Many homeowners face the challenge of cleaning smoke and soot from painted walls after a fire. Whether a pot caught fire on the stove, an ember from a fireplace sparked a house fire or a candle was knocked over and caught the drapes or curtains on fire, you will have black soot and smoke damage on your painted walls and ceilings. Sometimes you end up with black soot on walls and ceiling from a burning candle. Certain candles burn very dirty and leave black stains and marks on the painted walls and ceilings.

As it from the fire settles, it leaves behind a residue that has a powdery carbon base that sticks to any surface it touches. One of the major difficulties many homeowners encounter when attempting to remove soot is it does not just wipe away. Trying to use any type of cleaners with a water base will just spread and smear it rather than remove it from your walls and ceilings. The reason water based cleaners don’t work is because soot and smoke have an oily base. When trying to clean soot stains with water, the water sits on top of the oils in it and don’t penetrate to the wall or ceiling lying under it and smoke damaged layers. Thankfully, there is a solution that will leave your painted walls and ceilings clean and clear of smoke and soot stains.


Place a thick layer of newspapers, tarps or drop cloth over the entire floor in the room that you are cleaning.

Put on safety goggles, old clothes or a disposable, protective jumpsuit, rubber gloves and a dust mask.

Lay plastic of heavyweight paper over air conditioning or forced air heating vents and tape them securely in place with masking tape. If you don’t cover the vents, pieces of soot will make their way in and the air flow through the vents will deposit the tiny soot particles all over the house and clog up your heating or air conditioning unit.

Set up scaffolding to reach the ceiling and the high tops of the walls.

Put a nozzle on a shop vacuum. Place the nozzle no closer than ¼ inch from it covered wall or ceiling. Move the nozzle along the painted surface without touching it. You just want to vacuum off the topmost, lose layer of soot. Start at the ceiling and then move to the walls. Vacuum the walls from the top down to the floor and finally the baseboard molding. Move around the entire room until all lose soot has been vacuumed off the walls and ceilings.

Soot Sponge

Twist a specialty soot sponge, also known as a chemical sponge or dry cleaning sponge, onto a mop handle. Place it sponge up to the ceiling, beginning the corner of the room. Pull it sponge along the ceiling in one direction without stopping moving all the way to the opposite side of the room. Go back to the other side of the room, place it sponge up to the ceiling, overlapping the first pass by 1 inch and wipe the ceiling in one constant motion to the opposite side of the room. Continue to overlap the ceiling passes by 1 inch, moving it sponge in one direction only until all of it has been removed from the ceiling. Check the condition of it sponge as you make passes, if the sponge is black and has a layer of soot on it, remove the sponge and turn it over to a clean side.Cut off the top layer of it sponge with a utility knife when all clean sides of the sponge are full of black soot.

Put it sponge on the wall beginning at the top of the wall and pull the mop handle down all of the way to the floor in one constant sweep. Overlap the first pass by 1 inch and pull it sponge down the wall. Continue to clean the walls using this technique just as you did when you cleaned the ceiling.

Degreasing Soot Removal Detergent

Add a soot removing, degreasing detergent to a bucket of water. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the amount of detergent. Add plain warm water to a second bucket.

 Dip a sponge mop on a handle into the degreasing soot remover and squeeze out the excess cleaning water. Place the sponge on the ceiling, starting at the corner of the room and pull the sponge along the ceiling moving in one direction.

Tie a rag around the head of a second sponge mop and immediately drag it along the ceiling to dry the first pass.

Submerge the dirty sponge mop into the bucket with the plain water and rinse the mop. Wring out as much plain water as possible.

Put the mop back into the degreasing soot remover bucket, squeeze out excess water. Make a second pass along the ceiling, overlapping the first pass by 1 inch. Dry the ceiling with the rag. Continue using this method until the entire ceiling is clean.

Change the rinse water often to keep it clean.

Dump the degreasing soot remover water and rinse the bucket. Fill it with new water and add more soot remover.

Repeat the mopping, rinsing and drying process over the walls until all walls are clean.

 You may have to wash the painted walls-ceilings more than once to get them completely clean.

If a candle has left black soot residue on the wall or ceiling, clean the area with the
soot removal sponge and then clean the section with degreasing soot removal detergent.

A soot removal sponge is a specialty product that has chemical infused into the sponge. An ordinary household sponge will not work to remove soot.

Soot removing degreasing agents are also specialty products, typically regular detergents will not work to remove the black coating from the walls and ceilings, they will just spread the mess making future clean up much more difficult.

 You can add a smoke odor eliminator to the degreasing detergent water to neutralize smoke smells and odors on the painted walls and ceilings.

Never rinse or wash a soot removal sponge because you will wash the chemical out of the sponge rendering it ineffective and useless.