Even a seemingly small fire can cause a lot of damage that requires a surprising amount of cleanup. While the removal of burned materials is relatively straightforward, taking care of the soot that remains after a fire can be just as much, if not more of a headache than the items that were burned.
What Is Soot?
On a technical level soot is essentially miniscule particles of carbon and other chemicals left behind after a fire. Soot is made up of a mélange of these particles along with acid compounds, chemicals, metals, and dust that leaves behind an unappealing black residue as well as an unpleasant odor.
Once a structure fire starts, soot can easily spread throughout the whole house or commercial building. As the airborne soot travels through the air it can attach itself to surfaces. While soot tends to be in higher concentration near the source of the fire, it can easily travel great distances leaving miniscule, yet prevalent deposits over a significant area.
Not only does soot cause ugly stains, but it can also leave behind pervasive odors that linger for days, weeks, and potentially even months after the fire is put out. Especially if the soot managed to spread through the home or building’s ventilation system. Fire soot damage can further affect the property as well as the indoor air quality if the soot is not removed immediately.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that soot can be created from just about any fire. It doesn’t have to be a severe structure fire. Even a home with a lot of candles can leave traces of soot behind. Not to mention the pervasive soot and stains that can be created by something like a grease pan fire in the kitchen.
How To Properly Clean & Soot
Soot can be deposited on a wide range of different surfaces. It can stain walls, furniture, and floors, as well as upholstery and other soft surfaces.
For most hard surfaces you can use a simple cleaning solution of mild soap or detergent that’s been fully dissolved into warm water. Another option is to combine 4 to 6 tablespoons of tri-sodium phosphate with 1 cup of chlorine bleach. You can then add this mixture to a gallon of warm water. Wear rubber gloves while cleaning and carefully rinse surfaces with clear warm water then dry. This is meant for hard surfaces that won’t be discolored by using bleach.
Though there are some porous yet hard materials like brick and cinderblock that can be very hard to clean with homemade cleaning solutions. You might be able to clean the surface, but the deeper textures still end up harboring soot stains.
How To Remove Soot From Brick
To remove soot stains from brick, you need to use a multi-phase approach. The first stage starts by mixing water and white vinegar and spraying it onto the soot-stained brick surface. This should help to loosen the soot residue left behind from the fire.
While the soot is loosening, you can dip a moistened toothbrush into baking soda and scrub the bricks along all of those tough spots. You might have to scrub aggressively in some places or make multiple passes to get stubborn soot deposits. You might be tempted to use a wire brush, though it could scrape and scuff the surface of the brick.
Once you are done scrubbing you can rinse the baking soda and other materials away with some warm water mixed with a few teaspoons of bleach.
How To Remove Soot From Walls
A smooth wall that has suffered significant soot stains can be a bit of a challenge. Here again, a multi-phase approach typically works best. The temptation is to simply paint over it, though if you don’t remove as much of the soot as possible, it will alter the adhesion of the paint. If you use a light color to paint over it, the underlying soot stains can also start to show through. So, it’s best to remove and clean away as much of the soot residue as possible before you even consider painting over the stained wall.
The first step calls for carefully scraping as much of the soot off the wall with a putty knife before washing the wall. Then fill some small buckets with water and liquid soap, grab rags or sponges, and wash the surface area with warm water. Make sure to thoroughly rinse your sponge in clear water between each swipe across the wall to make sure that you are getting as much soot out as possible.
Then let the wall thoroughly dry for a day or two before painting.
How To Remove Soot From Clothing & Fabrics
Soot stains can be a real challenge for things like clothing and curtains. Simply tossing them in the washing machine and dryer leaves you at risk of permanently setting the stains into the fibers of the fabric.
To deal with minor soot stains and odors, you can start is by soaking the soot-stained garments in cold water for at least 15 to 30 minutes. This will help remove any hardened or burnt-on layers of soot. You can then wash them normally in warm water with a stain-removing detergent.
If you have clothing or other fabrics that are more significantly stained by soot, you can try chemical cleaners to help lift the soot particles out of the soft fibers. This involves filling up a bathtub with warm-hot water and mixing a cleaning solution of 1 cup of baking soda or ¼ cup borax powder.
Let the soot-stained clothing soak in this solution overnight. This will give the nucleation sites on the baking soda time to help break down any leftover smoke particles. At that point, you can wash and dry as normal.
How To Remove Soot From Carpeting
Carpeting is one of the most challenging things to remove soot stains from. Though with the right products and the right technique you have a chance. This starts with carefully lifting any large lumps with a utensil to avoid crushing them down into the fibers and creating more stains.
You can then use a high-quality vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove the powder. Then lightly moisten a damp cloth with dry cleaning fluid before gently blotting the stained areas. Allow the chemicals 5 to 10 minutes before using a damp clean cloth to blot the area.
When To Call In The Professionals To Deal With Soot Stains
There’s no doubt about it, soot cleanup after a fire can be a major headache. If you don’t feel up to the job, or you are concerned that you don’t have the proper training and equipment to safely remove the soot from surfaces, then you should strongly consider calling in a professional cleaning company like Building Services Inc. This lets you focus on the other important details of fire damage restoration, while our highly trained professionals turn their experience and commercial grade equipment for removing the soot stains.