Ask Our Experts: Cleaning Up Smoke Damage After a Fire

May 15, 2017 | 5:47 pm

Question for Our Experts:

What’s the deal with smoke damage?  Can I clean it up myself or do I need a pro to get that “smokey” smell out of my home?

Our Experts’ Answer:

Short Answer

It could be possible to deal with minor smoke damage on your own. However, most significant cases of smoke damages will require professional clean-up, as smoke damage is not always visible and often requires special cleaning agents or partial building reconstruction. Read on for more info!

Long Answer: How to Recover From a Fire in Your Home

Fires are devastating — not only resulting in damage to the physical structure of your home, but also to your state of mind. They can get their start from several sources, including cooking, portable heaters and electrical equipment, candles, faulty wiring, and flammable liquids. While moving forward from your home’s destruction may prove difficult, and you may not know where to begin, it’s imperative you take immediate action.

Fires can char walls, create odors, cause devastation to your personal property and damage the foundation of your home. Soot may cling to the interior walls, carpets may be soggy and the roof may be damaged, but immediate attention will minimize destruction. The more time odors have to seep into your walls, carpets, and furniture, the less chance you have of removing the smell.

Although it’s smart to start repairing your home as soon as possible, if you rely on the experts, they will relieve you of jobs around your house and provide advanced services. Cleaning up after a house fire may seem like a daunting task, but there are simple steps you can take to start the process and be well on your way to recovery.

Common Questions Regarding Smoke and Fire Damage

Fire is one of the most devastating disasters that can occur to your home. Unless you work as a professional for a restoration company or for the fire department, you may be at a loss for what to do, who to contact, or how to begin. Refer to the following common questions that may be helpful when moving forward and restoring your home:

  1. Can a homeowner clean smoke damage themselves?
  2. Who is a reliable resource to contact?
  3. Why is hiring a restoration service necessary?
  4. When should a homeowner consider fire restoration services?
  5. What will happen to a home if services aren’t called right away?
  6. What does smoke damage look like?
  7. What types of materials are most affected by smoke damage?
  8. How is smoke damage cleaned by professionals?

These questions will help you understand the process of home restoration after a fire and give you a good starting point on how to take care of your property. It’s important to gain knowledge about your situation before performing actions and using tools that may not be the safest. We’ll address answers to these common questions below.

How to Detect Fire and Smoke Damage

Fires cause direct heat damage to your home. If a fire reaches high enough temperatures, it can melt or warp even durable building materials. Fires erupt at a faster pace when objects around the flame catch fire and become consumed. Smoke damage consists of acidic properties and can cause corrosion, discoloration and the yellowing of paint. Other types of damage aside from fire and smoke include structural, pressure, electrical, chemical and water damage.

Detecting fire damage may be simple, but smoke damage includes three different types — wet smoke, dry smoke, and fuel oil smoke.

Wet smoke damage is a result of fires that burn at low temperatures and produce fewer flames, but more smoke is present with a thick coating and a poignant smell.

Dry smoke damage is a result of high levels of heat but is simpler to clean compared to the slow-burning fires from wet smoke. Dry smoke will foster damage that is powdery, dry and thin.

Fuel oil smoke damage comes from flames burning in an oil furnace, creating a strong odor. Fuel oil smoke has the potential to destroy furniture and will often require expert assistance.

However, smoke damage may not always be visible. In other words, homeowners and building owners should not assume that smoke damage doesn’t exist simply because they don’t see black soot or other stereotypical signs of smoke. In fact, smoke damage is most easily detected by odor. If you whiff the lingering smoky smell in certain parts of your home or office, you have smoke damage. Additionally, there may also be gray or black powder-like substances visible, but it’s not always the case.

As for water damage that may occur, your home may be soaked after the fire department arrives. This includes your carpets, clothes, sheets, drapes and other materials. When water touches hot surfaces, it also creates heated steam that proves harmful to people and the physical condition and structure of the house.
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Common Smoke Damage Scenarios

Soot and ash are a result of fire and smoke. Prolonged exposure of either of these in your house without immediate restoration can permanently harm surfaces, furniture, clothing, carpets and everything you own. Acidic soot may stain all surfaces as residue settles.

Discoloration begins on walls and is permanent on more porous materials. Porous materials like textiles and soft goods are often more affected by smoke damage than hard and impervious material since porous materials can become saturated with smoke faster.

What to Do in the First 24 Hours After Smoke Damage

Fire damage restoration requires immediate action within the first 24 hours. Your quick reaction may minimize damage and you may be able to salvage some items from your home. Hours of prolonged exposure may cause permanent harm, making it harder to recover your home. Refer to the following guide on how to clean smoke damage within the first day.

  1. Keep in contact with your insurance company. Be sure to review the value of your home and ensure you have the correct paperwork and coverage.
  2. Ventilate your home. As soon as possible, open your house’s doors and windows to mitigate smoke. Turning off the HVAC systems also prevents the smoke from spreading farther.
  3. Vacuum soot. Vacuuming soot and ash requires a heavy-duty shop vacuum. Don’t press down on the residue, because it can cause stains — instead, hold the vacuum hose above the ashes at an angle.
  4. Wipe soot from walls and ceilings. Use a dry sponge or vinegar to rid your ceiling of soot stains. For better results, use paint thinner.
  5. Deep-clean your home from top to bottom. Throw away soiled items and any food not sealed in a container. Wipe down hard surfaces such as countertops, furniture, appliances and inside cabinets with a cleaning cloth. Protect your floors with plastic coverings to reduce the possibility of more devastation. Floors and furniture may also need refurbishing or replacement.
  6. Clean all your household items. Wash your clothes and drapes with an alkaline cleaner to neutralize the acid from soot. Deodorize your carpets using baking soda.
  7. Clean the outside of your home. Clear off your roof and gutters by sweeping the ash into plastic bags and inspect your chimney for damage. You can also clean the outside walls to loosen soot by using a hose attached to a cleaner.
  8. Turn on HVAC system. When your home is clear of significant destruction, turning on the HVAC system will speed up the process of removing odors.

