How to clean fire soot off of painted walls

Updated February 21, 2017

A house fire leaves behind a smoky smell and a layer of black soot over many surfaces in the house. Soot is a carbon-based powder residue. Soot settles on walls and grips a painted surface. Traditional cleaning methods embed soot deposits in the wall. Attempting to clean soot with wet cleaners will smear the soot over the wall, rather than remove it. Clearing soot off painted walls requires the use of the correct cleaning instruments to ensure thorough cleaning.

Lay newspapers on the floor below the soot-contaminated wall to catch loose soot deposits. Wear eye protection, gloves, disposable coveralls and a dust mask. Cover air conditioning and heat vents with plastic and secure the edges with tape to prevent soot deposits from entering the ventilation system.

Position the nozzle end of a shop vacuum or canister vacuum 1/4 inch from the painted surface. Vacuum the surface without touching the wall, to pull loose soot from the surface. Begin at the top of the wall and work your way to the bottom. Overlap each pass of the vacuum nozzle over the previous pass to avoid leaving soot lines on the wall.

Attach a specialised soot sponge or chemical sponge to the end of a mop handle. Place the sponge at the top of the wall and pull it down in one fluid motion. Position the soot sponge at the top of the wall, overlapping the previous pass down the wall by 1/2-inch, and pull the sponge down the wall in one continuous motion to the floor. Continue to overlap passes as you pull the soot sponge down the length of the wall until you have wiped the entire wall. Check the sponge often to determine whether soot covers the sponge. If the sponge is soot-saturated, turn the sponge to a clean side.

Spread tarps over the floor to protect the surface from wet cleaning.

Mix a degreasing agent specifically formulated for soot removal with water in a bucket according to the label's directions. Fill a second bucket with plain water.

Attach a sponge to the end of a mop handle. Dip the sponge into the solution and wring out the excess solution. Begin at the top of the wall and drag the sponge down the length of the wall from ceiling to floor. Immediately wipe with a dry rag. Rinse the sponge in the plain water and wring out the excess. Dip the sponge back into the bucket with soot remover solution, run the sponge down the wall overlapping the previous pass and immediately wipe with a rag. Continue to clean the wall with this method until you clean the entire wall. Repeat the processes, if necessary, to remove any remaining soot.


Add a smoke odour eliminator to the soot remover solution to reduce the smoke smell.


Do not wet the soot sponge or chemical sponge -- this will ruin the sponge.

Things You'll Need

  • Newspapers
  • Eye protection
  • Gloves
  • Disposable coveralls
  • Dust mask
  • Plastic
  • Tape
  • Shop vacuum or canister vacuum
  • Soot sponge or chemical sponge
  • Mop handle
  • Tarps
  • Degreasing soot removal agent
  • 2 buckets
  • Sponge
  • Rags
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About the Author

Sal Marco began writing professionally in 2009. He has written many online home improvement articles based on his more than 20 years of experience in the home improvement and building industries. He has worked as both part of a team and as a site supervisor. Marco has a Bachelor of Science in management science from Kean University.