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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Removing smoke odor following a fire

STILLWATER, Okla. – Many parts of Oklahoma recently experienced devastating wildfires. Some families lost their homes, while other homes and structures in the path of the flames were spared.
Removing smoke odor following a fire

Many Oklahomans are experiencing smoke damage to their homes following an outbreak of wildfires. (Photo by Todd Johnson, Agricultural Communications Services)

Homeowners whose homes were not damaged by flames may still experience smoke damage, said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist.

“A fire in your neighborhood or on your acreage may cause your home to smell like smoke. The odor is caused by tiny microscopic particles that cling to walls, furniture, floors, clothing and other items inside your home,” Peek said. “Unfortunately, removing the smell isn’t as easy as spraying a can of air freshener or lighting a scented candle. These remedies only mask the smell for a short amount of time. You may need to have your furniture and mattresses professionally cleaned. Removing the smoke smell will take time, effort and money.”

There are some simple things you can do to help remove the odor. Begin with cleaning to remove the source of the odor. Smoke particles get into the tiniest nooks and crannies and can be difficult to remove. Even though the home has been cleaned from top to bottom, if you did not get into those tiniest of areas, the smell may linger.

Homeowners can use some common household items to help absorb the odor while they clean.

Baking soda is an inexpensive and natural odor-absorber. Peek suggests leaving a few bowls of baking soda around the house for several days to help absorb the odors.

“Activated charcoal also is an option to help absorb odors. Use it like you would baking soda and place it in bowls around the house for several days. Keep closet doors open, as well as other doors you may typically keep closed. Include kitchen and bathroom cabinets, too,” she said. “If the weather cooperates, open your windows and doors to let in the fresh air. If much of the area around your home burned, the smoke smell may remain for some time.”

Getting the smoke smell out of clothing can be a difficult and even time consuming task. Try adding 1 cup of vinegar in the wash cycle, along with the usual detergent. Keep in mind one washing may not remove all the odor. If you still smell smoke when the clothes come out of the washing machine, immediately wash them again using the same process and continue until the smoke smell is gone. Do not dry clothes that smell like smoke as this can set the odor in the material.

“A final option, homeowners may need to hire a professional to use an ozone generator to destroy the smoke molecules left behind after a fire,” she said. “This isn’t something homeowners should do themselves. There are significant health and property dangers associated with ozone. Check with your insurance company to see if this is covered under your policy. The use of an ozone generator will require the temporary evacuation of your home.”

Information on the FEMA website also has a list of tips for removing smoke odors, including:

  • Pressure wash, scrub or disinfect all exterior surfaces including walls, walks, drives, decks, window and deck screens, etc.
  • Wash and disinfect all interior walls and hard surfaces with mild soap or other appropriate cleaning solutions or products, and rinse thoroughly. Do not forget inside cabinets, drawers and closets.
  • Wash, dust or otherwise clean all household items, including knick-knacks.
  • Clean and deodorize all carpets, window coverings, upholstered furniture and mattresses with steam or other appropriate equipment. Upholstery, fabric window treatments, etc., can be spray-treated with deodorizing products available at most supermarkets, but do not use odor-masking sprays.
  • Have heating, ventilating and air-conditioning units and all ductwork professionally cleaned to remove soot, ash and smoke residue. Change filters when you first return to the premises and at least once a month for the first year.
  • If aerial fire retardant or firefighting foam residue is present on the house and/or automobiles, use a mild detergent and brushes to scrub and dilute the dried residue and flush it from the surfaces; rinse with clean water. A follow-up with cleaning may be beneficial but will not replace scrubbing to remove the residue.
  • Ash and soot on the ground and vegetation in the vicinity will continue to generate smoke odors and airborne particles when disturbed by air movement. Until the ash and soot are diluted and absorbed by the environment, indoor mechanical air filtration may help minimize the uncomfortable and potentially health-threatening impact of these pollutants.

“Dealing with fire and smoke damage can be devastating, but these tips should help those affected begin the cleanup process,” Peek said.

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Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
136 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)
trisha.gedon@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
405.744.5000