Having a fireplace is so much fun that many homeowners jump into using them frequently without learning proper care and maintenance. People living in cold climates can go on stretches where they use their fireplace every day for several weeks in a row.
Fireplaces are a great addition to any home. They heat rooms effectively, and they bring a romantic, warm mood. However, despite all its benefits, regular fireplace use comes with some adverse effects.
They’re not reason enough to avoid enjoying a fire, but over time they can become detrimental. One of the most common issues homeowners deal with is soot on walls. This happens over longer periods of time, but eventually soot can build up and make walls in the home look dirty and appear darker.
Careful steps need to be followed in order to remove soot from walls while avoiding damage to the house.
Here are some tips on how to safely and effectively remove soot from walls.
Limit Soot Buildup with Proper Fireplace Function
Firstly, it’s important to state that soot buildup usually is a result of smoky fires. When smoke billows into the home, it leaves residue on furniture, floors, ceilings and walls.
To avoid excessive buildup, make sure your fireplace is working properly. Most of the smoke generated by a fire should be vented up through the chimney and to the outside.
Blocks inside, broken dampers, misplaced flues, and other mistakes can force smoke back into the home where smells and soot buildup are unpleasant.
Most chimney sweeps and fireplace service companies recommend getting your fireplace cleaned and inspected at least once a year to make sure everything’s working fine.
How to remove soot from walls – Safety First
Soot removal needs to be approached with caution. Many people think it’s similar to dusting when in fact soot can be a real physical health hazard to people around it.
Soot is, after all, a carbon residue. Anytime you attempt to clean off soot from walls, make sure you’re wearing a face mask and safety glasses or goggles.
They’ll stop the soot from getting into your lungs or eyes and triggering asthma or some other health condition. Also, wear old clothes when you’re taking on the soot because you’re going to get dirty.
Open some windows or get an air purifier in the room so it will prevent soot particles that are flung off the wall during cleaning from settling elsewhere.
You might want to consider removing furniture and other items for the room as well. Inevitably, as you scrub soot off the walls, some of it will become airborne and settle on couches, tables or chairs.
In order to protect any carpets or exposed floors, lay down a plastic sheet to catch falling soot particles. You can tape sheet to molding and other flat surfaces to stop buildup as well. The more attention you give to prep will mean it will be longer until you’re back cleaning soot off again.
The Soot Removal Process
Strictly follow this method of cleaning to avoid any smear marks on your walls. It’s especially important for removing soot on painted walls, because they’re more delicate and susceptible to markings.
- First, use a chemical dry sponge to wipe the affected walls from top to bottom. Chemical sponges are also referred to as dry cleaning sponges. It just means they are made from vulcanized rubber. They’re widely available in stores and online. Do not rub in circular motion or use short strokes. Try to use steady, long downward swiping motions. The dry sponge knocks off the soot that’s stuck on the wall that may not yet be visible. Eventually, the surfaces of the sponge will become saturated with soot. You can either switch to a new sponge or use scissors to cut off the top layers and continue using the same sponge.
- Removing soot is done best with a specialized soot cleaning solution that can be purchased online or at your neighborhood home improvement store. Typically, solutions require about four ounces of liquid per gallon of water. Dump some regular sponges in the solution and let them soak for a bit. Use them to wipe down the walls using the same long downward motions. It’s a good idea to have a bucket with clean normal water nearby to rinse the sponge in so excess soot is washed off. Then dip the sponge back into the solution and apply again to the wall.
- After all of the soot is cleaned off, the wall can be dried. Use any clean rag, cloth or towel to dry the surface of the wall. Once you’ve cleaned off as much water as possible, the rest will have to air dry. It could take several hours, but eventually the wall will dry. You can repeat this process until all of the soot is gone and the wall looks like it’s in great condition. When you’re done, then you can remove the drop sheets of plastic on the floor and other surfaces. Throw them immediately in the trash to limit soot from spreading. Make sure your walls are completely dry before you tear up the drop sheets. Lifting them while the walls are still wet make it easier for particles that fly up during cleanup to stick back onto the walls.
- After everything’s out and the walls are dry, finish off with a vacuum. If you didn’t remove carpets during cleaning, make sure not to press the vacuum into the carpet with a lot of pressure. It can shove particles deeper into the carpet and damage it, ultimately shortening a rug or carpet’s lifespan. Return everything back to its original spot and you’re good to go on enjoying that lovely fireplace again.
