How to Clean Up Smoke Damage to Drywall


Interior areas that have been untouched by fire may still be heavily damaged by smoke. Oily smoke residue causes discoloration on walls that is difficult to remove. Smoke particles remain trapped in porous drywall surfaces and may discharge a charred odor long after the damage is repaired. However, you won't always have to replace your drywall. Special cleansers and primers can be used to remove soot stains and seal in odors.

Things You'll Need

  • Rubber gloves
  • Respirator mask
  • Eye protection
  • Dry chemical sponge (also called a "soot" sponge)
  • 2 large buckets
  • Large sponge
  • TSP substitute cleaner
  • Clean rags
  • Pigmented shellac-based primer
  • Roller brush
  • Paintbrush
  • Protect yourself by wearing rubber gloves, eye protection and a respirator mask. You will be working with chemicals that are harsh on skin and eyes and may be uncomfortable or even harmful if inhaled. Ventilate the area by opening windows or using a fan to circulate air.

  • Use a dry chemical sponge on areas that are heavily soiled with soot. Start at the top of the stain area and work downward. Sweep lightly and evenly over the stain in one direction until the soot is absorbed. Dry chemical sponges must be used without water. Moisture will spread the soot and make removal difficult.

  • Prepare the TSP substitute as directed by the manufacturer in a large bucket of warm water. Some brands to use are Jasco TSP-Substitute, Savogran TSP-PF and Krud-Kutter. An excellent alternative is Winsol's CLEANSALL. These products are specially formulated to use on smoke-damaged drywall. Fill another bucket with warm water for rinsing.

  • Use a large sponge to apply the cleanser. Start at the bottom of the wall to prevent streaking. If specified, rinse off the cleanser with warm water. Wipe the area clean with a rag as you move up. Take care not to overwet the drywall. Allow area to fully dry before proceeding to the next step.

  • Use a roller brush to apply an even coat of a pigmented shellac-based primer to the wall. A paintbrush will help cover corners and hard-to-reach spots. Make sure the products you choose specify treatment for smoke-damaged drywall. Some examples are Zinsser's B.I.N. primer and Kilz. Allow primer to dry. Depending on the brand you use, you may need to apply a second coat.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are planning to paint your newly sealed walls with a latex-based paint, you should do so within a week of applying primer for best results.
  • TSP (trisodium phosphate) is a harsh chemical that is often used to clean smoke-damaged walls. A TSP substitute cleaner is recommended because some brands of shellac-based primer should NOT be mixed with TSP.

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