Prairie View

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cleaning Smoke and Soot from Fabrics After a House Fire

As many of you already know from Facebook posts or the local news netword, Dwight and Karen Miller's house burned yesterday.  While the house was completely destroyed, the fire did not burn through the floor, so some of the contents in the basement could be salvaged.  This was a real surprise and a great blessing.  Two large freezers full of food, and many canned goods were saved, along with most of the contents of the girls' bedroom downstairs.  Homeschool supplies were in a file cabinet in the basement.

None of the boys' bedroom or Dwight and Karen's bedroom contents survived.  Nevertheless, they looked almost normally dressed in church this morning--wearing borrowed or hastily purchased clothes, except for Vincent (15?) who came to church barefoot, and Karen, who wore flip flops.  I didn't check anyone else's feet.  There are six "children" in the family, between the ages of 9 and 18.  

No one was home when the fire started, and the house was fully involved before it was discovered.  The cause is unknown.

What appears below is what I learned when I looked to see what could be done to get the smoke smell and soot stains out of the clothes that were piled on the back of Shane's pickup.  Some of the suggestions came from people who responded on Facebook. 

Dorcas and I worked this afternoon to sort the items into piles and then close them up in garbage bags with a cup of baking soda to absorb the odors. She washed one batch multiple times, with different treatments, and finally (after she added "Purify" essential oils), got an odor-free result.  She resolved to add it to the first wash water in subsequent batches.

I had expected to add 1 cup baking soda and one cup vinegar to the regular detergent and water to wash each batch--as I saw recommended.  Then I read and realized that baking soda and vinegar would neutralize each other, and some of the good effect of having an acid and an alkaline substance act separately on the odor-causing compounds would be lost, so I decided to save the vinegar for the rinse water.  

Using an ozone machine seems to be the best answer for removing odors from articles that cannot be washed. 

Dampening a rag with alcohol worked great for removing soot from white skates that had turned black.  

I may update this post after I've actually had more experience with this.   

Cleaning Smoke and Soot Soiled Fabrics

Try this First

Wash smoke-smelly clothes in warm water containing the regular amount of laundry detergent plus one cup of baking soda.  Rinse with 1 cup vinegar mixed with the water.  If two rinses are an option, use the vinegar in the final rinse.  Doing this keeps the vinegar and soda from neutralizing each other, and allows both the alkaline and acidic substances to do their work on the odors.  If you wish to use essential oils, they can be added to this first load.  Make sure you know how much to add—six drops to each load perhaps.  These have worked very well for some people.

Remember that what removes the smoke smell may not remove all the soot stains, so further action may be needed.

If stains remain after the smell is gone, the garment may either be treated further immediately and rewashed, or it may be line dried and treated and rewashed later.  Never dry the garment in the dryer at this stage. 

To treat the stains, you may wish to try one of the products listed under supplies—an alcohol product, bleach, or stain removers.   Always read the label and use according to the label.

More Information


--Make peace with the idea of having to run the fabrics through multiple washings.  It’s unlikely that one washing will be sufficient.
--Try the simplest, cheapest, least toxic substances and methods first
·        --Make maximum use of the odor-removing benefits of hanging clothes outside in the breeze, fresh air, and sunshine
·         --Keep on trying things until something works—if the item is worth salvaging, at least
·         --Soak if possible


·         --Dryer drying
·         --Rubbing soot stains before lifting what can be removed by other means (more details below)
·         --Using chlorine Bleach on non-colorfast items
·         --Washing clothes before checking the pockets
·         --Washing clothes before checking the care labels

Professional Services

·        -- Dry cleaning (sometimes this may be needed for stain removal)
·         --Ozone cleaning services (this may be needed for objects that cannot be washed)


·         --Baking Soda (or Washing Soda)
·        -- White vinegar
·         --Laundry detergent (Tide is said to be best for this, especially Tide HE Turbo Clean Liquid)
·         --Optional Items
o   All-fabric powdered bleach (brands may vary)
o   Borax (detergent booster)
o   Oxyclean laundry stain remover and detergent (contains hydrogen peroxide and may remove dye)
o   Enzyme Product (reportedly available at Kansas Janitorial Supply, unknown name)
o   Rubbing Alcohol (acts as a solvent for soot)
o   Vodka or vanilla (presumably the alcohol is the helpful ingredient—see above)
o   Odoban (for removing odors—may be available at department stores)
o   Ozone generator (This is a major purchase, but can help remove odors from non-washable fabrics and surfaces)
o   Charcoal (this is another good odor absorber but is usually not applied to fabrics)
o   Products from private distributors
§  Watkins Product—Odor Check
§  doTerra Product—Purify (a mixture of essential oils)
§  Young Living Product—Purification? (a mixture of essential oils)
§  Conklin Products—Mox and Sanox
§  Melaleuca Product—Laundry Soap (I don’t know the specific name)


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