How To Clean Soot Off Walls And Wood Surfaces

Even a small fire can produce a significant amount of smoke and soot. Not only does smoke and soot travel further than flames, but they cling to walls, ceilings, furniture, cabinets, and almost any surface. Soot is acidic, so it will leave thick black stains on almost any surface. Removing soot damage from walls and woodwork requires quick action quickly and the right soot removers for the job. It can also involve a bit of elbow grease. Regardless of the cause of the fire, we look at how to clean soot off walls and woodwork. We cover the right soot cleaners to use and what surfaces you can remove soot from.

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Steps to Removing Soot Stains from Walls and Wood Surfaces

  1. Vacuum Soot Residue – Vacuum soot, dirt, and debris with a shop-style vacuum, but avoid touching the vacuum hose to the soot stain.
  2. Dry Clean Soot Stains – Remove soot stains with a dry cleaning soot sponge. Work from top to bottom, side to side to prevent spreading soot stains.
  3. Wet Clean Soot Stains – Clean soot stains with liquid dish soap and water or white vinegar. Work in small sections to prevent the strain from dripping or running down walls.
  4. Prime and Paint Walls – Apply a stain-blocking primer and at least two coats of paint.
  5. Polish or Refinish Wood – Apply a wood polish or strip and refinish the wood to protect and restore its luster.

How to Clean Soot Off Walls and Woodwork

Before you begin cleaning soot stains, you should remove items from the area to prevent additional damage. You will also want to determine whether the soot stain is powdery or oily, as it will help you choose the right cleaner for the situation.

1. Vacuum Soot Residue

The first step to cleaning soot stains is vacuuming up as much debris as possible. While this will suck up some soot, it is mainly for removing dust and other particles that could scratch walls, ceilings, and wood during cleaning.

Whether you use a shop vac or a wand attachment with your regular vacuum, always work from the top down. This prevents soot from settling on an area you’ve already cleaned. Also, while you want to get the hose as close to the soot as possible, avoid rubbing it against the stain. This can scratch the wood or wall and grind in the stain.

If you are using a shop vac, you likely will not need to empty the canister as you work. However, a regular vacuum has a lower capacity and may need to be emptied regularly. Emptying the canister outside will prevent soot from spreading throughout your property.

2. Dry Clean Soot Stains

You should always begin cleaning soot stains with a dry cleaning soot sponge. For walls and painted surfaces, start at the top and slowly work down. For wood surfaces, work in the direction of the wood grain to prevent damage.

While dry cleaning sponges can become saturated quickly, you rinse them and use them again once dry. Alternatively, can cut away the stained portion to expose fresh material underneath. Continue to use the dry cleaning soot sponges until the stain is either removed or they stop being effective.

If you don’t have dry cleaning soot sponges, you can use melamine scrubbing sponges instead. When using homemade melamine erasing sponges, make sure they are as dry as possible to prevent smearing the soot stains.

Although baking soda may be effective at cleaning some soot stains, it may damage finished woodwork. Sprinkle a small amount of baking soda and allow it to soak up the soot stain, then wipe clean with a damp cloth or sponge.

3. Wet Clean Soot Stains

If dry cleaning methods are not effective at completely removing the soot stain, use one of the cleaning agents listed below to clean it up. Be careful with how much water you use when cleaning soot off walls and wood surfaces. Too much water will cause the soot stain to drip and spread.

To prevent this, make sure you are using a cleaning agent that includes a degreasing agent. This includes degreasers, dish detergents, and vinegar. Mix the cleaner with warm water, then wring the soft sponge or microfiber cloth out as much as possible.

We recommend mixing up small qualities of soot remover, as the soot will make the solution dirty quickly. Using dirty cleaner will just push soot around, making the stain worse. Using a dry sponge or cloth to wipe away cleaners will help keep your cleaning solution from getting dirty.

Avoid scrubbing too hard, as it can scratch the surface. For wooden surfaces, continue to wipe in the same direction as the wood grain to prevent scratches. When cleaning soot from walls, work from the top down and avoid allowing the cleaning solution to drip.

