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Air Quality

How to Clean a Smoke-Damaged House

Smoke detector with wisps of smoke

Cleaning a smoke-damaged house is important for providing a healthy living environment. If only it was as easy as opening a window and letting things air out. The acidic nature of smoke and soot can make them difficult to remove. However, they contain unpleasant odors and particles that are harmful to breathe, so it’s important to clean them completely. Rainbow Restoration has years of experience in fire damage restoration and has picked up a few helpful tips. Wondering where to start or if you’ll ever get that smoke smell out of your house? Keep reading!

What You Need to Clean Smoke Damage

Most homeowners have these items around the house. The one item you may have to buy is a dry-cleaning sponge. This sponge is very important for smoke damage removal, and we encourage you not to skip this effective cleaning tool. Gather these supplies:

  • Rubbing alcohol / paint thinner
  • Vinegar
  • Degreaser / commercial soot remover
  • Vacuum (ideally a strong shop-vac) with upholstery attachment
  • Bucket / hot water
  • Dry-cleaning sponge (chemical sponge)
  • Clean rags
  • Sponge
  • Fan

How Do You Clean Smoke Damage?


First and foremost, open those windows. If it’s cold outside, put on a jacket! Sorry, but the first thing you need to do is ventilate the house and get fresh air flowing. Open all doors and windows in the home. You can also use fans (the bigger the better) to encourage airflow. Turn off your HVAC system to prevent spreading of the smoke and soot.


Before you clean the house, you should wear proper protection. Soot, smoke and debris can be dangerous to inhale, so wear a respirator if there is significant soot in the damaged area. Wear long pants and sleeves to protect your skin. You should also wear gloves and eye protection. Since you will be freeing soot as you clean, it’s important to lay down floor protection and remove any furniture or household objects that are not damaged. If the damaged area is small, you can probably get away with simply covering furniture with plastic or sheets. But if you’re cleaning an entire room, it’s wise to remove those clean items and even seal off other rooms that are undamaged. Be mindful of the shoes you’re wearing so you don’t track soot stains into other rooms.


Soot and smoke damage usually come in one ugly, smelly package. Begin by removing loose soot particles with a vacuum with an upholstery attachment. A shop-vac with strong suction power is best for this task. Lightly brush the area with the brush attachment, vacuuming up the loose particles. Be gentle, and avoid scrubbing, which can make stains worse.

Use the Dry-Cleaning Sponge

Next use the dry-cleaning sponge (chemical sponge) to wipe the soot and smoke stains. This stage is essential, as these sponges use special chemicals to lift stains from walls. Never use soot cleaner or water before you use a dry-cleaning sponge, or you could spread the soot and make it impossible to remove with a chemical sponge. Begin wiping the walls gently with the dry-cleaning sponge. After a few strokes, turn the sponge to a different side so you’re always using a clean surface. When all sides are soiled, slice off the sides with a knife to reveal fresh surfaces beneath. Or simply grab a new sponge. Make sure you use a wiping motion the entire time. If you scrub the stains, you may spread them and work the soot deeper into the surface.

Use Liquid Cleaners

After you’ve removed as much soot as possible with the dry-cleaning sponge, grab a clean rag. You can use commercial soot / smoke remover (follow the manufacturer’s directions), rubbing alcohol, white vinegar or paint thinner. Soak the rag in your preferred cleaner, and wipe the walls throughout the damaged room. Even if there is no sign of soot or smoke damage, it’s important to wipe every surface in the room (even light bulbs!). Next, you’ll want to use TSP, dish soap or degreaser in a gallon of hot water to wash the walls with a rag or sponge. A few tablespoons of dishsoap, degreaser or TSP should be enough. Clean with the same wiping motion you used with the dry-cleaning sponge. You may need to use a combination or repeated treatments of these chemical cleaners, depending on the severity of the damage. As the rag gets dirty, rinse it out in the bucket or grab a new rag. The same applies to your cleaning water: Refresh your water if it’s black or smells like smoke. Once you’ve completed washing the room with your chosen cleaner, wipe the walls again with fresh water and a clean rag to remove any remaining cleaning products.

Dry It All Out and Deep Clean

After you’ve cleaned sufficiently, dry the surfaces with a clean rag. You may use fans to speed this process up. You probably still smell smoke odors, which can take a few days to a few weeks to dissipate. Look around the room, and identify materials that can easily absorb odor. You can put these items together in a separate room or outdoors to see if the smell dissipates after a few days; consider throwing out the items you can stand to part with. Getting your carpets professionally steam-cleaned can also help with lingering smoke odors – same goes with any upholstery, furniture or curtains. Having these cleaned professionally will dramatically reduce the smoke odor.

Avoid cover scents or fragrances that simply mask the smell but don’t remove the problem. They are a short-term solution for a long-term problem, and they can cover surfaces with oils instead of allowing them to breathe. Don’t forget to replace your HVAC filters, which may be circulating smoky air in your home.

If the room still smells smoky, ask your local cleaning professionals about using an ozone generator. You can buy these, rent them or have a company come in and run them for you. These machines produce ozone, which is an extremely effective odor remover and cleaner.

Professional Fire Damage Restoration

Cleaning your home after smoke or soot damage can be a difficult job. If you’re cleaning a small room or the damage isn’t significant, we encourage you to try it yourself with the techniques we’ve shared. If you’re not up for the task, Rainbow Restoration can help. With IICRC-certified techniques and state-of-the-art equipment, our trustworthy experts are the best in the fire damage restoration industry. Find your local Rainbow Restoration or call us to schedule an appointment.

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