Amazingly, my friend's home in Malibu was spared as others around him burned to the ground. He's grateful that his belongings are still intact, but smoke has permeated every nook and cranny of his home. We reached out to James Dean of the Tucson Fire Department for some tips on how to remove the smell of smoke, which is notoriously difficult to get rid of.
Pressurize Your Rooms
The first thing you should do when reentering a home that has been filled with smoke is to open a door or window on opposing ends of the room and run a fan on each end. One fan should be pumping fresh air into the room, while another fan should be faced outward to draw the air out of the room. You can leave this running for days as you clean everything.
Soak your clothes in a mix of water and vinegar before washing, and add baking soda to the wash. Set the water temperature to hot and smell the clothes after washing to see if they need to be rewashed before drying. Hang-drying in the sun is the best way to kill microbes and infuse a fresh scent. You can also apply Febreze or another odor-fighting spray if needed.
Dry-cleaning your clothes is probably the most effective way to remove odors. You can also dry-clean blankets and linens if needed.
Steam cleaning upholstery is the best way to remove the smell and stains of smoke. You can rent a portable steam cleaner or hire a professional furniture cleaner to visit your home. A regular steam cleaner may not be powerful enough to get rid of smoke, but if you have one try it. Smoke damage on cabinets can often be scrubbed clean, but any organic material can take on the smell of smoke and linger for days.
If the smell of smoke is emanating from your walls, you can try scrubbing them, but you'll probably need to repaint the walls to completely get rid of the smell. Use a no-VOC paint and primer to fully cover the walls. If you suspect your insulation has been contaminated with smoke, that can be more difficult to replace in the walls but easier to remove and replace in the ceiling.
Steam/vapor cleaning your carpet is the only way to get rid of smells, and in worst-case scenarios you will have to replace the carpet and padding. Hard floors can also be steam cleaned and brushed for odor removal. Just be gentle with it on hardwood floors as it can discolor them.
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