As smoke can travel lightly and quickly through a building, smoke damage can be found in areas well away from the blaze. As a result, even a small fire can cause a significant amount of smoke damage which may take time to uncover. Smoke damage ranges from the obvious to the nearly imperceptible, and damage can be simply cosmetic or a sign of more serious issues. Read on to find out more.
Soot, smoke’s smudgy fingerprint
The easiest and most obvious way to spot smoke damage is to notice blackened or soot-streaked areas. Smoke is made up of fine particles of burned matter, which is why it is black, and can often be greasy, strong smelling or otherwise unpleasant. You’ll often see soot marks, either as black streaks or yellowing, on paint or wallpaper, particularly on ceilings and walls near where the fire burned. Hot air rises, so you may find that soot particles from, for example, a kitchen fire, have travelled through the house and up the stairs, leaving a trail through the house. This is particularly likely if an open window has created a current of air.
As the air cools, soot falls out of the air, landing as a fine black dust over all surfaces. This may be difficult to notice until you touch it, but be aware that it can be greasy and will often stain fabrics, particularly if it gets wet. The currents of air may carry larger particles of soot and burned scraps of paper or other similar elements along with the smoke, so you may find ash and mess throughout the property.
A bad smell
Now that fires are no longer necessary to heat our homes, many people expect a fire to have the pleasant odour of woodsmoke. Unfortunately, when other materials smoulder or combust they can release toxic gases and a wide range of unpleasant smells. For this reason, if you can smell an unpleasant or burnt odour in a room, particularly if it has been shut up since the fire, this should be investigated and treated for smoke damage.
Air ducts and ventilation systems are particularly vulnerable to smoke damage as the smoke can enter the system even if it isn’t running. At a minimum, you should replace all filters and get the system checked over to ensure that it is safe to use.
Dealing with soot
The first step should be to air the room out thoroughly as burning, particularly of plastics, can release harmful gases which can linger in the air. If at all possible, you should air the house as soon as the fire is out (do not open windows while the fire is burning – this will fuel the fire) as this will release the smoke and reduce the damage.
Getting rid of smells
Once the room has been aired, cleaning with vingar, baking soda (do not use these two together) or activated charcoal can help remove the smell from a room. Air fresheners can be used, but remember that these will only mask the smell, not remove it. Finding the source of the trapped smell and cleaning it is usually the best solution. Fabrics are the most likely culprits, particularly curtains and pelmets.
Removing soot from fabrics
When it comes to cleaning soot off, don’t assume it’ll brush away like charcoal. If at all possible, it’s best to use specialist cleaning services to remove soot from delicate materials – this can include dry cleaning for curtains and other fabrics, although be sure to tell your dry cleaner what you’re dealing with. Steam cleaning can be effective for carpets and upholstery, although it is important to do a test patch to ensure that your process will clean without damaging.
Cleaning sooty walls
The extent of the damage and the type of wall covering will dictate how you clean soot-streaked walls and ceilings. If you’re very lucky, the smoke will limit itself to tiling, as this can be easily wiped clean. This is unlikely though. It’s best to be cautious when trying to clean soot off wallpaper or paint as it can easily be ground-in by mistake and all too often cleaning efforts simply cause additional damage. In many cases, it’s simplest and most effective to accept that you will have to redecorate, which may mean scrubbing down the wall and repainting or repapering. Depending on the scale of the damage you may only need to do patch work – for example, the ceiling may be badly affected while the walls appear untouched. Do check carefully for smoke damage as it may only be noticeable by a yellowing of the paper or paint.
Dry cleaning before wet cleaning
A vacuum cleaner is a surprisingly good tool to use to deal with smoke damage. With the right head attachment, it can be used on upholstery, curtains, clothes and even walls. It will help remove particulates and dust. As soot can react with water and create further stains, it’s best to remove as much sooty dust as possible using dry methods before cleaning with water. Beat cushions and bedding outside, vacuum thoroughly and then get out the mop.
Soot is typically acidic and can cause metal to corrode over a long period. Precious or valuable items, such as jewellery and clocks, should be handled by an expert but for ordinary pieces, such as cookware, you may simply need to clean the item thoroughly in the usual way and perhaps treat with oil.