If you are lucky enough to have a wood-burning fireplace or if you like to burn candles at home, you might find yourself with soot stains on your walls. Not only can this make a room look dirty, but it can also affect the air quality in your home. Fortunately, there are several effective methods for cleaning soot off of walls, ranging from simple DIY cleaning solutions to more involved techniques. In this article, I’m walking you through some of the best ways to get soot stains off walls so that you can restore your living space to its former beauty.
What is Soot?
Soot is the black residue that sticks to surfaces after a fire, either in a fireplace, from a candle, or any house fire. It’s a byproduct of incomplete combustion or partial burning of some organic matter. Soot particles are made up of all different kinds of chemicals, metals, soils, and dust, depending on what was burning (Source: Reynolds Restoration).
Before You Get Started
Before jumping into cleaning soot off your walls, there are a few important factors to consider to ensure that you use the right cleaning method and avoid damaging your walls.
Protect Nearby Furniture
Because soot particles are so small, they tend to spread during the cleaning process. To avoid staining your furniture while cleaning, move small decor items away from the area you’re trying to clean. Protect larger furniture pieces that can’t be moved with a drop cloth or an old sheet.
Soot can contain carcinogens and other harmful chemicals, so inhaling is not a good idea. Open as many windows as possible and ensure your heating and AC are turned off before you begin. The air from your HVAC system can cause the particles from the soot to move through your house.
Wear Protective Gear
When cleaning soot off walls, you must wear protective gear. Wear a dust mask (N95 would be best), gloves, and eye protection. It’s also a good idea to make sure you wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
How to Clean Soot Off Walls
- Difficulty: Easy
- Working Time: 1hr
- Total Time: 1hr
- Estimated Cost: $25
- Soot sponge
- Dish soap
- Regular sponge
Time needed: 1 hour
The first step in cleaning soot off your walls is to vacuum as many loose soot particles as possible. If you have one, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
Start vacuuming with a brush hose attachment and very light pressure to avoid smearing the soot stains around the wall. Work in downward strokes over the entirety of the stain.
- Use a Dry Cleaning Sponge
Next, use a soot sponge to dry clean the stain. A soot sponge is a chemical sponge made of vulcanized rubber that attracts and grabs soot particles without stripping the paint underneath.
Do not wet the sponge. These sponges are meant to be used dry. Once again, work in downward strokes. Do not scrub too hard or too quickly, as scrubbing might spread the stain.
Instead, wipe carefully down the wall. As the sponge blackens, flip and rotate to a clean portion of the sponge. Don’t rinse it. If the entire sponge gets black, you can use a utility knife to cut away the blackened layer to expose fresh areas of the sponge.
Minor soot stains may lift entirely with this method, but deeper stains may require follow-up with a wet cleaning solution.
- Use a Wet Cleaning Solution
Mix two tablespoons of dish soap with a quart of warm water. Dip a regular sponge into the solution and wring out any excess water. Once again, moving in downward strokes, gently wipe down the wall. Avoid scrubbing and rinse out the sponge often to avoid spreading the stain. Repeat this process until the wall is clean.
- Trisodium Phosphate
Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is another effective solution for cleaning soot from walls, but it has drawbacks. TSP is a highly effective degreaser and cleaner, but its harsh chemicals make it dangerous to both personal and environmental health. TSP is toxic if inhaled or touched, and if it ends up in waterways, it causes an overgrowth of algae that damages aquatic animals and plants.
If you use TSP, dilute it in a 1:16 solution with water, and wear protective gear to avoid inhalation or skin contact.
If you’re weary of using harsh chemicals like TSP, phosphate-free degreasers are available at any hardware store that work similarly without the toxic and environmentally damaging phosphates.
- Rinse and Dry
Use a fresh sponge and dip it into clean, fresh water. Wring out the sponge as much as possible, and wipe down any cleaned surface. Then, use a microfiber cloth to dry the area fully.
How Often to Clean Soot Off Walls
We recommend an annual deep clean if the soot is in your fireplace or chimney. Outside of that area, any soot that reaches your walls should be cleaned up immediately.
How to Prevent Soot Stains on Walls
To avoid soot on your walls, make sure the flue is always open when you have a fire going in your fireplace to allow the smoke to escape through the chimney.
When burning candles, make sure they are far away from walls or any flammable material like curtains or upholstery. Any accidental flames will create soot, which will then end up staining the walls. It’s also important to never burn candles for longer than four hours at a time. If they burn for too long, they can overheat, increasing the risk of producing soot.