Once the flames have been extinguished and the damage repaired, you might think you’re done with all the damage a house fire can cause. Unfortunately, there’s another damaging element at play, and that’s smoke.
Smoke damage might not be as obviously destructive as the fire itself, but that just makes it even more dangerous. You might not even know it’s affecting your house or your health! Even the smallest fires can produce enough smoke to fill your home and contaminate many of your belongings, making it dangerous to live there without extensive home restoration.
Here’s what you need to know about how smoke affects the items in your home.
What Is Smoke?
Smoke might look at and act like a gas, but it’s actually a collection of tiny particles that are small enough to float through the air. These particles are the byproduct of burning materials. So, where there’s fire, there’s smoke!
Fire needs a fuel source. In the case of a house fire, that fuel might be anything from drywall and hardwood floors to drapes and furniture. As the fuel burns, there are certain materials that the fire can’t consume. Instead, these tiny particles are released into the air in the form of smoke.
The exact chemical composition of smoke depends on the material burning, but many materials produce particles that contain dangerous chemicals:
- Carbon monoxide
- Sulfur dioxide
- And more
That’s why if you’re ever in a burning building, it’s important to get low and avoid inhaling as much smoke as possible. Not only does it make it hard to breathe, but the smoke is also filled with all sorts of potentially dangerous chemicals. It’s just best to avoid altogether.
How Smoke Damages Items
Smoke doesn’t damage items in the traditional sense. While a fire-damaged chair is likely broken and completely unusable, a smoke-damaged chair is still completely usable, which is what makes smoke damage even more dangerous.
Instead of destroying items, the tiny particles in the smoke can spread throughout your home and embed themselves in your belongings. Since smoke particles are made of chemicals, you could be exposed to harmful substances in smoke-damaged items without even knowing it!
While it might be of lesser concern compared to dangerous chemicals, smoke can also leave a lingering smell in your belongings. Not only is it annoying, but the smoky smell can also reduce indoor air quality.
The Dangers of Smoke Damage
Being in such close proximity with dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde and ammonia for long periods of time obviously isn’t good for your health. Even sitting in a smoke-damaged chair or living around smoke-damaged walls is enough for the chemicals to make their way into your lungs and bloodstream, which can cause serious health problems:
- Coughing and shortness of breath
- Skin and eye irritation
- Chronic bronchitis
- Heart or lung disease
For people living with breathing conditions like COPD or asthma, smoke damage can make your symptoms even worse—especially if there are enough smoke-damaged items to reduce the indoor air quality.
The longer you’re exposed to smoke-damaged items, the worse the problems become. That’s why it’s crucial to contact a home restoration team immediately following a house fire. Even if you don’t notice any issues, there still could be lingering smoke damage you can’t see. A home restoration service will be able to identify and remove smoke damage to keep you and your family safe from the harmful effects.
Types of Items that Smoke Damages the Most
Smoke doesn’t affect all items in your home equally. It likes to hide in soft, porous materials. Once it gets embedded in certain items, it’s nearly impossible to get out—even with a professional home restoration. Here are some of the items that are most affected by smoke damage:
Curtains and Upholstery
Fabric and cloth provide a wonderful environment for smoke to hide. There are plenty of small holes and crevices that are perfect for trapping and holding in the tiny particles. This makes your curtains and furniture upholstery prime targets for smoke damage.
Your curtains and upholstery are always out in the open. They’re not protected by drawers or covers, which means the smoke can completely saturate the fabric from all sides. Your curtains are also at the top of the room, which is even worse for smoke damage during a fire since smoke rises.
Bedding and Clothing
While smoke might be made of solid particles, it acts and moves like a gas. That means it can easily slip under doors and into your drawers to contaminate things like bedding, towels, and clothes.
Like your curtains and upholstery, your bedding and clothes are also made of cloth. As we already discussed, cloth is great at trapping smoke particles.
Even if they’re nicely packed in a closed closet or in a room far away from the fire, your clothes and bedding still might not be safe from the harmful effects of smoke damage.
Cloth isn’t the only porous material in your home. Wood is also great at soaking up substances like water and, yes, smoke.
Even if you remove and wash smoke-damaged upholstery from your furniture, it’s still likely that the wooden frame underneath also sustained some smoke damage. Even if reupholstered, the smoke damage on your furniture’s wooden frames could be enough to cause health problems over time.
Carpet and Hardwood Floors
Another item that’s susceptible to smoke damage is right under your nose—or rather, your feet. Depending on what they’re made of, your floors can also be susceptible to smoke damage.
Carpeted floors are obviously the most susceptible to smoke damage. Just like your curtains and clothes, the cloth is great at trapping smoke particles. Since it covers such a large area of your home, smoke-damaged carpet is one of the main culprits of the constant smoky smell you might notice after a fire.
Hardwood floors can also be affected by smoke damage, though not as badly as carpet. The wood in the floors can absorb the smoke particles and hold in the dangerous chemicals, which could lead to health problems for you and your family.
Harder and nonporous flooring materials like stone, tile, and linoleum are much better at resisting smoke damage, but there’s still some risk. Depending on the amount of smoke the fire created and how thoroughly it saturated your home, the plywood subfloor might still have some smoke damage. That’s why it’s best to get a professional home restoration after a fire to make sure there’s no smoke damage hiding in hard-to-find locations like under your floors.
Drywall and Ceiling Tiles
If you’ve ever had spaghetti night with young kids, you know how porous drywall is and how easily it can absorb substances. Well, that goes for smoke particles too.
Drywall makes up a good portion of most homes’ interiors. If your house fills with smoke during a fire, there’s a good chance the drywall on your walls and ceilings can become saturated with harmful particles. Since ceiling tiles are made of the same absorbent material as drywall, they’re also highly susceptible to smoke damage.
Plastic won’t let smoke through—which is why plastic-wrapped items are typically okay after a fire—but it can absorb some of the harmful chemicals. This isn’t a problem for plastic packaging, but it can make plastic containers, especially food containers, unsafe to use after a fire.
If you store your leftovers in a smoke-damaged plastic container, you’ll end up eating all those harmful chemicals in the smoke particles. Since they’re easily replaceable, it’s always best to simply throw out smoke-damaged plastic containers.
Medicine, Cosmetics, and Hygiene Products
They might be expensive, but medicine, cosmetics, and hygiene products are rarely salvageable after a house fire. If the heat doesn’t get them, the smoke will.
Smoke and soot can seep into your toiletries and contaminate them with harmful chemicals. Since medicine is ingested and cosmetics and hygiene products are applied directly to your skin, it’s never a good idea to save them after a fire. Discarding and replacing these items should be at the top of your home restoration list after a house fire.
Similar to medication, food can absorb the harmful chemicals in smoke too. So, all the nonperishable food in your pantry could be contaminated after a fire.
Smoke damage and toxic fumes from the fire can make their way through sealed glass jars and aluminum cans, so even unopened foods could have smoke damage. If you notice any signs that fire or smoke made its way into your pantry, it’s best to get rid of everything inside. It’s always better to play it safe than eat dangerous smoke particles.
Types of Items that Withstand Smoke Damage
While smoke can affect many substances throughout your home, there are a few that can withstand the damage. Typically, anything that’s made of a hard, nonporous substance will resist smoke damage and won’t absorb any of those dangerous chemicals.
Items made of these materials are easy to salvage from most housefires:
Since they’re nonporous, there’s nowhere for smoke particles to embed themselves. That means once the fire is over, they just need a good cleaning to remove the smoke on the surface, and they’re ready to use again. Just like new!
Since these materials are also highly heat resistant, there’s a good chance they’ll survive even direct contact with the flames as well.
What to Do about Smoke Damaged Items
Just because an item has smoke damage doesn’t mean you have to trash it. There are a few items that can be salvaged, even if they were exposed to smoke:
- Glass and ceramics – These hard, nonporous materials can hold up to most smoke damage. Even if they get stained, you can usually wash off the smoke particles with a little vinegar and dish soap.
- Metal – Like glass and ceramics, metal doesn’t absorb smoke particles. Just scrub metal items with vinegar and dish soap and give them a light sanding to remove the smoke stains.
- Hardwood floors – While they might be porous, most hardwood floors can be salvaged after smoke damage. Most hardwood floors are protected by a coating, which means the smoke doesn’t actually penetrate the wood. Just sand them down and refinish them for a floor that’s good as new!
- Cloth items – Cloth might be good at trapping smoke particles, but it’s also easy to wash. Anything that fits into a washing machine is typically salvageable after smoke damage. Unless it’s charred or burnt, you can throw manageable cloth items like curtains, bedding, clothes, and upholstery into the washing machine and remove the harmful chemicals from the smoke. Items that aren’t easily washed—like the carpet—will likely need to be replaced.
Salvaging what items you can will help reduce the home restoration costs and maintain some normalcy for your family after a house fire. Of course, there are some items you can’t (or shouldn’t) salvage from smoke damage:
- Melted or stained plastic
- Nonperishable foods
- Medicine, cosmetics, and hygiene products
If you notice even the slightest signs of smoke damage on any of these items, just throw them out. It’s not worth risking your family’s health over a few dollars.
If you’re not sure what can be salvaged after a fire, work with a home restoration service. A home restoration expert will examine your home after a fire and determine the extent of the damage. They can then offer suggestions on what to keep, what to clean, and what to throw away.
Contact a Home Restoration Specialist After a Fire
Smoke damage is a serious concern after a house fire. It’s not as obvious as fire damage, but it affects many items throughout your home and can cause long-term health issues for you and your family. The best thing you can do to mitigate smoke damage is to contact a home restoration specialist immediately following a house fire, no matter how small.
A home restoration expert will be able to help you determine what can and cannot be salvaged after a fire. They’ll safely remove any unsalvageable items and restore salvageable items. Using commercial-grade equipment, they’ll also be able to remove smoke particles from the air and restore your indoor air quality. A home restoration can help you get your life back to normal following a house fire.
If you’ve experienced smoke damage, don’t wait; call a home restoration professional immediately. Every minute spent around dangerous smoke particles could impact your health. The home restoration experts at Central Florida Restoration Solutions have over 20 years of experience helping Florida homeowners get their homes back to normal following a house fire. We provide water, mold, fire, and smoke mitigation services to protect you from anything a house fire can throw your way.
For unmatched home restoration services, contact CFRS today.