Cleaning Smoke and Fire Damage from Walls & Ceilings

After a fire, even a relatively minor one, you may find that the walls and ceilings of your home have become discolored and permeated with an oily, smoky stench. Visually, this damage is unappealing, and the smell can be nauseating, so you will naturally wish to remove this damage from your home as soon as possible.

Getting Started:

Before you begin the cleanup process, however, you will want to make sure you have the appropriate supplies, including:

  • Gloves (preferably rubber ones that reach past your wrist)
  • Safety Goggles
  • Painter’s mask
  • Sponges (both regular types and Chemical Dry Cleaning Sponges)
  • Rubbing alcohol, paint thinner, or trisodium phosphate (TSP), depending on the material of the wall to be cleansed.
  • Disposable cloths
  • Fans
  • Ladder/step stool
  • Drop cloths or other floor/furniture coverings
  • A second person to stabilize the ladder and provide other help with safety
  • Screwdriver (for removing light-switch and outlet plates)

If you are awaiting a visit from an insurance adjuster, you may also wish to wait until after their visit to begin cleanup. If you cannot wait, make sure to thoroughly document the damage and take plenty of photographs to support your claims.

After you have taken care of having the damage properly assessed, or have thoroughly documented it, you can move on to the actual cleanup of the soot.

Step 1: Ventilate!

Before you open up the chemical cleaners in the room you are going to be working on, you will want to ensure that the space is properly ventilated. Open up windows, set up fans, and allow the air to circulate out of the room while you are working.

Even with a facemask covering your mouth and nose, too much exposure to strong chemicals in an enclosed space can make you ill. Ventilating the room you are working in will go a long way towards making the cleanup process safer for you.

Step 2: Remove/Protect Furniture

To avoid causing damage to the furniture in the room, consider removing it or placing protective cloths on top of it to prevent spilled chemicals from causing damage. A drop cloth should also be placed over the floor to protect it as well.

Step 3: Don’t Forget Your Protective Gear

Before you start working on the walls and ceiling of your home, make sure you are wearing the necessary equipment to protect yourself from harm. Wearing pants, a long-sleeve shirt, shoes, goggles, gloves, and a painter’s mask should be enough to limit your exposure to harm. The goal is to expose as little of your skin to contact with the chemical cleaner you are using as possible.

Cleaning soot from a home can be dirty work, so you may want to wear clothes that you will not mind getting discolored.

Step 4: Start Cleaning

Pull any furniture or other items away from the walls, and remove your light switch faceplates and electrical plug plates from the wall so that you can clean them separately. Also, this will expose crevices where the soot may have collected under the faceplate, unseen to the naked eye. Exercise caution when cleaning around these areas, as there is a risk of electrical shock.

If you have one, a Chemical Dry Cleaning Sponge is invaluable for removing excess soot from walls and ceilings. In most cases, you can carefully wipe the soot-damaged surface with the chemical sponge and it will get out most of the soot for you.

One thing to keep in mind when you are cleaning soot from a wall is to make sure that the chemical sponge is properly washed and dried between each use in order to maximize its effectiveness.

If you do not have a Chemical Dry sponge, you can use paint thinner or rubbing alcohol to clean the soot from the wall. Wet a regular sponge or a disposable rag with the chemical of your choice and gently wipe the soot from the wall. Avoid applying too much pressure, as that can force the soot particles deeper into the wall and make cleaning more difficult.

If the paint on the walls is semi-gloss and still intact, you may wish to use a mixture of trisodium phosphate instead of paint thinner to cleanse the walls.

No matter which cleaning solution you use, you will want to avoid over-wetting the wall, as the moisture can destroy your drywall.

Repeat the process of wiping the walls and ceiling with your sponge or cloth until you have removed all of the stains. Allow the walls to dry and give the room time to ventilate before moving to the next step:

Step 5: Kill the Odor

Now that you have cleansed the stains from the wall, it is time to remove the odor.

If you have an HVAC system, remove the air filters from it and replace them with new filters, since soot particles may be trapped within the old filters.

After changing your air filters, prepare to wipe down the walls you previously wiped again, this time with a different chemical mixture. One suggestion for walls that are not susceptible to water damage is to make a bucket of hot, soapy water to soak your cleaning sponge/cloth in. If you are concerned about water damage, you can wet your cloth with white vinegar instead.

Wipe the walls down with your chosen product, and let the room air out. If the odor persists, try dusting the floors with baking soda, leaving it to set overnight, and vacuuming the floor clean in the morning. Activated charcoal powder can also absorb unpleasant odors.

One other suggestion is to set up an ozone generator or a specialized odor-reducing fog to remove the smell, but the cost of such devices can be prohibitively expensive.

If all else fails and you find that you cannot get the stains and odors of the smoke damage out of your walls and ceilings on your own, it is definitely a worthwhile investment for you to contact a fire damage restoration expert to get more help with returning your home to normal.