How Professionals Clean Interior and Exterior Smoke Damage

It’s excellent that you performed some cleaning on your own within the initial 24 hours to reduce further devastation, but professional restoration services can clean the interior and exterior of your home at a deeper level. Professional cleaning includes discarding odor sources that are non-salvageable, cleaning hard surfaces with chemical sponges as well as appropriate, professional cleaning agents and professionally dry-cleaning soft goods for smoke removal.

Keep in mind many times smoke damage is not visible — extensive, professional cleaning techniques may be needed to remove the source of the odor.

The first step — after the fire is out and the emergency trucks leave — is to inspect each room in your home. Experts perform tests to determine the extent of the fire, smoke, soot and water damage, as well as examine the framing of your house and floors for safety. They will be able to assess what type of fire erupted and what caused it to do so. An evaluation can help them develop a plan of action on how to restore your house, inside and outside.

The next step is to board the windows and doors, as well as cover the roof with a tarp or other plastic material. Boarding your house will maintain security and protect it from other damage.

After preparation, the real work begins. Qualified restoration services remove soiled items from your home such as destroyed furniture and appliances. If your home has excessive water damage from firetrucks, water removal begins immediately upon arrival. Once they remove a majority of the water, skilled staff members set up dehumidifiers and associated equipment. Dehumidifiers remove the remaining moisture.

After the experts eliminate water, it’s easier to move around your home and begin cleaning hard surfaces. Specialized equipment and modern techniques remove soot and smoke damage from surfaces such as walls, countertops, and furniture. Professionals will also clean restorable items to the best of their ability. Experts also clean and restore electronic structures if possible and control any signs of corrosion.

The final step restoration companies take is to repair the inside and outside sections of your home.  Repairs may include drywall replacement, painting, carpet installation, or complete reconstructions of rooms and roofing.

When to Call in the Professionals

Although you may clean the initial portions of your home yourself, calling a professional is vital in cases of extensive devastation. Hastening the process of cleaning smoke damage by hiring the experts will help control damage and ensure proper techniques are used. Cleaning on a small scale is okay, but the residue may be a bio-hazard and requires professional attention.

Many people wonder when the appropriate time is to begin smoke damage cleanup and when to contact a restoration service. The answer is: as soon as possible! The more you wait, the higher the cost of restoration may be. Damage can worsen as time goes on and soot and odors may become more challenging to remove.

Looking Ahead: How to Prevent Smoke and Water Damage in Your Home

With more than 1.3 million fires reported in 2016, people spent $10.6 billion restoring property damages. Of the 1.3 million fires, 475,500 were structure fires. These caused $7.9 billion in property damage and accounted for 74 percent of the total property loss estimations, according to the National Fire Protection Agency.

It is apparent that house fires are seldom intentional, but there are still several ways to prevent smoke and water damage in your home. Refer to the following list to learn how to keep yourself, your family and your dwelling safe:

  • Cook with caution. You should never leave your stove or oven unattended even for a short amount of time. Turn off your burners when finished cooking and make sure items stay off the stove and out of the oven until it is cool.
  • Don’t overload extension cords. Too many cords on one extension can cause an overload and strike up a fire.
  • Don’t smoke inside. It’s crucial to smoke outdoors in all instances and to never smoke near flammable liquids or materials. Always make sure you extinguish your cigarette butt before throwing it away, too.
  • Educate your children. Kids are curious by nature. Teaching them about fire safety is vital for preventing fires in your home. Educate them on how fire is not a fun toy and to stay away from lighters and matches. Keep them a safe distance from the kitchen stove.
  • Replace candles. Instead of using regular candles, use battery-powered or electric candles. They give off the same scent and effect of traditional ones but without the hazardous flames.
  • Replace damaged cables. You should replace frayed wires to prevent sparks.
  • Use safe space heaters. Use an evaluated space heater equipped with controllable settings. Better yet, find one with a timer for automatic shutdown.

You can’t always guarantee a fire will never occur in your home, but you can definitely take preventative measures to lessen the chance. And if the worst should happen, remember to find a reliable restoration company that is able to support you in the event that a fire does break out on your property.

Rely on Tuckey Restoration

Tuckey Restoration, Inc. is a 24-hour emergency service to help recover your home from fire, smoke and water damage. The company also provides mold remediation and general construction/remodeling services throughout South-Central Pennsylvania. Our team of professionals serves all of Cumberland, Franklin and Perry Counties as well as portions of Adams, York, and Dauphin Counties, including the cities of Harrisburg, York, Carlisle, Shippensburg, and Chambersburg. If you live in South-Central PA and need experts to repair your home from smoke damage, rely on Tuckey.

To help us during the process, document the progression of any work you complete, including costs, before-and-after photo, and paperwork to make it easier. Our staff will also provide expertise on issues involving the air and use modern technology to serve your needs safely.

We are an industry leader in fire, wind, water, smoke and storm devastation repair services. Tuckey (PA HIC # 15828) can be reached at 717-249-7052 or click here to view our website, as we provide service to dozens of communities in PA.
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DISCLAIMER: This article is provided as a reference guide only. A qualified, professional contractor like the Tuckey Companies should handle all interior design, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, remodeling, metal fabrication, and restoration projects. Information presented here is of a general nature that may not be applicable in all situations. Tips, articles, and accompanying information do not represent an official recommendation of the Tuckey Companies.

All material Copyrighted (c) by the Tuckey Companies, 2021.