The restoration experts share everything you need to know about smoke damage in your home. 

Are you recovering from a fire in your home?

Because the fire is out, it doesn’t mean the damage is done.

A surprising amount of damage from fire isn’t caused by the fire itself but by the smoke residue.

To make matters worse, soot and smoke damage can worsen even after the flames are out.

This blog examines how smoke damage impacts your home and how to deal with it.


Understanding smoke

Smoke can affect areas untouched by flames, spreading to unaffected rooms and causing further damage.

A lot of the harm from smoke is down to the fact that it brings high temperatures from the fire, but that is not the only reason the smoke is harmful – there is also the acidic content to consider.

According to a study from Michigan State University, between the heat and the corrosive properties, smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death for indoor fires and one of the biggest obstacles to getting your home and your life back in order following a fire.

Soot

Furthermore, where there is smoke, there’s usually soot.

Soot is another by-product of fires.

It is a powder-like or greasy substance comprised primarily of carbon.

Soot presents many health hazards, and prolonged exposure carries a risk of cancer, including skin cancer and cancer of the oesophagus, lungs, and bladder.

It’s one of the reasons that diesel exhaust is dangerous, and it’s responsible for over a quarter of hazardous air pollution on Earth.

Long story short, you don’t want soot in your home.

Smoke and soot can affect your home’s structure and belongings alike.

It’s different from the harm that fire causes, and fixing it can be one of the most lasting and strenuous aspects of fire damage clean-up.


How does smoke affect your home?

Acids

Smoke often contains several different acids.

The makeup may vary depending on the fire that caused it, but you can usually count on acids related to carbon and sulphur.

However, scientists are still making discoveries about what smoke is made of.

As recently as 2011, researchers discovered a kind of acid in smoke that they hadn’t previously known about. And even smoke that isn’t acidic can still cause harm.

Corrosion and metal damage

One glaring effect that smoke can have is on the metal in your home.

Depending on the kind of smoke and type of metal, effects can range from tarnishing to outright corrosion.

Smoke can affect many parts of your home, from small details like doorknobs and kitchen fittings to the structural elements and pipes.

Corroded pipes, in particular, are dangerous due to being at risk of leaking and causing further damage from water.

Porous material damage

Smoke also causes permanent discolouration of porous materials often used in home construction.

This includes plastics and marble that may be used in countertops or tiles – all of which can start to occur in just minutes.

Likewise, hardwood floors are porous, giving smoke plenty of hiding spots.

In some cases, good mopping and deodorising can work. But many times, the floor needs to be refinished or even replaced.

Even if your floors and walls aren’t porous, they may still be at risk.

Smoke odour and permanent stains can set in on walls and synthetic carpets.

Acidic residues left behind may eat away at wall coverings like paint or wallpaper.

DIY: Reducing damage

You can do a little to reduce the harm on your own.

To start, rub any affected metal surfaces with olive oil or vegetable oil and leave it there.

This isn’t a long-term solution, but it will slow or prevent pitting and discolouration until professionals can arrive for a professional cleaning.


Items commonly damaged by smoke:

Carpets and rugs

Carpets and rugs made of synthetics may be permanently stained in a matter of days.

Cleaning is often possible if the carpets aren’t damaged by heat, water, or any chemical agents used to fight the fire.

But the cleaning must be done before the damage becomes permanent.

Curtains and upholstery

Curtains and upholstery can similarly become yellow.

Cleaning fabrics often requires special tools like alkaline cleaners since trying to vacuum these things can spread soot instead of cleaning them.

It’s best to call in experts who know how to clean smoke damage

Furniture

Smoke can harm your furniture, whether made of porous wood or corrodible metal.

Like upholstery, the other parts of your furniture are at risk if you use the wrong cleaning agent.

It’s easy to damage varnishes, paints, and wood stains when trying to clean smoke damage, just as it’s easy to rust metal.

Clothing

Soot can be stuck in clothing, like other fabrics around the home.

