Smoke damage to your walls and ceilings can be a vexing problem and is extremely unpleasant to clean. There are numerous companies out there who will repair smoke damage, and they can be quite pricey. If you are willing to tackle the problem yourself, be prepared from some hard work, depending on the extent and type of damage done.

Soot and Charring

Smoke damage causes black marks and discoloration to your walls and ceiling. Soot is the residue left by smoke. Charring is the actual burning of the paint. You should first assess the extent of the damage and determine whether cleaning is a reasonable option. It may be impossible to clean heavy soot and charring from flat-painted walls, and priming and re-painting may be your only option. There is more hope for satin or semi-gloss finishes, if the charring hasn’t gone too deep.

What You Will Need:

  • Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) cleaner*
  • Large Sponge (such as the type you’d use to wash a car)
  • 2 Buckets
  • Warm water
  • Heavy duty rubber cleaning gloves
  • Goggles
  • Clean rags

*TSP is a harsh cleaner, and if you do not wear gloves, you run the risk of severe skin irritation. Also, it can cause severe eye irritation, the risk of which can be significantly lessened by wearing goggles or other appropriate eyewear.

The Cleaning Process:

  1. Fill the bucket with 1 gallon of warm water and add 1 generous tablespoon of TSP.
  2. Wearing rubber gloves and goggles, wet the sponge in the TSP solution. Working one section a time, wipe wall/ceiling vigorously with the sponge, then rinse thoroughly with a rag dipped in clean water. Continue until entire area has been washed and rinsed.
  3. You may have to repeat the wash/rinse several times, depending upon the severity of the soot buildup and charring. Be careful not to over saturate your walls, or let the water seep between your walls and baseboards, or you may cause damage to the drywall.
  4. If the smoke damage is not entirely removed by this process, you will most likely need to prime your walls/ceilings and repaint.

Bubbling and Blistering

Bubbling and blistering of the paint on your walls and ceiling may occur from excessive heat. A bubble or blister cannot be “undone,” but can be repaired.

What You Will Need:

  • Putty knife
  • Spackle
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Paint matched to the color of your wall/ceiling

The Repairing Process:

  1. Gently scrape away the top of the bubble or blister with the putty knife.
  2. Sand the bubble or blister until it is flat.
  3. Spackle the area to cover any indents or imperfections.
  4. When the spackle is completely dry, sand the spackled area until it is smooth and flush with the wall/ceiling.
  5. Prime and paint the area. If the paint doesn’t match, be prepared to re-paint the entire wall/room/ceiling.

Smoke Odor

Aside from unsightly charring and soot build-up, smoke can leave an unpleasant odor that seems to cling to the walls. Smoke odors can be quite stubborn. Depending upon how strong the smoke odors are, one or more of these methods may prove helpful. Keep in mind, though, that if the smoke odor has permeated into your carpets, draperies, furnishings, etc., there is little that can be done to eliminate the smoke odor unless these items are removed or replaced.

  1. Vinegar: White vinegar cuts through odors naturally. Try wiping down furniture, washable walls, floors, etc. with white vinegar. Also, try placing several bowls of vinegar around the room with the smoke damage, leaving them there for several days. If you can’t stand the smell of vinegar either, try mixing a bit of lavender oil into the bowls to help cut the odor of the vinegar.
  2. Baking Soda: Baking soda is another natural odor-absorber. Try sprinkling liberal amounts of baking soda over furniture, floors, etc. Leave a few bowls of baking soda around the room for several days to help absorb the odors.
  3. Febreeze: Febreeze, a popular odor-reducing product sold in many stores, uses a chemical compound called cyclodextrin, a sugar-like substance that absorbs odors. Spraying the area down with Febreze may help to reduce the smoke odor.
  4. Activated Charcoal: This product, often used as a detoxifying agent, is also a natural odor absorbent. Placing bowls of activated charcoal (powdered form) around your room may help to absorb the smoke odors.
  5. Fresh Air: In the warmer weather, leave your windows and doors open as much as possible. Fresh air will eventually dissipate the smell of smoke.
  6. Ozone Generators: There are products on the market known as Ozone Generators which may help in reducing or even eliminating smoke odor from your house. Remember, though, that these expensive products, while effective in reducing the odor, will not eliminate it completely if the odor has permeated the carpets, draperies, furnishings, etc.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Trisodium Phosphate does work very well for cleaning smoke damage, but it is such a harsh chemical that it may not be available in all areas. Check with your local home improvement store (such as Lowes or Home Depot) for possible alternate cleaning solutions.
  • If you have severe smoke damage in your home, it may be best to contact a smoke damage professional.
  • Many people hesitate to call in a smoke damage specialist because the process can be costly, sometimes dangerous and environmentally unfriendly (i.e. the use of ozone neutralizers). However, there are companies available which employ environmentally friendly smoke removal procedures.

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