Even after a fire is put out, smoke damage can cause long-lasting harm to your home, your belongings, and your family. Smoke (and the soot that comes with it) contain several different acids that can cause corrosion. Smoke can damage metal, marble, and glass in your house. It can cause discoloration in your floors, fabrics, counters, and other porous materials. It can also cause odors that are harmful to your health, in addition to smelling unpleasant.
Health Hazards of Smoke Damage
Smoke can carry microscopic particles into your lungs, causing lung damage. Older adults and children (including teenagers) are especially vulnerable. People inhaling smoke may experience:
- Scratchy throat
- Runny nose
- Chest pain
- Asthma attack
- Stinging eyes
- Fast heartbeat
And just as the acidic content of smoke residue can cause discoloration and etching (acidic damage) in surfaces, it can cause severe irritation to your skin. Smoke and soot particles can embed themselves in clothing and bedding, continuing to cause harm even after the fire is done.
There are three different types of smoke you need to watch out for:
- Wet Smoke
- Dry Smoke
- Oil Smoke
Each is a different kind of hassle to tackle, but all three can cause long-term damage to your property and your health if not dealt with properly. You may want help in repairing and/or restoring your home and replacing belongings that are affected by smoke damage. Knowing what’s salvageable and what isn’t is difficult enough. But actually, doing the work of smoke damage mitigation and cleanup is even harder.
Wet smoke is generally caused by low-heat, smoldering fires. Because of the low heat, a lot of material is left unburned. Unfortunately, “unburned” doesn’t mean “untouched by fire”. Rather, it means that “unburned” material fills the air as thick, black, sooty smoke. It smells extremely harsh, and it sticks to surfaces. Wet smoke can leave a sticky, smeary residue behind that’s very difficult to clean away. It can also cause damage and smells that can’t be seen, making it even trickier to clean.
Dry smoke comes from hot, fast-burning fires. The source of the fire is generally natural, cellulistic material, such as wood, paper, and cotton fabric. The powdery residue it leaves behind is easier to clean up than the sticky residue of wet or oily smoke, but it can still be very acidic.
Dry smoke is technically less difficult to clean because it doesn’t stick and smear as much. However, that powdery residue can find its way into cracks and porous materials in your home or business, continuing to cause smoke odor and damage in places you can’t see. And even if it isn’t as hard to clean, it can still cause stains, discoloration, odors, and acidic etching to your belongings. It can be very abrasive, and scratch glass, marble, and semi-porous soft surfaces.
Oily smoke isn’t as common in homes as the other types. It’s caused by fires that are started by a fuel source. You may also hear it called “petroleum residue.”
The fumes caused by fuel smoke are very hazardous. These can cause nose and throat irritation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and more. Adding smoke into the mix only carries the fumes further, adds in heat, and makes things worse. This kind of smoke is most commonly seen in auto repair garages, printing companies, and other businesses that deal with flammable fuels on a day-to-day basis.
But even if you don’t work at these kinds of businesses, you may be at risk of this kind of damage if your building has a furnace. When furnaces don’t ignite correctly, they release a puffback that blows smoke and soot into the surrounding area. This is a very dense type of residue. It’s a sticky, foul-smelling, and toxic substance that is very difficult to clean from surfaces. And since it can be caused by puffbacks, you may have to deal with it even without a fire.
Protein smoke is a type of oily smoke that comes from organic matter that catches fire. It’s usually related to cooking fires. When protein-rich foods catch fire, animal fat from the food breaks down into a very fine mist. This mist is hard to see, and even harder to clean. Because it’s so fine, this mist can easily cover large surfaces, and it will quickly penetrate anything porous. Fabrics like clothing, rugs, and carpets will soak up protein smoke. Other porous surfaces like tiles and the paint on your walls will absorb it, too. And even surfaces that aren’t porous can still get covered in sticky, stinky residue. (Pro tip: this is the reside you see when you clean your oven range hood - which you should do at least monthly.) It may not seep in quite the same way, but it still won’t be easy to clean.
Protein smoke is very common. Cooking is actually the leading cause of home structure fires, so this frustrating, difficult smoke is also a frequent occurrence in homes. It will require specialized cleaner to break up the residue on hard surfaces, and deep cleaning in order to remove the smoke and smell from porous surfaces. Because protein smoke is so hard to see, it may not look like much of a problem. But that can actually cause bigger problems. Because even if you can’t see it, you’re definitely going to smell it. Calling in smoke damage experts can help you remove this stealthy, destructive residue
Dealing with Smoke Damage
While these types of smoke behave in different ways, they’re all harmful. Properly addressing and restoring the damage they cause is important in recovering from a fire. Smoke damage to homes left untreated can continue to cause damage to surfaces, objects, and even people in your home.
If you’re dealing with smoke damage in your home, contact a local ServiceMaster Restore professional. Trained smoke damage restoration experts can help you recover, repair, resurface, and replace as needed. Their expertise will help you find the best path through to recovery, so that you can get back to your life, and avoid any long-term effects on your family’s health and well-being.