4. Prime and Paint Walls

Even after a thorough cleaning, some soot will remain on walls. In order to block out stains and limit odors, painting these surfaces will still be necessary. Start by applying soot stains with a heavy-duty stain-blocking primer. Soot stain-blocking primers come in solvent-based, oil-based, and pigmented shellac. The oil-based primer is the easiest to use, while the pigmented shellac is the best at covering soot stains and odors.

Depending on the extent of the stain and the primer you choose, several coats may be necessary. After applying the primer, you can paint over with the regular paint of your choice. Always read the precautions for primers and paint and work in a well-ventilated area.

5. Polish or Refinish Wood

If the soot stain was minor, you have a good chance of being able to completely remove it. Once you’ve cleaned the stain, use a wood polish to bring back the luster of the wood. Follow the instructions for your polish for the best results.

However, it’s more likely that the wood will need to be refinished after removing a soot stain. In this case, you will need to sand the wood to remove the existing finish. This will also help remove any remaining soot stains as well. Chemical strippers are also available.

Once the old finish has been removed, wipe the wood down with a slightly damp rag to remove as much debris as possible. Then allow it to dry completely. Apply a coat of sealant per the manufacturers’ instructions. The sealant will both protect the wood and form a base for the stain to coat evenly.

Wood stains come in many varieties, so choose the best one for your situation. Whether you use a gell, oil-based, or water-based stain, always work in a well-ventilated area and follow the manufacturers’ instructions. Depending on the stain, you may need to apply several coats.

Finally, apply a finish coat to protect the wood. A brush-on finish is easiest to use, but spray-on finishes are also available. They require additional tools and take more finesse when applying to form an even coat. Again, make sure to follow the manufacturers’ instructions for application.

What to Use to Clean Soot Off Walls and Wood Surfaces

Cleaning up after a fire is often a multistep process that requires the right soot removers. While many name-brand products are available, commercial or industrial grade products may be available in larger quantities or lower prices. Considering you may use a significant amount of certain products, it may be more cost-effective to order in bulk.

Dry Cleaning Soot Sponges

Dry cleaning soot sponges are one of the most effective soot removing tools. They are effective at cleaning soot from walls and wood surfaces. Despite their name, they actually do not contain any chemicals at all and work best when dry. They are often called soot remover sponges, chemical sponges, chem sponges, and wall brite sponges

They will get dirty while removing soot stains, but you can rinse and reuse them once they dry. For set-in stains, you can cut away that portion of the sponge. This way you can maximize the cleaning power of each sponge. Dry cleaning soot sponges are available at most hardware stores and through many online retailers.

Melamine Scrubbing Sponges

Closely related to soot sponges, melamine scrubbing sponges are often marketed as magic dirt erasing sponges. In addition to removing dirt and marks, they are also effective at removing soot from walls and wood. Unlike dry cleaning sponges, melamine scrubbing sponges do include cleaners and work both wet and dry.

You can make your own magic scrubbing sponges by soaking a melamine sponge in a quarter cup of water, a tablespoon of baking soda, and a teaspoon of borax soap. Allow the sponge to soak up the mixture, then wring it out until it’s just damp. Melamine scrubbing sponges are available at major retailers and hardware stores.

Oil-Based Wood Cleaner

Commonly marketed as oil soaps, oil-based wood cleaners are effective at gently cleaning soot from both finished and unfinished wood. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions for diluting and gently wipe the wood with a soft sponge or a microfiber cloth.

Avoid allowing oil soaps to soak into unfinished woods, as they may stain. When scrubbing finished wood, always work in the same direction as the wood grain to limit scratches. You can find oil soap wood cleaners at major retailers and hardware stores.


Household cleaners with a degreaser are another way to remove soot stains. Degreasers are most effective on thick, oily soot stains associated with kitchen or grease fires. Avoid using any cleaner that is gritty, as it can scratch wood and paint. While degreasers may work on wood, they are most effective at removing soot from walls and ceilings.

