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A simple solution to clean away the sight and smell of smoke in your home

Whether you have moved into a home that was previously occupied by smokers, or you have suffered a small house fire, you’ll want to deal with smoke damaged walls as soon as possible. Smoke can cause damage to your home, leaving behind discolored walls and a terrible odor that is difficult to shift. It can also cause health problems.

In this article, we’ll look at some of these issues, and you’ll learn how to clean smoke off walls using vinegar.

Why are walls so badly affected by smoke?

Smoke loves cooler temperatures, and so makes its way to those areas which are coldest in a room. These tend to be exterior walls and windows, which is why they are often the most smoke damaged areas in a house after a fire.

The symptoms of smoke damage to walls

There are three types of smoke damage that affect walls: the damage you can see, the damage you can smell, and the damage you can’t see. Living in a home with smoke damaged walls is uncomfortable – not only because of what it looks and smells like, but also because of the harm it can cause to your health.

Before we look at how to use vinegar to clean smoke from walls, let’s examine the symptoms of smoke damage to your walls.

·       Smoke damage you can see

Smoke will stain and discolor walls and other surfaces. This discoloration takes a while to show, but results in yellowing. Some surfaces, such as marble and granite, will become permanently discolored. Metals can be tarnished and rust. Plastics are not immune from discoloration, either. Wood floors and paneled walls are also likely to discolour and warp.

·       Smoke damage you can smell

Smoke particles are tiny pieces of carbon and deposit on surfaces as soot – an acidic residue that contributes to the acrid smoke smell that can linger for months after a fire. These particles are so small that they can seep into porous and semi-porous surfaces, combining with other components of smoke that contribute to that horrible odor. When you use vinegar to clean smoke damage from walls, remember that:

  • The particles of burned substances can be toxic and penetrate deep into some surfaces, especially materials such as wallpaper and drapes.
  • Smoke also produces small droplets of vapor that may be poisonous if breathed in.
  • Fire produces toxic gases. These include carbon monoxide, phosgene and hydrogen cyanide – depending on the material that has burned. All are harmful to health, and, in the worst-case scenario, such gases could cause death.

Smoke odor lingers because of how the particles of smoke become trapped in walls and other surfaces. Items such as clothes, upholstered furniture and drapes need careful attention to get rid of the smoke smell, and are probably best handled by professional cleaning services if the smoke smell has been caused by a fire. If your furniture smells because of stale cigarette smoke, the tips we give in our article “How to get cigarette smoke smell out of furniture” will help you rid your home from that acrid, troublesome odor.

·       Smoke damage you can’t see

You may be able to see and smell smoke damage on walls, but it is also likely that smoke damage lies deep within them. Left untreated, this damage can cause long-term problems to your home. It can damage wall studs, insulation and frames. If not removed from your HVAC system, you are likely to suffer from recurring smoke smells.

Smoke damage and the risk to health

If you think the sight and smell of smoke damage is bad, you are not going to like what damage it can do to your health. If your home smells of smoke or your walls have been discoloured by smoke, understanding the threat this poses to your health could give you the sense of urgency to get the vinegar out and clean the smoke from your walls.

Here are three hazards to health that smoke damage is known to cause:

·       Breathing and respiratory issues

One of the major health risks caused by smoke is damage to your respiratory system. The smoke may be long gone, but the smell is a big clue that smoke particles remain in the home, buried in the walls, carpets, furnishings, drapes, etc.

Smoke particles are easily inhaled, and over time will cause damage to your lungs, sinuses and throat. Difficulty with breathing, coughing and wheezing are symptoms that the smoke damage in your home has started to affect your health. If you don’t get rid of the deep smoke damage, you may find that respiratory conditions such as emphysema could develop.

·       Skin irritations

Breathing is not the only way in which your body can absorb smoke particles. Though skin has a low permeability, soot and smoke residue can irritate it. You may find that your skin feels dry constantly, and you may suffer from skin rashes. Soot and smoke particles can permeate the skin, especially through cuts and grazes – a real worry for those with young children.

·       Eye problems

Just as soot and smoke residue can irritate the skin, it can also cause damage to eyes. If you notice that your eyes are red, watery, or itching, you should seek medical advice – and deep clean your walls, furnishings, carpet and other items from smoke.

