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How to Clean Smoke Damage after a House Fire like a Pro

A fire is one of the most devastating events a person can experience. Not only is a fire terrifying, but it can cause extensive damage.

Even if the flames were contained quickly and your home is still standing, lingering smoke odor and soot can wreak havoc on your possessions.

If you’re facing smoke damage, you’re not alone.

Here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, we provide fire damage restoration services for Chicago homes and businesses each week, so we leveraged our knowledge to put together this guide on how to clean up smoke damage after a fire.

Let’s dive in.

What Does Smoke Damage Look Like?

smoke damage on walls

Before you begin cleaning smoke damage, you need to know how to spot it.

Sometimes smoke damage is obvious. Other times, it’s more challenging to identify – especially when it occurs in areas far from where the fire originated (this is common after very smoky fires that start in kitchen appliances, for example). 

Here are a few physical signs of smoke damage:

  • Black dust or an oily residue on surfaces.
  • Discolored or yellowed paint.
  • A smoky smell in furniture or textiles.
  • Soot-streaked, blackened areas.

If you’re not sure whether an area of your home has smoke damage, contact ServiceMaster of Lake Shore if you’re in the Chicago area. Our team of fire restoration experts will inspect your home and help you develop a plan of action. 

Before You Get Started with Cleanup, Do This:

Now that you’ve identified the areas of your home that have smoke damage, it’s time to begin the cleanup process. Before you start scrubbing, though, follow these tips to prepare yourself and your work area:

1. Gather Your Cleaning Products

Cleaning up smoke residue is a delicate process, and it requires the right supplies.

For best results, gather the cleaning products you’ll need, including the following:

  • Thick rubber gloves.
  • Trisodium phosphate cleaner for degreasing.
  • A dry-cleaning sponge (specially designed to remove smoke damage from walls).
  • Smoke damage and soot cleaners of your choice (available at home improvement stores).
  • A large sponge meant to absorb moisture, like one you’d use to wash your car.
  • Two large, clean plastic buckets.
  • Warm water.
  • Safety goggles or other protective eyewear and a disposable mask to prevent debris inhalation.
  • Cleaning rags or old t-shirts.

Keep these items in a central location where you’ll be able to reach them easily.

2. Think About Safety

When you cut corners with smoke damage cleanup, it can make the damage worse or put your health at risk.

With that in mind, follow these safety tips during the cleanup process:

  • Always wear a mask. Soot creates a residue that can irritate the respiratory system and make its way into the bloodstream. With this in mind, wear a mask at all times when you’re in the smoke-damaged area and consider opening windows to promote ventilation.
  • Avoid the area if you’re pregnant. Soot is known to cause birth defects in developing babies. Anyone who is pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid the area. Vulnerable populations, like older adults and young kids, should also stay away from the smoke damage.
  • Take your time. Again, smoke damage cleanup needs to be carried out carefully. Don’t rush the process. The more careful you are now, the better your home will look and feel later.

If you choose to clean up smoke damage on your own, it’s important to acknowledge that you’re doing it at your own risk. Even a small mistake during the cleanup process can worsen smoke damage or create health risks for you and your family.

To keep everyone safe and ensure complete restoration, we strongly recommend contacting ServiceMaster of Lake Shore (if you’re in the Chicago area) or another restoration company near you.

How to Clean Smoke Damage in Your Home: A Step-by-Step Guide

smoke soot cleanup process

Smoke damage can be devastating. Fortunately, it is possible to clean it up by following these steps:

1. Inspection

First, complete a comprehensive inspection of your home and identify all the areas affected by smoke damage.

Look for both obvious indications of smoke damage (full of streaking and discoloration) and less obvious damage. Typically, less damaged areas are further from the fire’s origin and may contain more odor than discoloration.

As you inspect your home, discard items that are too severely damaged to clean or repair. Make sure you keep an inventory, which will make it easier to file a homeowners insurance claim later.

Additionally, keep a close eye on your ceilings. While it’s common to overlook smoke damage on ceilings, they often require as much attention as walls and other areas of the home.

2. Start the Cleanup Process

Next, you’ll begin the cleanup process by removing soot and smoke from your floors, walls, ceilings, furniture, windows, and fabrics.

Before you begin, open as many windows as possible. Ample ventilation helps speed the cleaning process and clear out smoke particles that could harm your health.


Removing soot and debris from your floor is the first step.

