Updated: Apr 20
When an apartment or house fire breaks out, the damage it causes can be devastating. Not only are flames capable of destroying physical structures and belongings, but smoke and soot left in its wake can leave lasting marks as well.
While both fire and smoke damage can be severe, there are key differences between the two that need to be understood in order for proper restoration and safety measures to be taken.
Types of Materials Affected by Smoke and Fire Damage
The materials affected by both smoke and fire will vary depending on the type of blaze that occurs. Generally speaking, however, fires tend to cause more visible destruction than smoke does due to their intense heat. This is because heat from flames can cause items like furniture or walls in a home or building to catch on fire or melt away entirely.
On the other hand, fire smoke often contains hazardous chemicals that seep into fabrics, wall coverings, and even electronics. A smoke damaged house can be especially dangerous because smoke contains toxins and can create carbon monoxide pollution, leading to potential health risks such as respiratory tract infections or skin irritation.
Smoke damage can affect many different types of materials found in the home, from furniture, carpets, and other porous materials to walls and ceilings. While fire damage often requires complete replacement, fire smoke damage often requires only professional cleaning. Depending on the severity of the smoke residue, some materials may be salvageable with a thorough cleaning.
Furniture and Carpets
Furniture is one of the most common items affected by smoke damage, as it is usually made from porous materials such as wood or fabric that trap odors easily. Upholstered furniture and mattresses are particularly susceptible to smoke odor absorption, and typically require deep-cleaning with special soaps and solvents to restore them to their original condition.
The same is true for carpets which can absorb both smoke odors and soot particles over time. In order to remove these contaminants completely it is necessary to hire professionals or use professional steam cleaners equipped with powerful suction capabilities. If you’re undertaking the task yourself, research cleaning products thoroughly as the wrong cleaning agent could make matters worse.
Clothing is also vulnerable to smoke contamination, as the smoke particles can seep into fabrics and cling on even after being washed multiple times. It might be necessary to discard items that are permanently stained instead of trying to clean them yourself as harsh chemicals can actually worsen the smell. If you don’t want to part with certain clothing items you will likely need to get professional help.
A dry-cleaning process known as “odor control” is used to restore clothing heavily damaged by smoke. During odor control cleaning, small particles of activated charcoal are sprayed onto the fabric to neutralize any existing odors and loosen any trapped smoke particles and soot that may have settled deep within the fabric.
Once this process has been completed, clothing is placed in a sealed chamber where ozone gas is circulated throughout the space for several hours to eliminate bacteria and deactivate any remaining odor molecules from fabrics without fading colors or causing further damage.
Finally, affected garments are sent through a series of professional laundry machines that include hot water washing with professional detergents along with specialized high-pressure dryers that help fluff up fabric fibers and remove any lingering wrinkles caused by the smoke damage.
Walls and Ceilings
Walls and ceilings can also become affected by smoke damage if they have not been painted with a sealant beforehand, allowing toxins created by burning chemicals within the smoke itself to embed themselves into drywall or plaster surfaces over time which makes restoring them back to their original condition more difficult in comparison afterwards.
If this happens, walls and ceilings look discolored, warped, and stained. To restore them back to their original condition, a few steps should be taken. First, any particles of soot or ash must be removed manually with a vacuum or brush. This will prevent the smoke damage from becoming even more severe by trapping the particles within the walls and ceiling.
Next, any remaining smoke damage to painted walls must be treated with special cleaning solutions designed to neutralize odors and break down contaminants such as soot and smoke. These cleaners are typically composed of natural ingredients like citric acid, vinegar, or lemon juice, which can help to reduce staining or discoloration. Once cleaned thoroughly, walls and ceilings may need to be repainted if they have extensive damage due to smoke exposure. This is especially true for certain types of paint that have been formulated for use in areas exposed to high levels of heat or humidity (such as kitchens) as these paints tend to be more resistant to fire-related damages than other conventional paints.
While smoke damage often requires professional cleaning, fire usually affects much more than just surfaces—often burning through entire structures and belongings to leave behind only charred remains and severe property damage. Fire or heat damage typically requires complete replacement of the affected items. The most common materials affected by fire are wood, plastic, metal, and fabrics. These materials can melt, warp, crack, and even disintegrate if exposed to high enough temperatures.
Wooden items are particularly vulnerable to fire as they can quickly be consumed by the flames and turn into ashes with little to no chance of being repaired or restored. Wood furniture will often suffer warping or cracking due to intense heat during the fire.
Plastic items such as toys and appliances typically melt and become distorted if exposed to extremely high temperatures for too long.
Metal surfaces are particularly susceptible to heat damage. When exposed to extreme heat, metal can warp, melt, or become charred, often leaving behind a permanently damaged surface that is no longer suitable for any use. This type of damage can be especially devastating when it affects appliances or furniture, as the cost of replacement can be quite high.
Fabrics are especially vulnerable to flames due to the fact that they are made up of fibers which can easily be consumed and burned away by flames. Damage can range from charring to melting of the fabric itself. If fire burned a fabric directly then the likely result is permanent damage.
How to Prevent Fire and Smoke Damage
Some of the most effective measures for preventing both fire and smoke and damage include installing smoke alarms, fire prevention devices, having a regular professional inspection of wiring and other electrical components, keeping combustible items away from heat sources, properly disposing of all flammable materials, and ensuring proper ventilation in areas where fires may occur.
A Quick Note on Sprinklers
Sprinklers can be a great way to protect a property from fire damage but they can also compound the problem of smoke damage if not installed and maintained properly. If done incorrectly, the water from the sprinkler may saturate drywall or plaster surfaces which have been affected by smoke, resulting in further damage and an increased need for restoration work.
Properly installed sprinkler systems are designed to manage the spread of fire throughout a building by cooling the air and limiting oxygen intake near combustible materials. This helps reduce the severity of potential fires within a given space while also giving occupants more time to evacuate before it gets too dangerous.
Water can be extremely corrosive on surfaces that have already been compromised by wet smoke residue, causing additional discoloration and staining. Damp conditions caused by water saturation can also make it easier for mold spores to proliferate within affected areas which could become dangerous to human health over time without proper treatment. In order to avoid these problems from occurring in the first place, property owners should make sure their sprinkler systems are regularly inspected and maintained according to industry standards.
Avoiding Fire and Smoke Damage in the First Place
Having adequate insurance coverage beforehand in case something unexpected does happen brings some peace of mind but taking action now rather than waiting until after disaster strikes will go a long way towards avoiding costly repairs and frustrating inconveniences.
Restoration is a pain so avoiding physical damage in the first place is always the goal. Rather than dealing with flame, smoke and soot damage, you might consider installing FireAvert Pro, which protects from deadly cooking fires by syncing with your smoke alarms to automatically shut off ovens when a fire occurs.