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How to clean, remove wildfire smoke soot

family photo covered in soot being handled by hands with glovesThe aftermath of fire is devastating, and figuring out what to do after a fire can be overwhelming. If you’ve been evacuated, returning to your home can often bring a mixture of hope, fear and dread.

Victims will have to deal specifically with wildfire damage, which includes soot and smoke removal. Follow this guide from ServiceMaster Clean in a Wink to remove soot from your walls and clean smoke from your ceiling safely and effectively.

How to remove soot: Safety first

Soot, the black residue left behind after a fire, results from the burning of various materials including wood, plaster, natural fibers, synthetics, foams and plastics. Before a professional cleaning team arrives, follow these safety protocols:

  • Never touch anything during your first inspection of the room to avoid transferring the soot to other surfaces.
  • Always wear gloves, a face mask, and clothing that covers your skin (e.g. long sleeves and pants) when working in a room with soot damage.
  • Keep the room ventilated to minimize breathing in soot particles and to dissipate smoke odors.
  • Remove as much debris from the room as possible to allow for easier cleanup.

Soot removal cleaning tips

When determining how to remove soot from walls, ceilings and other surfaces, be aware that improper cleaning can worsen the damage. Typically, the first instinct is to attempt to wash the soot from walls with sponges and soap. Always test a small inconspicuous spot first, or simply leave the cleanup to the professionals.

Soot residue left by a high-oxygen fire is best cleaned with a dry cleaning sponge or dry chemical sponge. If wet methods of cleaning are attempted on this type of soot, the result will be smearing and damage. However, a low-oxygen fire leaves soot residue that may respond effectively to wet sponge cleaning methods.

If you try vacuuming soot residue from walls and ceilings, always hold the nozzle about one-half inch away from the area you’re cleaning to avoid contact with the surface, which can smear to the touch.

Tips for filing smoke damage insurance claims

When you’re faced with smoke damage, call your insurance company or agent immediately. Do not wait. Review your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. If the policy was lost in the fire, your insurance company or agent can provide another copy. Look on the declarations page for information regarding your policy’s coverage, deductibles, limitations or exclusions and if there are any filing deadlines.

Allow only necessary authorities on site to avoid disturbing the affected area. If possible, take photos or videos of the damage.

Verify with your insurance agent the procedures and timeline for filing all parts of the claim. To file the claim, you may need to provide information such as:

  • Date of the loss
  • Type of damage (fire, smoke, water or all three?)
  • Location of the damage
  • Contact information for the property owner
  • Your personal contact information if you’re not the property owner
  • A copy of the police report
  • Remediation estimates
  • Receipts for all repairs, restoration and other related costs
  • Receipts for any hotels or meals if the damage forced you to find other lodging
  • Complete list of all damaged items/building materials

A professional smoke damage removal team like ServiceMaster Clean in a Wink can come out and assess the damage and provide a remediation plan. For more information, call our 24-hour emergency hotline at 1-888-GET-WINK.