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What Is Soot?

December 7, 2023
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What is soot? Not often a question that you’d think to ask in Florida, but surprisingly enough, there are a lot of Florida homes with soot laden areas, such as chimneys.

Often encountered after a home fire with smoke damage, soot can also occur from burning candles, a furnace, and of course, a fireplace.

Understanding the health implications of soot is the first step in ridding your home of this dangerous chemical. Whether it’s a thin layer of dust from your cozy fireplace, or a thick coating resulting from a devastating home fire, the presence of soot demands attention.

Read on for more information about soot, the health issues it can cause, and when soot requires the attention of a professional.


What Is Soot?

Soot is a fine black or brown powder that is formed as a byproduct of incomplete combustion. In other words, it’s the residue left behind after something doesn’t burn all the way. Unfortunately, it’s not just an unsightly issue in a home, it’s also a health hazard.

Soot can be found near most heat sources and can be a contained issue (such as the soot from a candle burning) or a widespread issue from a structural fire.

Any amount of soot should be dealt with to avoid further damage and/or health issues.


Soot on walls and ceiling after fire and soot damage

Damage Caused By Soot

Soot is notorious for the extensive damage it can cause to both homes and businesses. This fine particulate matter, while seemingly innocuous, has the potential to wreak havoc in multiple ways:

  • Staining and Discoloration:  One of the most obvious signs of soot damage is staining and discoloration. Soot is an extremely fine powder-like substance with a knack for permeating porous surfaces. It often requires a soot sponge and special cleaner to remove.
  • Odor Issues: Soot is notorious for the smell it creates. It smells like smoke but can be present even if you aren’t able to see it. Soot can cling to clothing, upholstery, walls, and even flooring. Once the black powder is wiped away, the smell will linger, since it has permeated the surfaces.
  • Material Deterioration: Soot is acidic in nature and can damage areas beyond the surface. Metal may rust, paint can peel, and even electronics can be damaged.
  • Air Quality: Soot particles are extremely fine. This means that they’re easily inhaled, and when a person is sensitive to allergens, they can experience symptoms.
  • Long-term Property Damage: If not properly addressed by a fire damage restoration professional, a structure could become unsafe. Prolonged soot damage can weaken structures, eventually leading to an entire restoration process.

The ongoing issues after a fire highlight the importance of swift and thorough cleaning by a professional fire damage restoration company. Though it’s true that you can clean up small-scale burning on your own, significant soot damage requires a more professional approach.


Health Implications of Soot Exposure

As if property damage wasn’t enough, unfortunately, soot also poses a significant health risk after exposure. The intensity of health issues is determined by duration of exposure, amount of exposure, and also the individual’s personal conditions.

Soot exposure can cause:

  • Respiratory Problems: One of the most immediate risks after exposure to soot is on the respiratory system. Inhalation of soot particles can lead to shortness of breath, coughing, asthma, bronchitis, irritation, and lung inflammation.
  • Skin and Eye Irritation: Soot can also cause a variety of skin issues. It can cause rashes, itching, and allergic dermatitis. If it comes in contact with the eyes, it can cause similar effects like itching, redness, and more severe issues if not properly cleaned.
  • Long-Term Health Risks: Prolonged or repeated exposure to soot increases the risk of developing more serious health conditions, like cancer. The National Cancer Institute links soot exposure to lung, esophageal, bladder, and skin cancers.

Given these severe potential health risks, swift action on your part is necessary. Whenever there has been soot damage that is beyond that of a fireplace or candle, professional fire damage restoration is not just recommended, but is vital for your health.


Gloved woman cleaning soot off of a fireplace with a dry sponge

How to Get Rid of Soot

Getting rid of soot is not as easy as just wiping it up and going about your business. Because the particles are so fine, it requires special attention and patience.

For small instances of soot—such as a fireplace area or candle damage—you can DIY it. Proper protection is always needed such as masks, gloves, and goggles. You can also get a special dry sponge that is specifically designed for soot cleanup. Using a HEPA vacuum for non porous surfaces is recommended.

There are several methods for cleaning soot, but the most important thing to remember is not to start out with a wet surface or sponge. This only spreads the soot further and exacerbates the time having to spend cleaning it up.

For more extensive damage, such as that from a house fire, professional fire damage restoration is vital. A professional company will not only assess your home as fast as possible, but work hand-in-hand with your insurance company to make sure your property and possessions are restored to their pre-fire status.

Be aware, after a fire, there are some important do’s and don’ts to adhere to for your safety.


Soot Is Dangerous, But We Can Help

Soot damage is a complex issue that extends far beyond the aesthetics of an unsightly home. It arises from most types of heat sources where fire occurs. Not only can it cause significant damage to property like staining, odors, and material deterioration, but it can also have severe health implications. These include respiratory, skin, and potentially long-term issues like cancer.

Addressing major soot damage by hiring a professional fire damage restoration company is vital to your health and home.

If you’ve experienced fire damage that has resulted in soot, we know it’s overwhelming, but we can help. At Axel Works we will work swiftly and hand-in-hand with your insurance company to ensure that we bring your property back to its former glory.

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