How to Clean Smoke Off the Walls
The hardest thing about cleaning smoke from walls is the sticky residue it leaves behind. You can wear yourself out scrubbing smoke residue from walls once it's caked on. It doesn't matter if the buildup got there from a stove-top grease fire, a fireplace or wood stove, or because you or the former inhabitants of the house smoked cigarettes. Remove the ugly-looking residue if you plan to paint the room -- or if you want it to just look and smell good.
For caked-on smoke from grease fires or smokers in the house, mix 1/4 cup of baking soda, 1 cup of ammonia and 1/2 cup of vinegar in a gallon bucket filled with the hottest water you can stand. Wearing rubber gloves dip a sponge's abrasive side into the mixture and wash the walls from the top down; this helps you to clean up drips or runs as you go. Keep a second bucket full of hot rinse water so you can rinse with a clean sponge. Do not let drip or run marks stay on the enameled walls.
Anyone who uses a fireplace can forget to open the damper, causing the smoke to fill the home or room. Wood smoke is not as hard to remove as cigarette smoke, but it still may contain wood resins and tar. Mix 1 cup of clear ammonia in a gallon bucket half-full of warm water. Wash the walls from the top down, starting in the left-hand corner farthest from where you exit the room and work toward the exit. Rinse with a soft cloth dipped in warm water. If you are sensitive to the fumes from the ammonia, wear a face mask as you clean.
Smoke and Fire Damage
A steam-cleaning machine intended for use inside the house can make cleaning smoke from fire damage a lot easier. The machine boils water to the point of steam, which exists through a tube with a cleaning applicator on the end of it. Once steam starts coming out of the machine, run the applicator down the wall. Frequently change out the cleaning cloth on the applicator to keep from spreading the soot and smoke back onto the wall. A steam cleaner can also help to loosen caked-on smoke or its sticky residue. Scrape off the sticky residue from the walls into a bucket. Rinse clean with a dampened sponge or cloth.
Though some states regulate or prohibit the use of trisodium phosphate, new versions make it safer to use if you can buy it in your state. But wear gloves and a face mask for protection when cleaning with TSP, because it is a powerful chemical cleaner. To clean furnace smoke buildup, dilute one heaping teaspoon of TSP in a gallon of warm water, mixing it thoroughly until it dissolves. Wipe the walls from the top down with a sponge wrung out after you dip it in the solution. Follow by rinsing with a clean sponge wrung out in clean water.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.