Using a powerful dry vac (be sure to wear a mask, gloves, and goggles), vacuum the smoke and residue off the ground in the affected area.

Be gentle as you do this to avoid spreading the soot. If you notice large soot particles on your walls, use your vacuum’s hose attachment to remove them.


smoke damage removal

To clean soot stains off your walls, start with a dry-cleaning sponge. These sponges are designed to remove discoloration from walls and are available at most home improvement stores.

Using just the dry sponge, rub it gently over the affected area, being careful not to use the same part of the sponge for more than a few wipes of the wall.

As one part of the sponge becomes blackened, cut it off with a knife (or replace the sponge) and start again. Repeat this process until you’ve covered the entire affected area.

Once you’ve dry-sponged the walls, follow up with a cleaning solution. We recommend using a mixture of mild soap, 4-6 tablespoons of tri-sodium phosphate (TSP), and 1 cup chlorine bleach in a gallon of warm water.

Pro tip: Before cleaning, test the surface to make sure that the bleach will not discolor it. To do this, wipe a small area with the bleach solution and allow it to dry for 12-24 hours.

Wearing thick rubber gloves, use a sponge soaked in the mixture to wipe the walls gently. Instead of working from the top of the wall down, work from the floor up. This will prevent streaking. Once you’ve washed an area, rinse it with warm water and dry it immediately with clean towels.

Wash your ceilings last, following the same steps.

If you have washable wallpaper, clean it the same way you would clean painted walls, being careful not to soak the paper. If you notice loose edges after cleaning, use a commercial paste to secure them.

If you want to repaint walls, wait at least 24-48 hours after cleaning to allow the walls to dry completely.


To clean furniture, use a store-bought smoke damage cleaner. Delicate materials such as wood require a cleaner formulated for that material. However, items made of plastic or metal can usually be cleaned with an all-purpose solution.


To remove smoke from windows, begin by wiping the panes with a store-bought soot cleaner and some old rags. Follow up with a degreaser to remove any leftover residue.

Textiles and Fabrics

You have a few options to remove smoke and soot from your furniture and other textiles.

If the garment can be bleached, run it through the washing machine with detergent and the correct amount of bleach for the load size.

Clothing that can’t be bleached can be washed in cold water with standard household laundry detergent and a teaspoon of baking soda.

If you notice stubborn smoke damage in your textiles and fabrics, products containing TSP may be able to help. TSP is highly caustic, so you’ll need to carefully read the label and follow the safety directions.

3.  Smoke Odor Removal

Removing smoke odor is often one of the most challenging parts of the restoration process.

If the odor is minimal, you may be able to remove it by placing a bowl of baking soda or white vinegar in the area to absorb the smell. Sprinkling baking soda on the upholstery or carpet can also be effective, especially if you allow it to sit for several hours before vacuuming it up.

Extensive smoke odor often requires professional removal via an ozone treatment. Contact ServiceMaster of Lake Shore in Chicago to learn more about our smoke removal options.

Dealing with Smoke Damage in Chicago or Suburbs? We Can Help!

servicemaster of lake shore van

Smoke damage cleanup can be an intimidating process. To ensure a comprehensive clean and get life back to normal as quickly as possible, contact the experts here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore. Our team handles extensive smoke damage cleanup jobs every day in Chicago, IL and the suburbs and will provide the top-quality care your home deserves – from inspection to restoration.

Contact us today to request a smoke damage inspection: 312-707-8597 


Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Smoke Damage?

Under most policies, the answer is yes. Smoke damage is generally considered a covered peril since smoke damages porous materials like drywall and wood. While some items can be cleaned after a fire, others will need to be replaced.

Most homeowners insurance companies will pay for smoke and soot damage cleanup services but may not pay to replace certain high-value items ruined by smoke damage. Purchasing additional insurance may help cover the gap. Consult your insurance provider to learn more.

Is it Safe to Stay in a House with Smoke Damage?

It depends. If the smoke damage is minimal, it may be safe to stay in the house and clean up the damage. If the damage is extensive or the home is structurally unsound, leave immediately and contact ServiceMaster of Lake Shore for professional restoration services if you’re in the Chicago area.

How Much Does It Cost to Clean Smoke Damage?

The cost of cleaning up smoke damage will vary depending on the size of your home and the extent of the damage. According to recent estimates, homeowners typically pay between $2,867 and $33,938 to clean up smoke damage.