How to Clean Smoke Damage

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.


  1. We were able to get into the house in just a few days and though the smoke smell was still strong, with masks on, gutted the bedroom that had been charred and removed as much as possible in the other rooms that were ruined with smoke damage and the smell had already gone down in a few more days. However, we removed the carpet and draperies completely, even in the other rooms. We realize that it will cost to replace it, but we salvaged the floors from severe water damage from wet carpet. We can live without carpet for a little while if we have to.

  2. Me & Myself says:

    We had minor smoke damage to the wood cabinets and wall in my home. We mixed OxiClean and warm water and the soot came off with ease. It worked wonders!

  3. This home has suffered approximately 14 years of one pack of cigarette smoke a day. Asking for thoughts on primer painting or a method of nicotine removal on walls and ceilings. The carpeting and furniture will be steam cleaned or removed. Warmer weather will allow for ventilation.

  4. Is it good to turn your light on and turn on your AC when there is black smoke in your house?

  5. Adrienne says:

    I put ten chicken fillets on the cooker to boil and forgot about them. I returned to the house three hours later to a house full of white smoke. Four days later, the smell is still rotten. Any ideas how to get rid of this smell?

  6. Melanie says:

    Try using diluted white vinegar; make a solution of about 1/3 vinegar with 2/3 water in a spray bottle. Then, walk through the house and spray the solution everywhere – mist (don’t soak) the walls, the floor, the furniture, etc. I just did this at my house recently and it worked great. If there is any remaining smell after the mist has dried, you can open a fresh bag of coffee beans, pour the beans into several bowls or plates, and place the bowls around the house. Another idea is to try those smokers’ candles. For more ideas, see this article: How to Remove Rotten Food Odors from House.

  7. Fireplace damper shifted and smoke rolled into the house. How do you clean Steinbach nutcrackers that have smoke and soot damage?

  8. Ginger,
    Steinbach nutcrackers are so precious that it would probably be best to have it professionally restored by a doll specialist. However, if you really want to attempt to repair it yourself, here are some ideas:
    1) Use a vacuum hose to remove any loose soot. Be careful not to hold the hose so close that you can accidentally suction off any of the decorations though.
    2) Salt. Cover the nutcracker with a pile of salt for a couple hours or overnight; hopefully the salt will absorb all of the soot.
    3) Dawn dish soap. Soot is often very oily, so you may need an oil-cutting soap to remove it. You can try using only the suds of the dish soap to avoid using water; just wipe the suds onto a cloth or cotton swab and then use that to wipe off the soot.
    4) Using a dry cleaning solvent on the fabrics may be another option, but you should contact the company to see what they recommend first.

    Source: How To Clean Stuff – How to Clean Soot from Clothing
    Source: How To Clean Stuff – How to Clean Soot from a Mirror
    Source: How To Clean Stuff – How to Clean Velvet

  9. Candle left on in my porch for almost 48 hours – everywhere is black. When I tried to wash it off, I made it worse. What should I do please? Maria

  10. My daughter was complaining of lice last night. I checked and found one. So, the rest if my night consisted of my husband and I washing re-washing, combing, cleaning, etc.; made for a very long night (10 pm to 4 am) to be exact. After I dropped the kids off at school this morning, I came home to pick up where we left off at 4am. I dumped all our brushes into a big pot with water (5 brushes, the lice comb and a hair clip). Sat down for a moment. Laid down and woke up two hours later to the smoke alarm. I’m so lucky I heard it. I’ve been airing out the house all day with no luck. It officially smells like a meth lab exploded in my house. And my husband recently dropped our renters insurance, so a restoration crew is not an option. Any advice would be wonderful. My poor kids have to sleep in their rooms soon & I feel so bad. Also wondering if I will be fine? My throat burns, and I feel so nauseous and weird. Could be the no sleep, but I must have inhaled a lot of smoke also. Thanks in advance.

  11. Trish,
    When you type in “nausea after a house fire” in a Google search, most of the links are about carbon monoxide poisoning. According to, nausea after a fire can be a symptom of that. There are a wide range of other symptoms that can appear as well. Also, it could be cyanide poisoning (the symptoms are very similar to carbon monoxide); plastic fumes can be particularly bad for that. Point being, you know best how you feel; read up on these things and consider seeing a doctor. (There are antidotes and other treatments.)
    Also, since you mentioned that the whole house smells, let the house ventilate for as long as needed, even overnight. There are other safety precautions that you can take as well, such as changing the bedding. See this PDF by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for more safety information.
    Also, the article How to Remove Burnt Plastic Odors can help as well.
    Source: – Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
    Source: American College of Emergency Physicians – Don’t Overlook Cyanide Poisoning in Smoke Inhalation
    Source: Medscape – Cyanide Toxicity

  12. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the info.


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