Like those other fabrics, they may require special cleaning techniques and solutions, and time is still of the essence before staining becomes permanent.

Tossing clothing into the washing machine may cause a smoke odour to set, and it may not get the sooty oil out of your clothing.

Chemicals left behind in soot can cause skin irritation, making it all the more important to get them cleaned thoroughly, promptly, and professionally.

Some dry cleaners will handle smoke-damaged clothes, but not all do.

Appliances

The corrosive effects of smoke extend to the inside and outside of your appliances.

Smoke odour can permeate the interior of your fridge and other appliances, and the caustic effects of smoke residue can damage the electrical systems.

Plastic

Plastic is highly porous, so it collects more soot than anything else in your home.

Plastics will start discolouring in minutes.

If possible, wipe them down with an alkaline cleaning solution.

Most things should wait for professionals, but if you can act on your plastic, do so quickly.

Porcelain

Porcelain, like bathroom fixtures, can discolour within hours if not cleaned.

Wipe residue away to prevent etching.

You may also want to wash it with soap.

Both measures can buy you some time before the professionals come in.


How to clean smoke damage

Depending on the material, you have anywhere from minutes to days to begin smoke damage restoration.

Generally, the sooner you can deal with it, the better.

But there is a list of priorities.

Some materials are more resistant to soot than others, and time is precious when cleaning up after a fire.

The best thing is to call in the experts, but in the meantime, here are some tips:

Within minutes

  • Wash as much porous material as you can.
  • Clean porous floorings like tile, marble, wood, plastic and PVC.

Damage to these materials becomes irreversible very quickly.

  • For plastics, use an alkaline cleaner.

Within hours

  • Wipe any metal down with cooking oil to buy yourself some time for a more thorough cleaning.

The oil will act as a barrier, helping prevent further damage and rust.

  • Wood furniture may begin to lose its finish, so clean it as much as possible.
  • For finished wood, an all-purpose cleaner can help you stave off damage until the pros arrive.
  • Porcelain fixtures start staining during this time, so wipe them down and clean them with soap if possible.

Within days

You’ll start seeing permanent discolouration of fabrics like clothing, upholstery, curtains, and carpeting.

You may also start seeing discolouration on your walls, as well.

It may be tempting to vacuum these things, but most household vacuum cleaners aren’t powerful enough.

Instead of cleaning soot, they’ll transfer it to the next thing you try to vacuum.

Don’t try to wash papered or painted walls on your own, clean carpet, or touch anything sooty with your bare skin.

Instead, wear rubber gloves to prevent the oil transfer from your skin, setting the soot.

Cleaning certain things without the correct equipment can worsen the problem, and exposing your skin to soot can be a health hazard, spreading soot to other parts of your home.

As soon as possible, call restoration professionals.

Clean-up and restoration experts like ServiceMaster Restore have the right equipment, machinery and protective clothing to save as much as possible as fast as possible.


How to restore smoke damage

The salvageability of an item will depend on what it is and how quickly it is cleaned.

Many plastics and metals will likely need to be replaced.

However, a trained professional can quickly evaluate what is salvageable and what is a waste of time to restore.

Bringing in a pro isn’t just about getting the proper equipment to save your belongings.

It’s about having someone there who knows how smoke affects things and how quickly.

It is about someone who can look at the tile floor and know if it can be saved or if that time is better spent trying to save your metal appliances.

It’s about having enough hands to do both, if possible.

The fact is that getting smoke damage restoration experts into your house as soon as possible is the best way to save as much of your home as possible.


Contact ServiceMaster Restore

Fortunately, there are experts from ServiceMaster Restore available to you 24/7 on our emergency hotline, 0845 762 6828.

As leading cleaning and disaster restoration experts for over 60 years, our technicians are here to help you in whatever crisis you may be facing.

When dealing with smoke damage, there is a lot to take in.

This information may be overwhelming, but it is what we do.

For smoke damage restoration and support during a crisis, find your nearest ServiceMaster Restore business today.