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Where’s There’s Smoke There’s Damage; How to Help Reduce Smoke and Soot Damage

While the immediate danger of a fire in your home or business can be terrifying, once the fire has been extinguished there is yet another threat of smoke and soot damage to both individuals’ health as well as the structure and contents. Smoke that has coated or penetrated surfaces continues to affect the chemical composition of fabrics, metals, walls, ceilings and even tiles. Soot can continue to cause damage to materials due to the fact that it is corrosive. In only a few minutes, finishes on appliances and other surfaces such as walls can turn yellow. Even glass can be damaged as smoke and soot will etch the glass in a very short time. Smoke will also tarnish metal very quickly.

Often times the terms smoke and soot are used together, sometimes interchangeably. They are, however, different aspects of a fire. Smoke is the solid, liquid and gaseous products of combustion released into the air. Soot, on the other hand, is fine, black particles composed primarily of carbon, produced by the incomplete combustion of fuel. Both cause immediate and continued damage if not addressed quickly.

It is important to know what type of fire you experienced because the source or cause of the fire can alter how the smoke and soot will continue to cause damage. For example, protein fires may be concentrated in one area and include a greasy residue leading to lingering food odors while furnace malfunctions often affect the entire home and result in a thin layer of soot which may be difficult to even see initially.

Here are the four most common types of fire;

Protein Fire
Food from the oven or stove has burned, leaving strong burnt food odors and smoke residue on contents and surfaces.

Complex Fire
Multiple natural and synthetic items inside your home have burned causing black smoke residue on contents and surfaces and synthetic smoke odors. Here, emergency corrosion mitigation is needed to protect at-risk surfaces.

Natural Fire
Trees, shrubs and bushes have burned and smoke has penetrated the structure from outside, so smoke residue and odor are present.

Furnace Malfunction
Heating appliances such as oil-fired furnaces have malfunctioned and caused smoke to be distributed throughout the property

As stated, fire damage is much more than just the immediate damage caused by the fire. Items and odors will continue to affect the structure and contents. Some of the ways this occurs include;

  • Ash and smoke can continue to cause damage and corrosion to materials if they are left behind.
  • Odors from smoke will stay in a room or a home long after the fire and continue to cause problems if they are not removed.
  • In a few minutes, walls and other surfaces can be discolored.
  • In a few hours, finishes on kitchen appliances turn yellow.
  • Smoke causes etching in glass after just a short time, and smoke will tarnish metal quickly.

The best solution for decreasing the damage caused by fire, smoke and soot is to know what to do and act quickly to begin the process of protecting and restoring your home or business. Here are some tips on repairing fire damage.

What to do if you’re in the middle of a loss

  • Corrosive by-products can cause irreversible etching in as few as 72 hours. Call for professional help
  • If the temperature is above 60 degrees, air out the house to reduce smoke odor.
  • Clean laminate surfaces as well as chrome, porcelain and aluminum fixtures to prevent permanent tarnishing or etching.
  • Change the air filter on your furnace if it uses forced hot air.
  • Tape damp cheesecloth over returns and supply registers to capture loose soot in the air.
  • Discard any open food packages.
  • If the electricity is off, clean out the refrigerator and leave doors propped open.
  • Send clothing with heavy smoke damage to a qualified restoration dry cleaner.

What not to do

  • Do not touch anything with your bare hands. Oil from your hands can permeate upholstery, walls and woodwork, causing additional damage.
  • Do not wash walls. Incorrect cleaning could compound the soot residue.
  • Do not attempt to clean carpets or upholstered furniture.
  • Do not use electrical appliances until having them checked.
  • Do not use ceiling fixtures if the ceiling is wet

Hopefully this information and tips can help someone in need. The best way to decrease fire damage is of course to avoid it altogether. Having properly installed smoke alarms and changing the batteries twice a year is a great first step.

If you do find yourself in a situation where your home or business has been damaged by fire, calling a professional may be the best solution. Feel free to check out our fire restoration page to learn how we can help in this critical time.