Chimney fire damage left charred roof sheathing & framing as an odor source (C) Daniel FriedmanBuilding Fire & Smoke Odor Removal
Find & Remove Persistent Sources of Fire or Smoke Odors & Smells

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Fire & smoke odor causes, reservoirs, & removal methods:

This article describes seven approaches people use to attempt (with mixed success) to remove fire or smoke odors from buildings, building contents, or from other enclosed spaces. We also discuss: how does fire cause lingering odors in buildings even where some items are not visibly burned?

How to deal with cigarette or cigar smoke odors. Research on fire & smoke odor control & removal; professional odor fire restoration associations can help find a diagnostic or fire/smoke damage clean-up expert

Our page top photo shows a skunk running from a smelly building fire. Not really.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Smoke & Fire or Burned Food Odors in Buildings

House fire left charred stair rail balusters (C) Daniel FriedmanOdors building fires, cigarette or cigar smoke, heating system malfunctions, from wood stoves etc. require special expertise for effective remediation - - clean, seal, track down remaining odor sources & clean, seal, or remove the remaining smell source

This article describes the procedures used to remove fire & smoke odors from buildings, building contents, vehicles etc. This article also warns about ineffective and even harmful (but popular) methods that try to deodorize smoke or fire smells and don't work or worse, cause further damage.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Article Contents:


7 Approaches to removing fire, smoke and many other building odors

Kingston house fire damage & odors (C) Daniel Friedman

  1. Removal of damaged or smelly materials & Items: Remove burned, contaminated, damaged materials that cannot be economically cleaned such as drywall that has been wet, carpeting, upholstered furniture.

    While some sources recommend removing and washing carpets, in our experience only valuable rugs & carpets that can be professionally cleaned are likely to tolerate soaking without generating a costly mold contamination problem. Wall-to-wall carpets that have been wet should be disposed-of along with their padding.
  2. Cigarette smoke stains & odors: has received a stunning amount of attention. Steps listed in this article and aimed at getting rid of smoke odors depend in part on the environment and the situation.

    For example, special ventilation systems and cigarette smoke odor control equipment is used in areas frequented by smokers. See the citations provided at the end of this section. See Leaderer (1967) and Okubo (2001) et als.

    At STAINS HUMAN OCCUPANT we discuss using sealants to cover and seal stains that are not sufficiently-removed by surface cleaning.

    These sealants are particularly helpful in dealing with both stains and odors left-over from fires, mold, oil spills, pets, or heavy smokers in buildings.
  3. Cleaning: Clean building surfaces and clean building contents that can be economically cleaned.

    Generally, hard-surfaced building contents and un-upholstered furniture can be cleaned (though experts warn that finishes may have been damaged by heat and may be odor sources).

    Soft goods that can be laundered or dry-cleaned can usually be cleaned of fire, smoke or other odor problems.

    Valuable upholstered furnishings may be salvageable if treated by an expert conservationist.

    Carpeting or area rugs that were not wet or damaged but emits smoke odors might respond to professional cleaning. Carpeting that has been wet or flooded by fire extinguishment, along with its padding, will need to be replaced.

    See CARPET MOLD / ODOR TESTS for carpeting or rugs that have been wet and may be mold-contaminated

    Cleaning of building surfaces & contents may involve HEPA vacuuming, or where an item can be washed without further damage, actual washing with cleaning solutions. For valuable items & artifacts you should consult a expert conservator or fire damage restoration consultant.
  4. Sealing: Seal building surfaces using an odor-sealant coating - specific products are available for fire damaged buildings.

  5. Ventilating: use fresh air to remove airborne odors in the building and to help remove odors remaining in building contents or on building surfaces.

    Ventilation will not, however, remove an actual odor source such as heat-damaged coatings, furnishings, building contents that have been chemically changed by exposure to a fire or heat.

    Watch out: while portable or even central air purifiers and air cleaners may improve odor levels indoors, none of these devices can remove an odor from a building where a persistent source is present. The source needs to be identified and removed or treated.
  6. Heating: Removing building or vehicle or other enclosed-space odors using heat - thermal deodorization.

    Watch out: experts do not recommend this approach for fire-cleanup where items involved have already been affected by heat and may be damaged still more by further exposure to heat
  7. Ozone generators:

    Watch out: Using ozone generators in an attempt to remove odors is generally ineffective for smoke, mold, and some other building odor sources and in fact excessive use of ozone in buildings or in other enclosed spaces such as in a moldy car or other vehicle can oxidize various materials creating a new odor problem and ultimately increasing the cost of the odor remedy (as those new smelly materials will probably have to be tossed out)

    In our opinion, wet scrubbers (Dickerson 1974) or photocatalyst plasma air cleaning approaches(Lee 2003) hold more promise in this area and may avoid the oxidation issue.

