Soot Damage: Fire’s Lingering Danger

Hidden Dangers of Soot The Damage You Can Smell

Even a minor house fire can be devastating. Beyond the property damage and harmful effects of smoke, fire leaves a more permanent reminder of its destructive power in the form of soot. It is not only an eyesore that comes with a lingering stench, but it is also a health hazard that must be handled with care. Homeowners who have suffered a fire may be tempted to save money and try to handle cleanup on their own. While understandable, the ServiceMaster Restore® team wants to make sure anyone faced with this heartbreaking situation understands the hazards of doing so.

The Science of Soot

When fire burns any fuel, it converts most of the matter into heat and light in the form of flames. However, there are also some residual properties of any fuel source that fire cannot completely ignite. This reaction releases chemicals as both smoke and soot. While mainly composed of carbon, soot also contains other compounds based on what the fire burns. Homes contain many materials that can produce noxious substances as the result of a fire. Carpets, plastics, metals, synthetic fabrics, and foam often release hazardous chemicals when burned.

Health Hazards

The particles in soot can be under 2.5 micrometers in size. To put that figure in perspective, soot particles are often smaller than dust, dirt, or mold. This tiny size makes it very easy for the harmful chemicals to be inhaled into some of the smallest passageways inside of human lungs. While the very young and old or those with weakened immune systems are most susceptible, anyone can fall prey to the effects of soot. In addition to breathing difficulties, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses, it has also been linked to cancer. In fact, one of the first-ever occupational health regulations was passed in 18th century Britain due to the known impacts of soot on chimney sweepers.

Identifying Soot 

Anyone with a wood-burning fireplace will recognize the sight of soot. The black material that builds up above the fireplace is as unsightly as it is inevitable. Just cleaning that can be a chore if left untreated for too long. When a fire is not contained, particles can travel very far from the source. A home’s ventilation system is like a highway for it to move around. Soot can either be dry or oily. Be careful if you spot soot, the oily kind will leave a nasty smear if disturbed. Of course, you can also detect it by the smell. Even if you cannot see it, a smoky or ashy odor after a fire likely means it is present.


Soot contamination can be very difficult to clean. Oily and dry soot has to be handled very differently, and fires often produce both kinds depending on what was burned. Improper cleaning methods frequently cause the residue to be absorbed into the surfaces it clings too, making it even more challenging to remove. Coupled with the health risks and need for proper safety precautions, ServiceMaster Restore recommends that professionals be hired for soot cleanup. Our team has extensive experience handling soot removal along with many other types of smoke and fire damage. If your family has experienced the tragedy of a fire, we are here to do what it takes to make your house a home again. Give us a call at 888-289-4539.