Removing soot from walls isn’t particularly difficult, but it takes preparation and patience.
Follow these steps to keep your walls looking new and fresh without having to limit your fireplace use. Remember, one of the best ways to limit soot buildup is by keeping your fireplace in good working order so the vast majority of the smoke is deposited outside and not on your walls and furniture.
Regular Cleaning and Maintenance
The best way to fight off smells is by limiting the buildup of soot, dirt and smoke in the fireplace. This is done by regularly cleaning the fireplace and chimney, and by scheduling normal maintenance.
A fireplace and chimney service company will have tools that can reach small or hidden areas to clean away any debris. It’s fairly basic, the less smoke and soot buildup there is, the less odor it will put off. Having your fireplace maintained by a professional will also keep it working correctly.
Keeping a good draft will allow smoke to travel through the chimney efficiently to the outside. Less of it will stay indoors and there will be less of a chance things will smell.
Homeowners can also do their part by cleaning the fireplace and mantel. A soapy solution can be used with a wet towel to wipe down walls to break down residue.
Use Odor Fighting Measures Specific to Fireplaces
To keep odors from the fireplace from permeating around the house, think about installing a glass fire screen. The screen confines the smoky odor to inside the fireplace.
When you’re not using the fireplace, place the screen along the opening to keep smells from spreading. These screens are not one size fits all, so you need to make sure you have your measurements down before making any purchases. The fit needs to be tight to prevent any leaks.
Additionally, you can limit smells by taking the extra step of closing the damper when you’re not using the fireplace. It’s often the first step homeowners take to stop fireplace smells because they figure if the opening’s closed it will prevent smells from coming in.
Another thing you can do is have a chimney balloon installed. Chimney balloons are placed above old lower damper frames and help vent smoke and air out of the house more effectively.
General Odor Removers Work Too
There are certain things homeowners can do themselves to limit odors coming from the fireplace that they use for other smells around the house. One thing they can do is place lava rocks inside the fireplace.
Lava rocks are known to absorb smoky smells. They are for sale in pet stores or at your local home improvement chain stores. Just make sure to reactivate them time to time by leaving them in direct sunlight for several house before putting them back into the fireplace to suck up more smell.
You can also use common odor removers that can be purchased from stores. Be discerning, though, because a lot of the time these odor removers only mask the smell with a fragrance of your own. Choose one that you like and do some research before you buy.
You can also get really basic with baking soda or vinegar. If you’re dealing with foul odors in your fireplace, give it a clean and vacuum, and then sprinkle two packages of baking soda on the fireplace floor and walls.
A decent coat of baking soda will do a lot to suck up odors. To make the baking soda stick to the walls better, spray the walls with a dash of water before you toss any. Things should be better within 48 hours, after which you can vacuum the baking soda up so things look nice and clean.
Believe it or not, but a pot of vinegar left in the fireplace for a few days can also do the trick. Vinegar is great at absorbing all sorts of odors. Some homeowners find success by even using a paint brush to coat the walls of a fireplace with vinegar.
The porous bricks suck in the vinegar that eradicates smoke smells. For people who can’t stand the strong vinegar smell, don’t worry, it goes away after it dries.
Another measure people find success with is using an air purifier in the room where the fireplace is located. Air purifies circulate air throughout a room and suck up and impurities that often contribute to bad smells. They’ll make the air nice and fresh and make it smell less smoky inside.
Ask a Professional
If you try everything and still can’t seem to get rid of the smell, consider asking a professional chimney sweep to take a look. Fireplace and chimney service companies have years of experience spotting and solving odor problems.
They have tools that can get to places inside the chimney that are impossible to see or reach. They often spot debris buildups that homeowners were unaware existed. Professionals can even identify mold infestations that could be inside the chimney contributing to the unpleasant odors in your home.
The best time to do maintenance on your fireplace is the off season when it’s not in frequent use. Many professional chimney servicers will recommend a yearly inspection and maintenance call to get everything ready for the winter when the season will mean fireplaces get used a lot.
They’ll be able to make sure your fireplace is in great shape, so no foul odors come billowing back down your chimney.