How To Clean Soot Off Walls (Step-by-Step Guide)

Benjamin Panico
by Benjamin Panico

In the unfortunate event of a fire, you will find yourself with a lot to clean up. Fire causes smoke, and smoke turns to soot. You might find soot stains around for other reasons, too. If you smoke cigarettes or burn candles or incense, you could leave behind soot stains.

To clean soot off walls, begin by vacuuming the area, and gently wiping down the walls with a chemical dry sponge. It is crucial not to get the soot wet as it may worsen stains. Next, wash the walls using either a soot cleaning solution, liquid dish soap, rubbing alcohol, paint thinner, or degreser.

Soot stains are not just unattractive, but they can also be a health hazard. You do not want to leave them to further soak into your walls and damage your house. Try these tips to get your walls back to looking clean and smelling fresh.

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Warning: Do Not Use Water

Your first instinct might be to use a damp sponge to clean up soot, as you would with any other stain. However, soot and water make a terrible combination that will spread and worsen stains. At this first stage of cleaning, take all precautions to avoid getting the soot wet at all.

Step One: Safety First

Before you actually clean your walls, it is very important to take proper precautions for your health. Soot is very dangerous to inhale, so you should not enter spaces with soot without protection.

Moreover, once you start cleaning, you will inevitably send soot particles flying. Once airborne, these particles could end up in your lungs and cause difficulty breathing.

Ventilate the Space

Open windows and set up fans to make sure there is a constant airflow through the room. This will send airborne soot particles outside and away from your breathing space. It is important to make sure you have a constant flow of fresh air.

You should also wear a facemask that will be able to filter out those bad particles. If you are finding it uncomfortable or stuffy, take breaks while cleaning to go outside and breathe in clean air.

Wear Protective Clothing

Next, it is important to protect your eyes and skin. Wear safety goggles and clothing that you do not mind throwing away. You can purchase a protective coverall as an alternative.

Step Two: Vacuum Large Particles

The first step to cleaning soot off your walls is to use a vacuum to clear away larger bits. Be sure to use an attachment with bristles or foam, like the one you would use on your couch. This will help prevent damage to the wall, such as dents or scuff marks.

Simply vacuum up any larger chunks of soot that you see. Do not worry about vacuuming anything that falls to the floor, as that will continue to happen. You can save vacuuming the floor for last.

Step Three: Wipe Down the Walls with a Chemical Sponge

You can get a chemical sponge from your local hardware store for around $10. They are specifically designed to be used dry, and often marketed as “soot erasers.”

When using a dry sponge, be sure to wipe the walls with long, straight motions. If you rub in circles or otherwise overlap previous work, you will end up spreading the soot more. Additionally, it is best to work from top to bottom, since soot may fall down the wall as you go.

Once you have wiped down the wall in this way, you should do it again with a clean sponge. Though you may not see more soot, there is a good chance that small particles are still present. If you only have one chemical sponge, they can be cleaned and reused. Simply rinse it out with warm water and then let it air dry fully before using it again.

Step Four: Wash and Dry the Walls

Before we start, keep in mind that not all wall paints are made equal. For example, flat paint is less durable and at risk of smudging if you are too rough. Also, you cannot clean plaster walls with water-based products. If you know what type of wall paint you have, you should look for specific guidance to best protect your walls.

You can use a specialty soot cleaning solution, mixed in water, to clean the walls. Dampen your sponge in the solution, and wipe the walls down in straight lines again. Wash the sponge off regularly to prevent spreading soot.

Next, use a towel to wipe the walls dry. Do not leave the walls to air dry: you do not want them to absorb any of the moisture. If you see soot on the towel, you should go over the area again with the sponge. Again, wipe the walls down with straight motions to avoid streaking.

Alternate Cleaners

If you do not want to buy a specialty cleaning solution, there are plenty of household products you can use. These options are detailed in the chart below, along with special instructions for each.

Cleaning MaterialInstructions for Use
Liquid Dish SoapCombine half a cup of soap in a gallon of hot water.
Rubbing AlcoholDab the walls gently to avoid streaking. Also, strong ventilation is required!
Paint Thinner
DegreaserFollow instructions on the label, or dissolve half a cup in a gallon of hot water.

Step Five: Call a Professional

Consider hiring a professional for large jobs or areas of damage that are hard to reach. Professional soot removal services can cost a few thousand dollars. It is expensive, but it may be covered by your home insurance. Even if it is not, the cost can be worth it. You should hire a professional if you lack the proper materials and protective equipment to do the job safely and well.

Finally, the task may be daunting, but do not procrastinate! The longer you leave soot to sit on your walls, the more damage it will cause. It will also become harder and harder to remove and restore your walls the longer it is left untreated. Therefore, you should get started or call a professional to get a quote right away.

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Related Questions

How do I clean soot off of glass?

A solution of ammonia and vinegar will break down the soot. Spray it onto the glass and let it sit for thirty seconds to a minute. Then, you can scrub it off with a cloth.

How do I clean soot off of my ceiling?

You can use the same process that you would use to clean soot off the wall. However, you do need to take extra precautions when cleaning the ceiling, since soot will fall down easily.First, make sure to wear protection that fully covers your face and head. A hat will keep soot out of your hair, and a face shield will protect your eyes and face from falling particles. Additionally, try to not stand directly under the spot you are cleaning.Finally, remove anything from the room that you can. Anything too large should be covered with a drop cloth. Also, be sure to cover your floor, especially if it is carpeted. This will speed up the cleaning process and keep your belongings free of soot.

Can I paint over water-damaged walls?

Yes, but before you do, be sure to address the underlying cause of the damage. Once that is taken care of, you can use a mold killing primer to keep the walls protected.

Benjamin Panico
Benjamin Panico

Benjamin is a freelance writer and graphic designer. He is passionate about DIY projects and finding creative ways to upcycle things headed for the landfill. Based in Oakland, CA, Benjamin enjoys playing guitar and gardening.

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