Reader Question: used ozone to remove protein smoke odor, now strange odor remains

House fire damage & odors (C) Daniel Friedman(Feb 21, 2015) Michael said:

My house was cleaned with ozone in order to remove the protein smoke odor. It was cleaned and re-painted as well: ceiling and walls. Now I have strange odor, which is not a smoke. I suspect the oxidants odors coming from surfaces. It is clear how to remove the odor from the carpet - replace the carpet. However, I do not really understand how to remove it from the walls. Should I re-seal and re-paint the walls? If yes, what paint should I use?

This question was originally posted at OZONE MOLD / ODOR TREATMENT WARNINGS

The house fire image at left illustrates severe fire damage likely to leave further odor problems that will need to be addressed as part of the restoration. This is not the fire discussed by Michael above.

Reply: what is in smoke & why odors remain after an odor-treatment program


Really? "Protein smoke odors" ?

Smoke is basically comprised of small but visible particles of unburned material, typically carbon or other substances made airborne during a fire. "Small" here means particles in the PM10 range - particulate matter that is less than ten microns in diameter (10u). These very small particles can be breathed deeply into the lungs. What's in smoke depends on what was being burned: wood, fabrics, plastics, or food contribute different particles and chemicals to the smoke.

Besides carbon particles, smoke can contain a variety of harmful substances besides particles themselves: gases such as from wood smoke (say burning a wood-framed building or from a wood fire) include acetic acid, benzene, carbon monoxide (CO), formaldehyde, formic acid, heavy metals, nitrogen-oxides (NO2), phenols, sulfur dioxide (SO2), VOCs, and other materials.

Protein odors are the result of burning meat such as a steak, or burning animal fat. You can have a hard time removing these odors from a building.

Smell test method (C) Daniel FriedmanThe odor that remains after a building fire, or after burning a steak, is due to outgassing of odor molecules from incompletely-burned particles that plate out on building surfaces (ceilings, floors, walls, carpets, furniture, draperies, etc) after a fire.

Since you describe an odor complaint that remains after a post-fire treatment it is most likely that the odor is coming from one or more building surfaces.

People's complaints of odors that remain or that are "new" after post-fire odor-treatments typically come from one of two underlying sources:

Surfaces or materials that have received deposits of burned materials have not been adequately cleaned, sealed, or removed and are continuing to release molecules (or even particles) that smell.

The treatment itself, if it was not properly conducted, can produce new odors and smells from a sealant coating or from over-dosing with ozone as is discussed in this article series.

Therefore, before using an odor sealant (such as is used after a fire) and before repainting, you might have better and more economical success by identifying the odor source. Try the easy smell patch test kit described at

SMELL PATCH TEST to FIND ODOR SOURCE - at above left the author demonstrates this a smell-patch test that can be used to track down odors to their source in buildings.

When you've identified where the odors are coming-from you have a much better chance at a successful odor-cure.

Odor Sealing Paints

Photograph of clear fungicidal sealant on building framing and subflooringLow-odor, low VOC paints & other special coatings used to help seal odors from fire-heated or fire damaged structures. Also intumescent sealants.

Watch out: the selection of an appropriate sealant coating to control fire or smoke damage odors must consider the composition of the material on which the coating is to be applied.

For example, we've had very good results using a lacquer or shellac-based primer sealer but you would not paint that sealant on materials that can be dissolved or damaged by the solvents in the paint itself.

Similarly, it may be undesirable to paint some building objects and artifacts with a pigmented sealer - so some of the sealants listed in our two article links below may be more appropriate. A clear-coated sealant applied in a crawl space is shown in our photo at left.

And where painting over cigarette smoke stains on walls, ceilings, or other surfaces, you may need to first paint with an oil-based sealer to avoid a bleed-through problem, followed by a lacquer or shellac based top sealant and finally the top coat to provide the colour or texture designed for the finished surface.

Water-based stain killers and sealers may be suitable for some applications, but we've had trouble with bleed-through.

Research on odor sealing paints & coatings

Research & Resources for Fire & Smoke Odor Treatments

Burned vinyl siding & trim on a Poughkeepsie home (C) Daniel Friedman


Continue reading at ODOR DIAGNOSIS SIX STEPS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.


Or see these

Articles Assisting in Fire & Smoke Odor Source Removal & Prevention

Burning materials in buildings can leave a wide variety of both smelly and harmful odors & gases. At left, the burning vinyl siding & trim on this building were a strong odor source in and around this Poughkeepsie NY home.

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FIRE & SMOKE ODOR REMOVAL at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


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