Cleaning Smoke and Soot

How to remove soot & smoke damage

When fire burns through material fuels, the combustion releases carbon molecules into the air as ash and soot. Carbon settles on cooler surfaces, leaving unsightly discoloration that continues to damage that surface if not removed. Carbon molecules are very small, and will infiltrate porous surfaces, electronics, hidden areas, and even the lungs of living creatures. If not cleaned immediately, the molecules remain in the air and on surfaces interminably. Because soot is acidic; it is difficult to remove, and is a serious health hazard to humans and animals. Removing black smoke and soot properly is critical to avoid health risk, and prevent further damage to property.

Damage from small fires, i.e. candle flames, a dryer fire, or a minor kitchen cooking mishap, may be contained in a limited area, and simple enough for a homeowner to take on the cleanup task. Large home fires, with extensive soot and smoke damage, call for the specialized help offered by a professional disaster clean up company.

In the case of a major fire, damage from soot and smoke is probably far more extensive than appears to the untrained eye, and even walking through a fire-damaged area can pose risks and cause more damage. An insured homeowner would want to carefully assess whether the risk of exposure to toxic compounds, and the possibility of intensifying the damage to property by doing the cleaning themselves, is for some reason preferred over engaging professional help.

Here are some tips on how to clean up black smoke and soot from a small contained-area. The same safety precautions should be used if going into a larger fire damaged area before the professionals have cleaned it up.


  • Never touch anything during your first inspection of the room to avoid transferring the soot to other surfaces
  • Always wear gloves, a face mask, and clothing that covers your skin (eg. long sleeves and pants) when working in a room with soot damage
  • Keep the room ventilated to minimize breathing soot particles and dissipate smoke odors
  • Remove as much debris or obstructions, such as furniture, from the room to allow for easier cleanup.

Professional restoration companies know how to tackle soot cleanup without causing further damage. Never attempt to do major clean up on your own. Disaster Response has trained clean up people available to help, 24-7, seven days a week.



  • A soot sponge, also known as a dry-cleaning or chemical sponge
  • A HEPA vacuum cleaner
  • Cleaning solutions made from vinegar, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide
  • A high-alkali detergent or degreaser
  • Commercial air scrubbers

Use the correct 
cleaning tools & materials to prevent further soot damage to your home and belongings. Test soot cleaners in an inconspicuous area before you begin.

A powerful vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter safely removes soot, smoke, and odors from most surfaces. Air scrubbers trap soot particles released during vacuuming. However, particles can remain embedded beneath the surface.

Use a dry-cleaning or dry-chemical sponge to remove soot residue left by a high-oxygen fire. Soot sponges are useful on ceilings, floors, lampshades, and other surfaces that should not get wet or smear the soot. Do not use water to clean soot from wood, electronics, drywall, or other porous materials. Water can seep into porous materials and electronics and cause water damage.

A low-oxygen fire leaves oily soot residue that responds more effectively to wet-sponge cleaning with a high-alkaline detergent. Tile, glass, and other waterproof surfaces also respond to wet cleaning.


  • WEAR PROTECTIVE GEAR: gloves, a face mask, long sleeves, and pants.
  • VENTILATE: Ventilate to avoid inhaling soot particles, and to dissipate smoke odors. Open windows and use fan. Turn off HVAC system to prevent spreading smoke and soot.
  • BELONGINGS: Cover or remove for easier cleanup. These items must be cleaned separately to remove the soot and smoke odor.
  • PROTECT FLOOR: Use plastic, drop cloths, or paper to prevent falling soot from causing further damage.
  • VACUUM: Vacuum first. Hold the nozzle about one-half inch away while cleaning to avoid smearing soot on the surface.
  • SOOT SPONGE: Wipe the walls with dry sponge to ensure the soot doesn’t penetrate and cause a permanent stain.
  • DON’T SCRUB: Wipe walls in a downward motion. Wipe in strokes until the surface has been cleaned. Don’t wet the sponge.
  • CLEAN RESIDUAL STAINS: Once the soot has been removed, use a high-alkali detergent such as dish soap and water to wipe off remaining stains.
  • RINSE AND DRY: Rinse off residual detergent and soot from the walls with plain water and pat dry with a towel.
  • REMOVE THE FLOOR COVER: After cleaning, carefully remove and dispose of the floor covers to avoid spreading soot.


Ceilings should be cleaned prior to cleaning the walls to prevent falling soot from contaminating clean areas. Ceiling cleaning process is much the same as wall cleaning.


Soot will stain light carpets if not treated promptly or correctly. Scrubbing will drive the stain into the carpet fibers, permanently damaging it.

Remove large soot pieces with a spoon or spatula. Do not allow them to crumble or smash into the carpet. Sprinkle baking soda or absorbent powder to cover the soot stains. Leave the powder for an hour or more to allow the soot to be absorbed. Then vacuum up the baking soda. Repeat this step if necessary before moving to the next step.

Use a white cloth soaked in hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, or dry-cleaning solution to blot any residual stains. Test on a small area first. Blot don’t rub. Be careful when using rubbing alcohol as it can damage certain types of carpet fiber if pushed deep into the carpeting. Dilute the hydrogen peroxide with three tablespoons of warm water and only use on light carpets since it has a bleaching effect.

Blot the stain with the solvent, then rinse the solvent with a cup of water or blot it out with a warm, damp towel. Vacuum the remaining cleaning solution, then dry the carpet to prevent mold from growing. Repeat these steps until the stain is out.

If soot has affected large areas of carpet, a damage restoration service can restore or replace it.


Disaster Response has teams of qualified service techs trained to clean up your home in the aftermath of fireflood & weather, including but not limited to soot, smoke, & mold. Call us at 208-315-3100 for rapid response and expert help. 

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