Whether it’s from a fire in the home or a wildfire nearby, put that scary memory behind you
Make no mistake: Fires are scary. Whether there has been a fire inside the home or a terrifying blaze had worked its way across the landscape, the first priority is getting everyone to safety. But when the flames subside, the stubborn evidence remains. The smell of smoke can linger for a long, long time, and every inhale becomes an uncomfortable reminder.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Learning how to get rid of smoke smell in the house isn’t necessarily hard, though you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and put in a little elbow grease. These helpful tips are all you need to make it happen.
What Makes Smoke Smells Persist?
Before you start removing the smoke smell, it’s important to understand how smoke works.
The smell that a fire leaves behind is the result of smoke particles. These microscopic particles float through the air, attaching themselves to fabrics like couches, curtains, and rugs, as well as hard surfaces like walls, floors, appliances, and windows.
It’s possible to make the air smell better by lighting candles and spraying air fresheners, but this is not a long-term fix. If those smoke particles are still present, their odor will linger. Getting rid of the smoke smell in a house requires removing those particles. Gather up these supplies to help you get the job done.
Tools and Materials You’ll Need:
- Box fans
- Laundry detergent
- Steam cleaner
- Baking soda
- Wet-dry vacuum (with HEPA filter)
- White vinegar
- Dishwashing soap
- Spray bottle
- Scrub brushes
- Dishwasher soap (different from dishwashing liquid)
- Restoration primer
- HVAC filters (at least 3)
Let the House Air Out
The first step in eliminating smoky smells is to provide as much ventilation as possible. Open windows and doors so air can move freely throughout the home. Place box fans in windows and allow them to run for several hours to increase circulation. Letting exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms run is a good idea, as well.
Just doing this alone should make being inside the house a bit more bearable. If the smell is too much to handle, it may be worth calling in a professional service to tackle the job. If the odor doesn’t overpower you, keep the windows open and move on to cleaning the rest of the home.
Remove Smoke Smell from Fabrics and Upholstery
Take off anything made of fabric in the home and wash them. This includes curtains, blankets, bed and throw pillows, bath and kitchen towels, and other fabric items throughout the house. Don’t forget clothes in dressers and closets as smoke can easily work its way into those areas.
Run washable items through a washer and dryer (though be sure that you do not use the machines inside the home), or take delicates to a dry cleaner. Once clean, leave the fabrics somewhere else until the home is entirely smoke-free.
Next, focus on the upholstered furniture. It’s best to remove these pieces from the home and let them “breathe” outside to allow some of the heavy smoke smells to dissipate. This also keeps these items out of the way for heavy cleaning inside the home. If necessary, use a steam cleaner to attack those deeply rooted particles. The smoke particles can work their way into the cushions, so it may take a professional cleaning service that specializes in smoke removal to tackle this one. And, if you were tired of that old couch, now’s the time to replace it.
Remove Smoke Smell from Carpets and Rugs
It can be really difficult to get the smell of smoke out of carpeted floors, but it’s not impossible. Start by sprinkling baking soda all over the carpet—the entire surface should look white to ensure no spots are missed.
Allow the baking soda to sit on the carpet overnight, then vacuum it with a HEPA filter-equipped wet-dry vacuum. If the smell persists, repeat the process, allowing the baking soda to work overnight again. If the carpet still smells after a second vacuuming, it may be necessary to call a professional or replace the carpet altogether.
Make a Cleaning Solution
Grab a bucket and mix a gallon of warm water with 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 2 or 3 tablespoons of dishwashing soap. Keep the bucket on hand, but it’s also a good idea to fill a spray bottle for easy application.
This will be the go-to cleaning solution for most of the smoke removal moving forward, so you may need to mix up more batches of white vinegar and dishwashing soap as you clean.
Remove Smoke Smell from Walls and Hard Surfaces
Use the homemade vinegar cleaning solution to clean all of the hard surfaces in the home. Tackle the walls, ceilings, floors, appliances, and cabinets (inside and out), countertops, stairs, handrails, mirrors, and even windows. Use the spray bottle for most of these, spraying the solution onto the surface, allowing it to sit for 30 seconds, and then wiping it off with a sponge.
For the grout between tiles in a bathroom or kitchen, spray the surface and use the scrub brush to get into the crevices that can hold smoke particles.
Mop the floors using the cleaning solution as well. Be sure to rinse the mop often to keep the solution as clean as possible.
Don’t forget to clean items like plates, cups, and silverware. The inside of the dishwasher likely has not been affected so feel free to run it, but leave the dishes in there until the house is completely smoke-free. Paper items like books and photos can be very difficult to clean without ruining them, so take any valuable items to a professional book or photo restoration company.
Make sure to wash windows thoroughly. Take off the screens and scrub them with a sponge and the cleaning solution. Remove window sashes and clean them thoroughly (inside and out) and spray and wipe down the jambs as well.
Once all of the surfaces are clean, give the home a fresh coat of primer and paint. There are primer formulas designed specifically for restoration scenarios that excel at blocking odors and stains.
Change the HVAC Filter—A Lot
Smoke can get into the ductwork, so it’s important to try to remove the particles there. While hiring a professional cleaning service is best, DIYers can handle the job by replacing the existing filter and running the air conditioner or furnace fan. Change the first filter within a day or two, and then once again by the end of the week.
This should eliminate much of the smoke smell from the ductwork, but if the odor lingers, repeat the process. Not hot enough to run the air conditioner or cold enough for the furnace? Set the air conditioner to the fan position just so the air circulates.
With a thorough cleaning, DIYers should be able to remove the majority of smoke particles. While it’s a lot of hard work, clearing your home of any smokiness can be one of the first steps toward putting a painful memory behind you.