Everything You Need to Know About Soot Damage and Restoration

Soot may not be as noticeable or devastating as water damage, but this fine black substance is still a real problem in many homes. It can gradually accumulate in corners until it causes discoloration, or it can suddenly appear after a fire. If you have soot in your home, you will need to identify the cause and figure out how to remove the soot. Here are some important details about dealing with soot. 

What Is Soot and Why Is It a Problem?

Soot is a mixture of very fine black particles created by the product of incomplete combustion. It is primarily made up of carbon, but it can also contain trace amounts of metals, dust, and chemicals. Soot is different from charcoal and other byproducts of combustion because it is so fine. These tiny particles may be under 2.5 micrometers in diameter which is smaller than dust, mold, and dirt particles. 

The small size of soot is what makes it so dangerous for humans and pets. It can easily be breathed deep into the small passageways of the lungs. Repeated exposure to soot is linked to respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and cancer. Because of these problems, soot is more than just an unsightly nuisance. It is a danger that cannot be left in the home. 

How Does Soot Damage Occur?

In the home, the most dramatic incidents of soot are from fire damage. All of the wood, paper, clothing, and other organic and synthetic matter that burns during a house fire can turn into soot, and it may end up settled on all the surfaces throughout a house even if a fire only occurred in one room. 

Though this is typically the most devastating cause of soot damage, even houses that have not been affected by a fire can end up with a soot problem. Soot occurs whenever anything containing hydrocarbons is burnt, so it can be caused by these issues: 

  • Poorly ventilated fireplaces
  • Constant candle usage
  • Defective home furnaces
  • Smoking tobacco or other plant matter indoors
  • Using high temperatures while cooking
  • Proximity to industrial facilities that use combustion-based power sources
  • Exposure to a vehicle's exhaust emissions

What Are the Types of Soot Damage?

Soot composition can vary quite a bit depending on the underlying causes. All types of soot cause at least some darkening, and in severe cases, any type of soot can look completely black. Though most soot looks similar, some types of soot can be harder to clean or more likely to cause intense odors. 

Dry Soot 
Dry soot is caused by very hot fires burning natural ingredients swiftly. It has a dry, dusty texture and almost no smell. Dry soot is often easier to manage than mold or storm damage. In many cases, removing it is as simple as using a vacuum with a HEPA filter on all surfaces. 

Wet Soot 
If a fire smolders for a while on low heat and burns high moisture items, wet soot may be created. This is essentially dry soot that has mingled with steam to create a sort of soggy, sooty mess. Cleaning up wet soot requires a combination of fire damage and water damage strategies. 

Oily Soot 
When plastics, rubbers, and other products containing oil are burned, soot can turn into a sticky, greasy substance. If you try to wipe it up, it will just smear instead of going away.  Also, because it contains oil, it will be resistant to water-based cleaning products. Unlike dry soot, oily soot will cling to any surface, even vertical areas. 

Protein Soot 
Protein-based soot is a particular type of greasy soot that tends to occur as the buildup in kitchens or the product of a kitchen fire. It involves overcooked proteins that turn to soot, and it has a very pungent odor. This type of soot is quite hard to get rid of, and the odor may linger if it is not cleaned up properly. 

What Should You Do About Soot Damage?

When dealing with soot damage, you have a few different options available. 

Dry Clean the Soot 
If you primarily have dry soot in your home, you can use dry cleaning methods to pick up most of the soot. These methods are essentially the same methods you would use for removing dust. A dry cloth can remove soot from tables and furniture, while a vacuum can pick it up off of carpets, upholstery, and flooring. Dry-cleaning will ensure that powdery soot does not smear into a blackened grime. 

This method is a little tedious, so it is normally only recommended for smaller areas of soot. It can be helpful for doing a basic clean up and ensuring the soot does not spread before you can get more help. Keep in mind that if you try a dry-cleaning method and the soot begins to smear, you may need to try a wet cleaning method. 

Wet Clean the Soot 
A wet cleaning method can be effective if you have wet or oily soot. To use this method, combine soap with water to lightly scrub an area with soot. Try testing it in a small area to ensure that it can actually pick up soot without making the mess worse or damage the underlying surface. 

Wet cleaning soot does have some benefits because it can pick up soot that is mixed in with oil or moisture. However, it is quite time-consuming and requires a lot of effort. Another downside of wet cleaning soot methods is that they are only feasible on tile or other waterproof surfaces. Using water to clean drywall, wood, or electronics is not advisable. 

Call In the Professionals 

Though DIY techniques might work for smaller areas of soot, it is not always an option. Significant soot damage to the home can be overwhelming to clean on your own. You may also find that you do not have the right cleaning solutions for removing soot from certain types of surfaces without damaging them. In these sorts of situations, it is probably a good idea to get help from a trusted restoration professional. 
Most companies that clean up fire damage and mold or storm damage also offer professional soot cleaning options. A professional service can help to get rid of any lingering odors and ensure that there are not tiny particles of soot stuck behind that could cause breathing issues. Restoration professionals have the specialized equipment required to thoroughly remove soot from the home. 

Whether you are recovering from a huge house fire or just want to get rid of accumulated soot darkening your walls and ceilings, Paul Davis Restoration can help. Our home restoration and recovery experts have the experience and tools needed to deal with this tricky substance and make your home a soot-free environment.