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How to Seal Fire-Damaged Wood

The smoke produced by fire contains many chemicals, some of which can adhere to surfaces like wood. Residues can corrode materials, release pungent smells, and cause health hazards if left untreated.

Removing affected materials can fix the problem, but it’s costly and often unnecessary. A better alternative is to remove as much residue as possible and seal the wood to prevent smells or particles from releasing into the air. Before you begin, it’s essential to understand how to seal fire-damaged wood. 

What is a Smoke Sealer?

You can’t repair burned wood. You can only replace it. If you experience a fire and wood burns during the event, you must determine if it needs to be removed or sealed. If the wood is salvageable, a sealer will minimize smoke odors, cover stains, and serve as a primer for surfaces. 

How to Seal Fire-Damaged Wood

Planning and knowing what to do is vital after a fire. You’ll want to act quickly to ensure the situation doesn’t get worse. Knowing when and how to seal fire-damaged wood is critical to your restoration process. 

Step 1: Determine What is Salvageable

After a fire, the fire inspector will decide if something is salvageable or requires replacement. Saving damaged wood could compromise the structure’s integrity. Depending on the damaged area, you may need to consult with a structural engineer.

Step 2: Clean the Wood

It’s essential to remove as much soot as possible from the fire-damaged surface. Wipe soot off using a dry cloth, paper towels, or an old bath towel. Scrub the area with vinegar, soapy water, baking soda, or a good degreaser. You may have to change out the water several times during cleaning. Clear as much residue as possible because anything left behind can cause problems down the line.  

Step 3: Seal the Wood

Now that you’ve cleared as much smoke residue and soot as possible, it’s time to seal the wood to prevent any lingering smells. Use sealers on surfaces you’ll repaint. Before starting, ensure the surface is completely dry. 

Sealers can be challenging to apply, and an improper application will result in a poor seal, allowing material left inside the wood to release into the air. We suggest you hire a professional to apply the sealer. 

To apply sealer yourself:

  • Remove Dust. Remove any dust from the surface. Any remaining debris will compromise the integrity of the seal and could lead to the seal not lasting.
  • Practice Safety. Follow all recommended safety precautions for the product you use. 
  • Spray Sealer. Spray sealer perpendicular to the wood to form a transparent, unbroken membrane across the entire surface.
  • Avoid Metal. Avoid applying the sealer over nails or bolts. Trapped moisture can’t evaporate and may lead to rust.

How to Choose the Right Sealer 

Not all sealers are appropriate to use in every situation. When choosing a sealer, you’ll want to consider the environment, exposure, level of damage, and future function of the structure. There are four types of sealers to consider.

1. Water-Based

 Look for a water-based sealer specifically formulated for fire damage restoration. Water-based sealers are versatile and relatively low cost. They’re available through professional restoration distribution, paint stores, and home improvement centers. A benefit of water-based sealers is that they’re available in multiple tints, colors, and finishes from matte to gloss. Water-based sealers have a minimal odor and offer water vapor permeability, meaning they won’t develop a condensation layer.

Use water-based sealers when potential ignition sources are present because they aren’t combustible or flammable. Water-based sealers are extremely safe and require no extra personal protective equipment. They don’t need any special handling for disposal.  

Limitations of water-based sealers include:

  • Prep. It requires a more extended preparation and drying period than other sealers. 
  • Temperature. You can’t use the sealer at surface or air temperatures below 45 degrees. 
  • Application. Application varies and may require brushes or rollers, while others come as airless sprays.

2. Shellac 

Shellac is an inexpensive latex-based sealant available at home improvement and retail stores. It is a heavy-duty option used for sealing persistent, dark, or strong-smelling stains. Shellac can be cured and applied using a roller or sprayer at much lower temperatures than other sealers (as low as 10 degrees). And it dries in less than 30 minutes. 

When using shellac, consider:

  • Protection. It can be damaging to your skin. Wear gloves and goggles while applying.
  • Smell. Leaves behind lingering lacquer odors. 
  • Location. It’s not a suitable choice for outdoor use.

3. Alkyd

Alkyd primers are oil-based and typically used more frequently for sealing stains from water damage. They’re also often used for wood sealing. The fast-drying sealer is available at home supply centers. Alkyd sealers are durable and washable once cured.

Alkyd contains high levels of volatile organic compounds, which are toxic to people and contribute to carbon dioxide emissions. You will need to use personal protective equipment, and the cleanup process can be laborious. 

Grey alkyd on container with paint roller ready for sealing

Limitations of alkyd include: 

  • Application. It can be challenging to apply and requires extensive mixing before use to ensure a uniform coating.  
  • Flammable. The sealant is flammable and combustible. 
  • Aging. Like most oil-based paints, alkyd can yellow with heat and age.

4. Fixatives 

Fixative sealers help eliminate toxins. It forms a barrier between hazardous or contaminated materials and the environment. An advantage of fixatives is you can use them indoors or outdoors.  

Setbacks to using fixatives:

  • Seepage. They are less suited than other sealants at keeping smoke stains from seeping. 
  • Toxins. Fixatives are highly toxic and can present potential health hazards. 

How ServiceMaster Restoration Can Help After the Fire

Lingering odors after a fire are a constant reminder of the disaster. Knowing how to seal woo d damage can eliminate these odors and restore your structure. Being careless with choosing your sealer can mean the site won’t reach its full restoration potential, leading to problems down the line. 

ServiceMaster Restoration by RSI can restore your home or business to its pre-fire condition. We know how to seal fire-damaged wood. Call (405) 251-7286 to learn more.