How to Fix Smoke Damage on Walls

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Cleaning supplies (Photo: @vedrana2701 via Twenty20)
Your pot of grease got away from you while deep frying dinner. A nearby bush fire enveloped your home in choking smoke. A candle accidentally set your curtains ablaze. Whatever the case, perhaps you’ve managed to avoid the worst of it, but now there’s smoke damage on your walls.
If it isn’t treated within hours or a few short days, smoke damage can become much harder to remove. It can stain painted surfaces and etch its way into porous materials like wood and upholstery. Since it’s acidic by nature, it can even cause metal appliances and furniture to pit and rust.
If you’re trying to keep your claims-free discount on home insurance or it’s just minor damage, you may be able to deal with smoke damage yourself. Here’s how.

How to remediate smoke damage on walls

The process of removing the appearance, smell, and harmful effects of smoke damage is known as smoke damage remediation. It’s not as scary as it sounds, and you may have most of the supplies you need already. What you need to get isn’t hard to find or expensive either. You’ll need:
  • A vacuum with soft bristled attachment
  • A dry-cleaning sponge or chemical sponge
  • Cleaning solutions
  • Warm water
  • Clean cloths

1. Vacuum the affected area

Much of the smoke damage is soot, the black or brownish substance that results from an incomplete burn. Using only light pressure, vacuum the affected walls to loosen and capture soot particles. In some cases, you’ll immediately notice the difference on the walls. In others, it might appear like you’re doing nothing at all, but diligently complete the process anyway—it’s necessary.

2. Wipe with a chemical sponge

Dry cleaning soot sponges are made of vulcanized rubber that are non-abrasive. Simply wipe the walls with steady, even pressure to let the sponge pull the soot and smoke off the walls.

3. Clean the walls with liquid cleaner

Smoke damage becomes embedded into the walls, so it’s crucial to wash away and neutralize its effects. What cleaner should you use for smoke damage? A few options include a commercial smoke or soot remover, tri-sodium phosphate (TSP), rubbing alcohol, white vinegar, or even paint thinner.
First, start with washing the walls using a household dish soap or all-purpose cleaner to remove the bulk of it. Then repeat using a solution of TSP or whatever you’ve selected. Rinse your cloth frequently and discard the water when it gets gray or smells smoky.

4. Dry it, assess, and repeat if necessary

Wipe your walls with a clean, light-colored cloth and let them dry. Check out your cloth—is there smoke residue on it? From your assessment, determine if you need to repeat the cleaning process. If it comes back clean, you might be good to go.

5. Treat the ceiling too

When there’s been smoke, there’s been heat. That usually causes the smoke to rise, and your ceiling will be affected just like the walls. Don’t forget to treat the smoke damage on your ceiling, even if you don’t see any effects. That includes any light fixtures and bulbs as they can hold the smoke smell for a long time too.

If cleaning doesn’t work…

If the smoke damage to your walls is deep and just won’t come out, there are other options. It may be necessary to repaint the walls or replace any wall treatment you have like wallpaper. In extreme cases, the drywall may need to be replaced. It might be worth calling in a home insurance claim if you can’t get rid of the smoke damage on your own.