One of the most common and dangerous byproducts of a house fire is soot. In this article we are going to take a look at how to clean up soot after a fire.
The reason we are focusing on this subject is because soot, which is the flaky, black powdery substance that is formed during a fire, contains a lot of potentially harmful toxic chemicals.
These chemicals are produced when various household items that are not designed to burn catch fire.
The real problem with soot is that if it remains in a home it can release gases that when breathed in are harmful to health. It can also be harmful to get soot on your skin.
For that reason, you should be sure to wear safety equipment when cleaning it up after a fire. That means you should wear rubber gloves, protective clothing, a face mask and more.
We’ll talk more about that in a minute but first let’s take a closer look at soot and the dangers it presents.
What to Do With Soot Left Over from a House Fire
A recent study reported by Reuters.com found that small soot particles, or nanoparticles, can travel from the nose into the brain where they result in brain damage.
The lead researcher of the study told Rueters: “It is conceivable that the long-term effects of exposure to traffic nanoparticles may interfere with normal brain function and information processing.”
If that is not scary enough, prolonged exposure to soot is also thought to lead to such a variety of respiratory problems, including asthma and bronchitis, as well as heart disease, cancer and more.
Exposure can also cause smaller health issues like rashes, eye burning and irritation, sore throat and more.
All of that means it is important to get rid of soot as soon as possible after a house fire.
In fact, many owners of burned homes hire professional companies, which have extensive experience cleaning up soot, to remove it.
One of the problems with soot is that it can be located in hard to find places, such as behind walls, in the air ducts, in the flooring and in other places.
This can make finding the soot and cleaning it difficult.
How to Clean Up Soot After a Fire Yourself
If you do decide to attempt to clean up soot by yourself, here are some tips.
First of all, you need all of the following in order to do the job properly:
- Wet Vac with upholstery attachment or a powerful vacuum
- A strong fan
- A good, sturdy bucket
- Lots of hot water
- A regular Sponge
- A chemical sponge
- Lots of clean rags
- Tri-sodium phosphate
- Rubbing alcohol or paint thinner
- Degreaser or commercial spot remover
Don’t forget you also need safety equipment. You should wear a mask and respirator along with long pants and sleeves, rubber gloves and eye protection.
In addition to wearing safety equipment, you should also lay down protective material on the floor and around any objects that are not being removed from the home.
Ventilate, Ventilate, Ventilate
The next step is to ventilate the area of the home you are working on thoroughly.
Open all windows and turn on as many fans as you can to increase air circulation. However, one thing you should not do is run your HVAC system.
Running the air conditioner can spread smoke and soot around your house and lead to more contamination and potential health issues.
Once you have properly ventilated the area of the house you are working on, it’s time to use the wet vac or vacuum.
Use this tool to suck up as much of the soot and loose smoke particles as possible.
You can also use the vacuum’s brush attachment and lightly brush it around the area. Be careful, pressing the attachment forcibly against soot and smoke particles can cause stains.
Once you have thoroughly vacuumed the area, it is time to start hand cleaning.
Wiping Up Soot
When cleaning up soot after a fire, the first thing you need is a commercial soot and smoke remover that contains tri-sodium phosphate (TSP). This chemical is known to help reduce smoke odors and help get rid of soot.
Other cleaning solutions you can use to get rid of soot include vinegar, rubbing alcohol, paint thinner and bleach.
To start cleaning, simply soak a chemical sponge in your cleaner of choice and the begin wiping the soot from walls, furniture or flooring.
Be sure to wear thick rubber gloves, TSP is caustic.
Also remember to always use the chemical sponge before using a rag to apply soot cleaner or water. If you use the latter first you could spread the smoke particles or soot and make it much harder to remove with the sponge.
When cleaning be sure to wipe gently, if you press too hard you will drive the soot deeper into the surface and make it harder to get rid of.
You should plan to wipe all surfaces – even those that do not appear to be damaged. After you have wiped the entire room and everything in it, go back over everything with a clean rag and fresh water.
Now it is time to dry the room and everything in it with another clean rag. You could also use fans during this step to help the drying process go faster.
Additional Soot Cleaning Tips
If soot has gotten onto clothing, you may be able save the garments. For example, for clothing that can be bleached, you can use a solution of 4 to 6 tbsp of tri-sodium phosphate and 1 cup of bleach for every gallon of warm water to clean the clothes.
Another option when trying to remove soot from walls, furniture and flooring is to use a mild soap or detergent with 4 to 6 tbsp of tri-sodium phosphate and one cup of bleach for every gallon of water used.
Remember, when washing walls you should start from the floor and go up. This can help prevent streaking. Also, be sure to rinse with water quickly after cleaning.
Other Options to Cleaning Up Soot
Cleaning up soot from a house fire involves a lot of tedious, time consuming, hard work and when you are finished there is no promise that all of the soot and smoke particles have been removed.
Cleaning soot and smoke damage from a larger house fire is even more difficult and hiring professional fire restoration companies can be expensive.
All of this is why many homeowners decide to sell their fire-damaged house and start over in a new home. If you have a fire-damaged house and are interested in selling, fill out the short form below.
We Buy Fire Damaged Houses is a leading buyer of houses damaged by fire and will buy your house is “as is” condition – many no cleaning is necessary.