How To Clean Your Home of Smoke & Soot Damage Following a Brush Fire

In the aftermath of this past week’s large brush fire that impacted many businesses and residents of the Big Island of Hawaii, we put together this helpful video meant to educate those choosing to clean their homes or properties themselves on how to do so in the safest and most efficient way possible.

While some of these tips are similar to the professional fire and smoke damage restoration process, this is not a professional guide to fire restoration and is meant to keep the average person safe if choosing to do clean-up efforts themselves.

Please feel free to call us at any time should you have any questions regarding this process.

Soot + Water = Acid

It is important to understand that when soot meets or mixes with water, it turns into an acid.  Anything that can be corroded-  metals or porcelain for example- will start to show corrosion if soot remains on the surface for a period of time.  Because of this, you want to be sure to focus your cleaning efforts first on the items that can easily be corroded.

Equally important to note, when soot mixes with the natural moisture inside of your body either through your lungs or your skin, it’s common to cause respiratory irritations like any normal acid would.  Be sure you are careful about your exposure during the clean up process and wear appropriate respiratory protection.

Soot is like dust in that it travels freely into the atmosphere so you want to keep your doors and windows closed while cleaning.  If you are working in your yard, avoid leaf blowers to minimize any cross contamination of soot getting into the air and back into your home where you may have just cleaned.  If you are going to cut your grass, be sure to bag the clippings. The ultimate goal is to minimize dust as much as possible.

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

Respiratory protection is the most important part of the process when cleaning smoke and soot. You don’t need to feel pressured to go out and buy a fancy respirator – the N95 dust masks you can find at a hardware store is more than sufficient. You want to ensure you wear gloves because when you come into contact with soot, your body’s natural moisture will turn the soot to a corrosive acid on your fingers.

Keep in mind that along with the natural materials burned in the brush fire, there can also be some plastic and other materials that, when burned, become toxic to come into contact with. 

Even if wearing PPE, be sure to pay attention to your body throughout the clean up process.  If you are starting to slow down or begin to have a hard time breathing, get out of the area, limit your exposure and go get some fresh air even if that means driving away from the site.

Step 1 of the Fire Clean Up Process: Gross Removal

Take care of any visible ash that you can see whether that’s inside or outside of your home. Any burnt debris, twigs, half burnt trees, you’ll want to clear those and get them out of the way first before moving to clean the inside of your home.

Once Inside your home, use a HEPA Filtered Vacuum and clean any surface that was exposed.  Using the Finger Test, wipe your finger over a surface and if your finger picks up black soot, then you’ll need to use the HEPA Vacuum over that area.

Step 2. Recognize That The Cleaning Methodology Matters

Work top to bottom so any debris you knocked off from the top while working down, you can pick up at the bottom.  You also want to work from the furthest point in the room toward the door and then repeat that sequence over and over in every single smoke and soot impacted room.

Step 3. Cleaning Products from Around the House Will Work

Of course there are professional grade smoke and soot cleaner out there but know that the simple green under your counter will also work to help clean. Also consider using a Smoke Odor Counteractant but ensure it is compatible with whatever cleaner you are using.

Begin the cleaning process by wet wiping every surface. Micro-fiber towels work best but beach or terry towels will also work when wiping.

You’ll want to wipe, fold that side that was just used to wipe over, then wipe again so the dirty side of the towel is never used twice.  Keep in mind that if you use a dirty rag, you aren’t cleaning you are just rubbing the soot back over the surface.

Also, be sure to clean your wash water regularly! Acidic solutions don’t clean well.

Following the last of the wipe down, you will want to get your HEPA Vacuum to vacuum over the entirety of the cleaned surfaces again.  This is because as you’re cleaning, you’re knocking things loose and whatever is not captured on the rags can be caught by the final HEPA Vacuum.

Step 4 : Keep It Clean

If you have central air conditioning, turn it on BUT make sure your filter is clean and that you change the filters daily. This is because if the soot in the air mixes with water and turns into an acid, it can eat away at the coils in your AC system.

If you don’t have AC, go ahead and open your windows, BUT take a traditional AC Filter and tape it to your window so that the air coming into the home is clean air. You can also just open your windows on the opposite side of the home where the fire burned.

Final reminder is to be patient.  There are tons of burned debris in these fields and its going to continue to blow into your home over time so you’re going to need to be patient and let the rain and environment do their job to reduce that dust.

Our mission at Premier Restoration Hawai’i is to restore the lives, businesses and communities of Hawaii and we look at these events as our opportunity to give back to the community that supports us. Even if you aren’t planning to hire us, just give us a call and know that we are here to help and answer your questions to the best of our ability. 


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