clean Soot Off Ceilings
If you have soot on your ceiling, the process to remove it will be similar to the one outlined above. However, cleaning soot off ceilings is recommended to be done prior to cleaning your home’s walls. Doing so will reduce the likelihood of potential contamination that may occur as a result of loose soot falling and sticking to your walls.
Always start off the soot removal process by wearing protective clothing and ventilating the area. Cover your floors and personal belongings with sheets and newspapers to catch any soot that may fall from the ceiling.
From here, follow similar steps to the ones mentioned above for your walls. Vacuum away any noticeable soot, taking care not to place the nozzle directly on the surface to avoid smearing the soot. Use a dry-cleaning sponge to wipe away remaining soot stains, then follow-up with a grease cleaner once the soot has been thoroughly removed.
Don’t forget to wipe down any lighting fixtures or ceiling fans – you don’t want to go through the trouble of cleaning soot off your ceilings and walls, only to have more soot be spread by a ceiling fan. If possible, remove the ceiling fan and light fixtures to carefully clean the soot off them.
How To Clean Soot From Carpet
Soot can cause dark staining on light carpets if not treated in time or correctly. Attempting to scrub soot stains will only allow the soot to penetrate further into the carpet fibers, permanently damaging it.
Begin by removing large soot pieces with a spoon. Avoid applying pressure on the soot pieces to prevent them from crumbling or smashing deeper into the carpet. If it’s difficult to remove these larger pieces, it is better to not try to attempt it and make things worse.
Prepare your carpet by sprinkling enough baking soda or absorbent powder to cover the soot stains. Let the powder stand for at least an hour to allow the soot to be absorbed. Once time is up, vacuum the baking soda. If necessary, repeat this step before moving on to the next section.
Use a white cloth soaked in hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, or dry-cleaning solution to blot any residual stains. (Anytime you use chemicals or cleaners, be sure to test in an inconspicuous area of the carpet first.) Do not rub the stain to avoid spreading the soot. Be careful when using rubbing alcohol as it can damage certain types of carpet fiber if pushed deep into the carpeting. Dilute the hydrogen peroxide with three tablespoons of warm water and only use on light carpets since it has a bleaching effect.
Once you have finished blotting the stain with the solvent of your choice, rinse the solvent with a cup of water or blot it out with a towel dampened with warm water. Vacuum the remaining cleaning solution and dry your carpet effectively once the stain has been removed to prevent mold from sprouting up. Repeat these steps if necessary, until the stain is out.
If soot has affected large areas of your carpet, call a professional smoke and soot damage restoration service. Only they will be able to salvage your carpet or safely remove it without causing further soot damage.
Additional Soot Removal Cleaning Tips
Addressing the damage as quickly and as efficiently as possible is critical. Soot can travel through your ventilation system, spreading further around your home and sticking to additional surfaces. This can make the cleanup process longer and potentially damage more areas. The faster cleanup begins, the sooner you can safely return to your home.
When determining how to remove soot from walls, ceilings, and other surfaces it's important to avoid further damage caused by improper cleaning methods. Typically, the first instinct is to attempt to wash the soot from walls with sponges and soap. Always test a small inconspicuous spot first, including allowing time for the area to dry, or simply leave the cleanup to the professionals.
Calling In The Experts For Soot And Smoke Damage Removal
Determining how to remove smoke and soot from surfaces can seem overwhelming. Leave the smoke and soot cleanup to the professionals. ServiceMaster® Restore is committed to cleaning smoke damage and removing soot residue and staining from walls, ceilings, and other surfaces safely and effectively. Find your nearest location and contact us today to see how we can help you recover your home from smoke damage.