Mix the degreaser with some warm water and wipe walls clean with a soft sponge or a microfiber cloth. While you should apply some pressure, avoid scrubbing too hard as you may scrap way paint. Degreasers for cleaning soot are available at most major retailers and hardware stores.

Dish Detergent

Most household dish detergents include a grease-fighting agent that is equally effective at cleaning soot stains. Avoid using any dish detergent that is gritty, as it can scratch walls and woodwork.

Mix the degreaser with some warm water and use a soft sponge or a microfiber cloth to clean soot from walls or wood. While you should apply some pressure, avoid scrubbing too hard. Dish detergents are available at most major retailers and some hardware stores.

White Vinegar

Regular white vinegar is one of the most versatile cleaners. Not only will it break down oily soot stains, but it can even remove set-in nicotine stains. Mix one part warm water to three parts vinegar, then wipe gently with a soft sponge or microfiber cloth to remove soot from walls, ceilings, or woodwork.

When cleaning finished wood, avoid allowing the vinegar to sit for too long. It only takes a few minutes for the vinegar to stain the surface. Also, avoid using other types of vinegar, like cider vinegar or red white vinegar, as they have more pungent odors and may leave their own stains. White vinegar is available at grocery stores and major retailers.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a versatile cleaner that also doubles as a soot remover. Clean soot off walls and wood by gently rubbing baking soda into to the surfaces with a soft sponge or microfiber cloth. Allow it to sit for a few minutes before wiping cleaning with a damp cloth.

However, baking soda may stain finished woods, so use caution. Additionally, baking soda and vinegar are known for their foaming chemical reactions. Although they do make an effective cleaner, it may be too vigorous for soot stains.

If you keep a box of baking soda in your fridge to limit odors, don’t throw that box away when it’s time to change. Instead, keep it for cleaning. Just remember to mark the box so you don’t mix it up with your cooking baking soda. You can find baking soda at grocery stores and major retailers.

Other Items You May Need to Remove Soot Stains

While the cleaning agent is the most important part of removing soot stains from walls and woodwork, there are a number of other items that will help the process go smoothly.

  • Rubber Gloves – Cleaning soot stains is messy and rubber gloves will help keep your hands from getting stained. They will also protect you from smelling like the cleaners as well.
  • Sponges or Cloths – Soft sponges or microfiber cloths will help you apply the cleaners, as well as wipe them away. You should have both wet and dry sponges or cloths available. Wet items usually clean soot the best, but dry ones are better at wiping soot residue away.
  • Vacuum – A wet-dry shop-style vacuum with a hose is the best tool for sucking up soot, as it’s designed for high suction and has a large capacity. However, a regular floor vacuum with a hose or wand attachment will work too. If you use a regular vacuum, you should thoroughly clean the wand afterward in warm, soapy water and replace the filter.
  • Bucket – A bucket is helpful at holding the cleaning agent. If you don’t have a bucket, a small pail, garbage can, or even a glass or plastic container will work just as well.
  • Drop Cloth – A drop cloth can help protect surfaces from damage while removing soot stains. While a heavy-duty canvas or cloth will work, a plastic drop cloth offers better protection against drips and spills.

Professional Smoke and Soot Removal Services

While you can clean soot stains from walls and woodwork on your, the specialists in the Restoration Local network have the equipment and experience to quickly remove soot stains after a fire. We’re the largest network of fire damage restoration companies, with contractors across the nation. Our directory includes an extensive list of independent restoration companies as well as the most popular brands including DKI Restoration and Steamatic. Choose a local fire damage restoration company from our directory now. In an emergency, call 1-877-941-2788 to speak with our nearest on-call fire damage cleanup contractor. Our on-call partners offer 24-hour emergency service, 30-minute response time, and a free, no-obligation estimate.

Author: Jeff Rooks

Jeff Rooks writes restoration content that helps homeowners restore their lives after a disaster or accident. Most days, you can find him cycling through Tampa. He also enjoys exploring new and delicious food and beverages around the world.

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