Smoke damage is considered anything that is negatively impacted when it is covered by smoke. It can be something as minor as an unpleasant smell to something as serious as damage to the structural integrity of the building.
No matter what object is burning, the smoke coming from it will always contain carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and soot. Depending on what is on fire will determine the other chemicals that will be part of the smoke. There isn’t much that will stop smoke in its tracks. It will pool throughout the building, cling to walls, seep into furniture, grab onto clothing, damage electronics, and fill in any available space within the ductwork.
Not all smoke damage is the same. Each of these is caused by different circumstances. The temperature of the fire, fueling materials, and location will all play a role. Depending on what type of damage was done will slightly affect the restoration of the area that was impacted. There are four different types of smoke damage:
- Protein residue: This type of smoke damage is common in low-temperature kitchen fires. There is minimal smoke, soot, and streaking, but it may permanently discolor any finished surfaces. While hard to see, it’s not hard to smell: if left untreated, the intense unpleasant odor may permeate the entire home or business.
- Dry smoke: This is produced by fires fueled by paper or wood that burn at high temperatures and spread quickly. When the smoke clears a light powdery substance is left on surfaces, thankfully this is easy to clean when compared with denser smoke and thick soot. Dry smoke is light and will easily get into porous surfaces. Even though it might look clean, a smoky smell persists.
- Wet smoke: Caused by low heat, smoldering fires that have plastic and/or rubber actively burning. These fires have a distinct smell and despite the smaller flames the smoke is extremely thick and full of black soot. This sticky and dense smoke has no trouble fully covering the surfaces throughout homes and businesses. Special equipment is often needed to clean this smoke damage correctly.
- Fuel/Oil Also known as petroleum residues, this smoke damage is not very common within homes and businesses due to the fact most of us don’t have a ton of gasoline just chilling in our house. The residue from this smoke is sticky, thick, and especially difficult to clean. With a very heavy and non-appealing smell it is easy to notice and will easily destroy upholstered pieces of furniture, clothing, curtains, and other materials unless promptly washed and cleaned.
How long does smoke damage last?
Smoke damage will not clean itself up. The longer you wait to start the restoration process, the longer the smoke damage will last and the more severe the damage will become. Within the first few minutes the acid in the smoke and the soot residue will start to cause plastics to yellow, anything close to the fire will discolor, and highly porous materials have the potential to discolor permanently. If possible this is when you want to start cleaning, as time passes things will just get worse.
After several hours, smoke residue can start to stain grout, make its way into fiberglass, and uncoated metals. The bathroom and kitchen countertops can yellow, as well as the finishes on appliances. If nothing has been done and days have passed, the painted walls will become permanently yellowed. The acids can begin to corrode metals causing rust to form. Any finished wood surface will need refinishing as well as any vinyl flooring.
Weeks after the fire with no cleanup will cause the smoke damage restoration cost to skyrocket. Why someone would wait weeks is beyond understanding, but it happens. The carpet will be permanently discolored and will have to be replaced. Anything with a silver plating will become corroded beyond restoration and repair. Fine china and crystal wear will become extremely damaged. The paint will peel, the furniture will deteriorate, and so will clothing. Smoke damage lasts until it is cleaned.
Do I Have Smoke Damage?
Cleaning up smoke damage quickly is obviously important, but how you clean it also plays a major role. There is a wrong way to clean up smoke damage and, if done poorly, a house will never smell the same. If you have recently had a fire inside your home, there is a high chance you have smoke damage. Some of the easiest to notice signs of smoke damage are:
- A smoky smell in clothing, furniture, or anywhere in the home hours or days after the fire has been put out.
- Yellowing paint or on countertops
- Visible soot on walls or surfaces
- Discoloring on surfaces and objects such as dinnerware, marble countertops, fine china, wood cabinets.
What Do I Do If I Have Smoke Damage?
If you have smoke damage, it is best to call a fire restoration company. That said, there are some steps you can take yourself.
If you have had a fire in your home or business it is safe to assume that it has experienced some level of smoke damage. The first thing to do is to turn off your AC unit or furnace. If you don’t do this, you will only spread the smoke smell and soot further through the home. Items considered to be complete loss should be removed from the building, cleaned, and deodorized. This simple step will alleviate a substantial amount of that smoke smell. Anything that is beyond repair or cleaning should be removed from the home and thrown away.
Once all that stuff is out of the house it is time to start cleaning! Dry soot removal is your best way to clean walls and furniture in a healthy manner. Use a professional-rated dry sponge, especially on flat-finish paint walls to get that soot out. You may use water and a mild detergent but only on non-porous surfaces. You will want to clean metal fixtures, as they may rapidly erode and rust from exposure to smoke. Start with high surfaces and then work your way down.
There are some household items you can use to help remove the smell of smoke while simultaneously cleaning up the mess. You can use white vinegar to scrub off any surfaces contaminated by smoke after their initial cleaning. Vinegar can be used on furnishings, floors, ceilings, walls, etc. Baking soda can absorb strong odors naturally. Just leave it in a bowl in each room, or sprinkle it along with furniture, on curtains, and clothes.
Activated charcoal is another natural odor absorber. Activated charcoal can be used in powder form to eliminate the odor of smoke from the different rooms in your house. Don’t sprinkle this stuff, just leave it in a bowl in different rooms. Ozone generators are not a common household item, but can work wonders for cleaning up smoke damage. While these may be costly, they are very efficient in eliminating the heavy smells of smoke.