I recently had a pretty bad kitchen fire, so I thought I'd post what I did to remove the resulting smoke odor in the hopes that it will help other people who face this problem.
If you're looking for the highlights, probably the most original thing I did was use trisodium phosphate (TSP) for cleaning the walls (more on that below).
If you're reading this because you're in the same boat as me, let me start by saying that as bad as things may seem, there probably will be light at the end of the tunnel. It just might take a month and a lot of cleaning.
I was boiling some dried soy beans and thought I turned off the stove before I went out of the house; I came home two hours later to find the house filled with thick smoke.
For the first week (after I had done a lot of cleaning) there was little change in the odor and I was convinced that I was going to have to hire a fire recovery service, but sure enough the odor eventually faded. And the odor was really bad at first -- it smelled like a chain smoker lived in the house.
I was hesitant to involve my insurance company because there wasn't any direct fire damage -- and no appliances were broken. The problem was the odor. So I wanted to try cleaning things myself before I went to them.
So here are the details of what I did:
I bought two high velocity fans at Home Depot ($50 each), positioning one blowing air into my home through the front door and another facing outwards at the back door (which is in the kitchen). Getting fresh air into the house and pushing out the dirty air is pretty much the best thing you can do for removing odors. I did this whenever I was home for about three weeks.
I replaced the air filter with a MERV 13 filter. This is going to be a bit controversial because some people say to shutoff the HVAC system after a fire so smoke doesn't getting into the system. My system was running when the fire occurred, so that ship had already sailed. MERV 13 filters are used in commercial buildings and are strong enough to remove smoke and odors. But you should know that they do heavily restrict airflow and can damage a home HVAC system -- so I just used it for two weeks. I do feel it made a difference helping to clean the air in my home.
I scrubbed down *every* surface in my kitchen -- including the ceiling and inside cabinets -- using TSP. I found that the smell of smoke was clinging pretty tightly to paint with a gloss finish, and neither vinegar nor all purpose spray cleaner with bleach did much to remove the smell. TSP was pretty effective, though the places that got hit with the most smoke required several passes. TSP is powerful stuff, so be sure not to get it on your skin and not on metal -- it will stain it.
Every object in the kitchen was cleaned. I put whatever I could in the dishwasher and washing machine, and scrubbed the rest down with all purpose cleaner that included bleach. The smoke odor clung particularly tightly to soft plastics and anything with a laminated surface for water protection -- this included cardboard boxes for things like salt and plastic wrap. In most cases I put the contents of the boxes into something else and tossed the boxes.
Let me just emphasize that I cleaned absolutely everything in the kitchen. If you don't remove the smoke molecules from surfaces and objects, they'll just keep smelling up the air in your home.
Outside of the kitchen the smoke only really clung to fabrics and soft plastics, so I washed every single fabric I had in my house (clothes, curtains, bags, shoes, etc.), and sent the carpets out to be cleaned. I also kept all my cleaned clothes in my car for two weeks until I felt that air in the home had become sufficiently clean. For my sofa I washed the covers twice and sprayed the cushions with a Fabrize fabric spray.
I did all of this within the first 3 days of the fire, and it took at least 7 days until I noticed in improvement in the odor (among the worst week in my life). After two weeks there was significant improvement, and by the fourth week the odor was 90 percent gone (that's where I am at this point). I think continually blowing fresh air through the house will take care of the last 10 percent.
Ultimately I'm not sure what a fire recovery service would have done that I didn't do. I was pretty meticulous and the TSP is strong stuff.
Some other thoughts:
Vinegar: lots of people on the internet rave about its cleaning and odor absorption abilities, but it didn't do much for me. The best thing I can say about it, is that I had some rubber objects that the dishwasher could not fully clean; soaking them in a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water did the trick.
For removing odors I found used coffee grounds to be pretty effective. Despite my cleaning efforts some of the odor seemed to be trapped in my cabinets (probably because it was hard for fresh air to get into them). I put the grounds into plastic containers and placed those in the closed cabinets -- they definitely helped neutralize the odor.
The one thing that gave me the most trouble was the microwave. It's mounted above the stove and took the brunt of the smoke. I never use the microwave, so I unmounted it and placed it outside. I've tried cleaning it with everything imaginable, as well as boiling vinegar and lemon juice in it, and it's been very slow going getting the smell out of it. I'm kinda inclined to just junk it, but I also have the luxury of time to just keep airing it out.
Ozone Generators: I read up a lot about them, and while some people swear by them, the EPA claims there is little scientific evidence that they actually work, there are health risks, and they can damage various things in your home.
Smoke vs. Cigarette Smoke: Probably 75% of what I found on the internet about removing smoke odor was about cigarette smoke, and it's pretty much all doom a gloom. Your options range from repainting to gutting the house. This has to do with the nicotine which is pretty much impossible to wash out of surfaces and objects -- so don't fret when you read about how little there is you can do about cigarette smoke.
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