Fire causes destruction by the burning itself, but also brings water and smoke damage to property. With the San Diego wildfires in San Marcos, Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Fallbrook this past week, many people living and working close to the burn will certainly have questions regarding smoke damage removal. Here is some information and tips about smoke damage.
What is smoke?
Smoke is made up of tiny liquid, gas, and solid particles. Depending on what is burning, smoke can contain many chemicals, but mostly there will be carbon (or soot), tar, oils, and ash. Smoke is the product of "incomplete combustion" -- meaning not everything is burned. Smoke is the tiny unburned particles.
What is smoke damage?
Smoke damage is when the presence of smoke renders your surroundings dirty, unusable, or dangerous to health. It occurs when the particles in smoke infiltrate materials or build up on the surface of materials, and causes stains and odors. These stains and odors need to be removed in order to regain full use of the materials.
How to remove smoke damage
To remove stains and odors from smoke, you must clean the affected item. How you clean them will depend on the composition of the affected materials as well as the size of the job. In extensive or extreme smoke damage, if your insurance plan or finances allow it, the most effective way to deal with smoke damage is to call a professional service with trained experts and specialized equipment. Professional fire and smoke damage remediation companies use "counteractant" chemicals to break down the molecules that cause the lingering smell of smoke, as well as other special procedures to clean soot and remove odors.
In DIY cases, do the following:
- Cover unaffected items with plastic until the cleaning is finished.
- Circulate the air.
- Open windows and install a fan to help circulate air and remove some of the ambient particles.
- Remove oily soot
- from carpets, draperies and other textiles (besides clothing):
- use a vacuum cleaner nozzle held close to, but not on, the surface of the item you are vacuuming but do not rub the textile or use brushes -- this will send the soot into the weave of the textile.
- then have item professionally cleaned if possible
- washable textiles can be laundered but may need to go through several times to remove all oils and odors
- from walls:
- use a special chemical sponge from a cleaning supply company or a non water-based cleaner
- from clothing:
- dry-clean non-washable clothing
- wash washable clothing in warm water with liquid detergent. It may be necessary to wash them several times.
- For smoke odors
- that linger in clothing or washable textiles: soak the item with one cup of dishwashing detergent (the kind used in automatic dishwashers) per gallon of water, either in the washing machine or the bath tub. Submerge the item completely, let it soak overnight, then launder as usual.
- in general: all surfaces need to have soot removed, even if they are in cupboards or other places you don't see. Smoke particles can get trapped in household ducts and linger or come back after a long while.
Other resources you may find useful are:
University of Missouri Extension's After the Fire is Out, Cleaning Household Textiles and Clothing
For any questions about professional smoke damage remediation or a free estimate, contact Clean Earth Restorations: