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Soot Removal for Wood Surfaces

Soot damage cleanup on wood can be particularly challenging. Being a naturally porous material, soot and odors tend to permeate the surface and usually require aggressive cleaning and deodorization methods.

There are typically two types of wood that professional restorers are tasked with cleaning. Each type of wood requires specific products and procedures when it comes to soot removal.

Finished wood
Wood that is covered in a sealer or varnish. Most types of wood furniture (desks, dressers, tables, cabinets, railings, etc.) are finished wood pieces. Soot damage cleanup on this type of surface involves a cleaning agent that is gently worked into the grain of the wood where it suspends the soil for easy removal.

Unfinished wood
Has no sealer or varnish, and it is far more susceptible to damage from smoke odors and staining from soot. Unfinished wood generally includes structural wood and the insiders of drawers and cabinets. Unfinished wood may also be prone to water stains, so care must be taken during cleaning and restoration efforts.

Most often sealing the surface of the wood (whether it is finished or unfinished) will be necessary to lock away odors. If the property owner does not want an unfinished wood surface to be sealed (such as the walls of a log cabin or wood beams exposed for architectural aesthetics), cleaning and deodorization can be particularly challenging. Complete soot and odor removal should not be guaranteed.


Restoration of Finished Wood Damaged by Soot
Finished wood is covered with a layer of varnish or protective coating. When involved in a fire or smoke damage situation, damage around the handles is a common pre-existing condition which should be documented. 


Basic Procedure:

  1. Dry Cleanup of Soot
    1. If the soot residue has no oils, use either a lambswool duster or HEPA vacuum on all surfaces.
    2. If the soot reside is mostly dry, you can use a chemical sponge (dry cleaning sponge) to clean the gross soot residue. Pay careful attention to not put a lot of pressure on the sponge as this may permanently embed the soot residue into the pores of the finished wood.
  2. Using Murphy Oil Soap or Wood Cleaner and cotton rags, clean all wood.
  3. If more agitation is needed, you can use 0000 grade steel wool. Remember, if using steel wool, only work in the direction of the grain.
  4. In extreme situations, you can use a weak dilution of Unsmoke Degrease-All. Rinse well after cleaning.
  5. Polishing after cleaning may be required. If you used a degreaser at any point in the cleaning, this step is a necessity. 

Cleaning Unfinished Wood Affected By Soot
Do to the different roughness and materials of the unfinished wood along with the different pressures and temperatures of fires, you may need to try any or all of these suggestions.  It is often desirable to seal the wood after cleaning.


Basic Procedure:

  1. Remove all heavily charred areas if possible.
  2. Using either Unsmoke 9-D-9 or FreshWave IAQ Air and Surface Spray, suppression spray all areas for initial odor knockdown.
  3. HEPA vacuum all surfaces to remove dry soot.
  4. Wipe all surfaces with a dry cleaning sponge (chemical sponge) to remove gross amounts of soot residue.
  5. Using a degreaser (diluted to label instructions), apply to untreated wood using a pump-up sprayer. Agitate using a nylon brush. Rinse with clean water. A deodorizer may be added to your cleaning solution for extra deodorization.
  6. Hand sand any heavily stained areas. This may lessen or remove the stain.  
  7. Thermal fog the area, using the right scent for your application:
    1. Electrical and plastic fires - Kentucky Bluegrass
    2. Protein fires - Citrus/Lemon
    3. Natural fires - Neutral (Unscented)
    4. Combination or aggressive odors - Cherry
  8. If any odor persists, use either an ozone or hydroxyl generator in the affected area.


Alternate Procedure:

For large areas you might want to forego the above recommendation in steps 1 through 6 and use a media blaster  for quicker results.

Wood Furniture Restoration
If wood has been burned, it will probably need replacement.


  1. Using a pump-up sprayer apply Unsmoke Degrease-All diluted at 14-43 oz per gallon of water. Use minimal moisture in applying it.
  2. Use dry cleaning sponges to remove loose soot evenly.
  3. Using a cloth rag, apply Chemspec Wood Creme Restorer over the vertical and horizontal surfaces working with the grain of the wood.
  4. Let Wood Creme Restorer dwell for 5 to 10 minutes to soften the oily soot.
  5. Using 0000 steel wool, agitate surface with wood grain gently polishing off smoke staining.
  6. Wipe excess restorer of with terry cloth towel. Wipe in the direction of the grain.
  7. With a cloth rag, rub Unitex Luster Lemon Oil Polish into the wood.
  8. If odor remains, place furniture in ozone vault and let sit for 24-48 hours.


Warning: Always test material for colorfastness, follow label directions and never mix product unless specified in the label directions.


For more information or assistance in selecting products for your restoration job, please contact a Jon-Don Restoration Specialist at 800-556-6366.

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  1. Unsmoke Woodcraft Restoration Cleaner

    Starting at: $15.72

    Unsmoke Woodcraft Restoration Cleaner

    Unsmoke Woodcraft Restoration Cleaner cleans and deodorizes smoke-damaged wood surfaces while simultaneously placing the essential moisture and oils removed by heat and smoke. This gentle, gel-based cleaner can also be used on metal, plastic, and fiberglass.

    • Cleans and deodorizes smoke-damaged wood surfaces
    • Can also be used on plastic and fiberglass
    • Replaces essential oils removed by heat
    • Should be applied with fine steel wool, with the grain
    • Not recommended for use on unfinished wood
  2. Dry Cleaning Soot Sponges

    Starting at: $35.27

    Dry Cleaning Soot Sponges

    These heavy-duty vulcanized natural rubber sponges excel at all types of cleaning applications, especially surfaces damaged by soot, smoke or fires. Wait until you see how much soot and dirt this sponge can power through on your restoration site!

    • Bulk packed (not individually wrapped)
    • Non-greasy; will not leave a residue
    • Small: 6 x 0.75 x 3 inches
    • Medium: 6 x 1.5 x 3 inches
    • Large: 8 x 1.75 x 2.75 inches
  3. Murphy Oil Soap, Concentrated Wood Cleaner

    Starting at: $18.17

    Murphy Oil Soap, Concentrated Wood Cleaner

    A natural, gentle, vegetable-oil-based cleaner, Murphys contains no harsh detergents or strong alkalis. It's kind to surfaces and hands, and works like a dream on wood floors!

    • Vegetable-oil-based cleaner
    • A well-known, trusted brand customers can count on!
    • pH: 11.0
    • Gentle cleaner for wood floors
    • Dilute 2-4 ounces per gallon of warm water
  4. Unsmoke Degrease-All Degreaser

    Starting at: $26.93

    Unsmoke Degrease-All Degreaser

    Degrease-All offers a special blend of tough cleaning agents formulated to remove silt and soot from walls, fixtures, sealed wood, painted surfaces, yet gentle enough to be used as a traffic lane cleaner. It is tough enough to remove the heaviest smoke odors.

    • Multi-surface degreaser
    • Highly effective for removing soot
    • pH: 12.3 (RTU 11.0)
    • Safe for stain-resistant carpet
    • Various dilution options
  5. Fresh Wave IAQ Air & Surface Spray

    Starting at: $10.69

    Fresh Wave IAQ Air & Surface Spray

    For rapid, targeted odor control, turn to Fresh Wave IAQ Air and Surface Spray. It instantly bonds to and eliminates odor molecules in the air and those that have penetrated and/or are resting on fabrics and surfaces.

    • Simply spray affected areas for near-instant odor removal
    • Removes organic and inorganic odors
    • pH: 6.4
    • Safe for stain-resistant carpet and wool
    • Ready to use
  6. OdorX 9-D-9 Odor Counteractant

    Starting at: $82.80

    OdorX 9-D-9 Odor Counteractant

    9-D-9 is a general-purpose smoke odor counteractant specially formulated to manage fire, smoke, and other strong odors. Blended with the finest-quality ingredients, 9-D-9 helps to detoxify and knock down malodors quickly and efficiently.

    • Dilutes 1 to 3 ounces per gallon of water
    • pH: 7.7
    • General-purpose smoke odor counteractant
    • Additive to wall, upholstery, and carpet cleaning solutions
    • NOT for use with thermal foggers
  7. Total Zone TZ-2 Ozone Generator
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    Total Zone TZ-2 Ozone Generator

    Dealing with tough odors on your restoration job? The Total Zone TZ-2 Ozone Generator produces 3,000 milligrams of ozone and is ideal for use in mid-size rooms and containment zones (up to 120,000 cubic feet). It eliminates cigar/cigarette odors, pet odors, cooking odors, paint odors, and more!

    • Produces 3,000 milligrams of ozone per hour
    • Can handle jobs up to 120,000 cubic feet
    • 100 CFM fan
    • Weighs less than 10 lbs; pulls just 2 amps
    • For use in unoccupied areas only
  8. Zinsser B-I-N® Shellac Sealer, Clear (5 GL)

    Zinsser B-I-N® Shellac Sealer, Clear (5 GL)

    Fire damage restoration pros love B-I-N because it seals in the acrid smell of fire, as well as sealing in water, soot, and grease stains that plague such jobs.

    • For interior use only
    • Seals pet, smoke, and musty odors
    • Drys clear
    • Covers up to 600 sq ft per gallon+
    • Lightning fast dry times - recoat in 45 minute
  9. PRS Fire and Content Cleaner

    Starting at: $38.93

    PRS Fire and Content Cleaner

    PRS Fire and Content Cleaner is a biologically based cleaning agent built specifically for fire residues and heavy-duty content cleaning on hard surfaces.

    • Powerful biologically based degreaser
    • No harsh fumes
    • Ideal for fire damage restoration

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