Using vinegar to clean smoke damaged walls

While professional fire damage restoration services will produce the best results following smoke damage, it may be that your budget doesn’t run to the cost of professional cleaning services. If this is the case, then there are various ways to remove smoke smell from your home after a fire. One of the best – particularly if you don’t wish to use chemical cleaning agents – is to reach for the vinegar. You’ll need to use a fair amount of elbow grease to get the best results, but with a systematic approach and a little effort you should be able to get rid of the yellowing from your walls.

Here are six steps to clean smoke damage from walls using white vinegar:

  1. Warm the vinegar and add it to an equal volume of warm water. If the yellowing is particularly harsh, increase the ratio of vinegar to water.
  2. Pour the diluted vinegar solution into a spray bottle.
  3. Spray the smoke stain with the diluted vinegar solution.
  4. Walk away, drink a cup of coffee, and relax for a few minutes. This will give the diluted vinegar solution time to work a little magic. The acidity and warmth will begin to soften the sticky residue left behind by smoke, making it easier to clean away.
  5. Scrub the area using a clean, damp cloth.
  6. Repeat steps 1 to 5 as often as necessary, until your wall is clean of smoke damage.

What if smoke stains are very tough to remove?

If a lot of elbow grease and a couple of spray bottles of diluted vinegar doesn’t shift the smoke discoloration to your walls, you may need to get a little tougher with it and use trisodium phosphate – a degreaser and cleaning agent that works well on smoke-stained walls.

If you do use trisodium phosphate, be sure to take precautions – wear gloves, goggles and protective clothing. Mix one tablespoon of trisodium phosphate in one gallon of warm water, apply to the wall, leave for a few minutes, and wipe off using a clean sponge dipped in clean, warm water.

Using vinegar to get rid of smoke smell

White vinegar also acts as a ‘smoke deodorizer’. Not because it has a strong smell itself, but because it soaks up and traps smoke particles from the air. Here is how to use white vinegar to rid yourself of that acrid smoke odor:

  • Wipe your walls and other surfaces (including furniture, floors and ceilings) with the diluted vinegar solution.
  • Dip a clean cloth in the vinegar solution, and wring it out until almost dry. Stand in the middle of the room, and whirl the cloth around your head. You may feel a little silly doing this, but it is a great way to attract smoke particles to the cloth. If you have young children, get them involved – make it a game and reduce the amount of work you have to do.
  • Place a bowl of white vinegar in the middle of the room and leave it for 24 hours, before removing and discarding.
  • Place a slice of bread on a plate or in a bowl in the affected room, and soak it with white vinegar. Leave it for 24 hours and then throw the bread away. Repeat this as often as needed.

When using any of these strategies to get rid of smoke smell caused by smoke damage to walls and other items in your home, always keep the room well ventilated.

In summary

If your walls are discolored and there is a smoke odor in your home, you should act to get rid of the smoke damage as soon as possible, before it causes more lasting damage to your home or to your health. It is, of course, better to use a professional cleaning and restoration service to do this, especially if the smoke damage has been caused by a fire. However, for smoke damage caused by cigarettes or a minor house fire, white vinegar is an excellent product to both clean smoke damage and remove smoke odor.

One big warning: a bad cleaning technique can cause more damage to your walls. Soot is abrasive, and cleaning it incorrectly could increase discoloration and bury smoke particles deep into your walls.

If you aren’t certain about how to clean smoke damaged walls with vinegar or other cleaning agents, don’t hesitate to contact Porter’s Cleaning in NJ. We’ll provide the professional restoration your home deserves.

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 In your article you state, "one big warning: a bad cleaning technique can cause more damage to your walls." What is a bad cleaning technique? Can you describe a bad cleaning technique? Are there more than one bad cleaning techniques? You have me wondering and afraid that I used a bad cleaning technique.

Look forward to your input.
 In your article you state, "one big warning: a bad cleaning technique can cause more damage to your walls." What is a bad cleaning technique? Can you describe a bad cleaning technique? Are there more than one bad cleaning techniques? You have me wondering and afraid that I used a bad cleaning technique.

Look forward to your input.
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