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Soot Damage 101: Is Soot Dangerous?

The old expression says, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” You can carry that a step further: where there’s fire, there’s soot. Any time a fire is fueled by a hydrocarbon or fossil fuel – including wood, coal, oil, charcoal, and the paraffin wax found in most candles – there will be tiny, unburned carbon particles that escape the fire and drift around until they find a place to settle.

If you’ve suffered a fire or a clogged chimney or have just been using your gas or oil heat for a long enough time, you’ll have soot in your house. Unfortunately, in addition to being unsightly and having a horrible smell, soot is also hazardous to your health. In this article, we’ll look at some of the hazards of soot and why you should always turn to trained professionals when cleaning up after a fire or fireplace mishap.

What Is Soot?

Soot is a product of “incomplete combustion.” Nearly everything we use to fuel fires is based on carbon, from the wood in our fireplaces to the gasoline in our cars. When these fuels burn, the carbon combines with oxygen to create carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Suppose the fire isn’t fed with enough oxygen or isn’t maintained at a high enough temperature. In that case, some of the carbon in the fuel is expelled before it has a chance to react with oxygen. It floats around as a tiny particle of unburnt carbon with other chemicals piggybacking on.

To see an example of soot, light a candle. Once it’s lit, hold the bottom of an empty soda can about 6″ above the flame for a minute or two. When you take the can away, that dark black stain on the bottom is soot.

And if holding something over a candle’s tiny flame for just a moment can produce that much soot, you can only imagine how much soot is generated by your fireplace, furnace, barbecue grill, and other open flames. And even those big soot producers are nothing compared to what can be produced by even a small household fire.

Why Is Soot Dangerous?

Carbon in and of itself is not inherently dangerous. In fact, it’s necessary for life. But soot isn’t made up only of carbon. Each particle also contains various acids, metallic elements, phenols, minerals, dust, and countless other chemicals and compounds.

Among these are several different substances known to be harmful to human health:

  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a known carcinogen that can cause various types of cancer.
  • Sulfuric acid is a corrosive chemical that can cause severe health issues when inhaled.
  • Phenols are another type of acid compound (also known as carbolic acid) that can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and other mucous membranes.
  • A number of heavy-metal compounds in soot are also carcinogenic or otherwise toxic to humans.
  • Mineral dust can cause severe breathing problems and lung damage, especially to those who have a preexisting respiratory condition like asthma or emphysema.

Any of these compounds can be dangerous, even in small amounts. When you take into consideration that a house fire can generate pounds of soot that accumulate on every surface that remains after the fire is extinguished, you can see why removal of soot is a priority when performing fire damage restoration.

Is Soot Dangerous for My Home?

While your health and your family’s should be your primary concern, soot is also destructive to the materials that make up your home. Sulfuric acid and phenols, in particular, are corrosive and can even eat away at things like stone and drywall. Soot in fabrics will leave them stained and carrying a foul odor if not cleaned as soon as possible. Soot can etch glass and even accumulate in your home’s electrical outlets and lightbulb sockets, to which its ionized particles are attracted.

Why Is Soot Hard to Remove?

Soot is hard to remove from any surface it lands on:

  • Soot is usually ionized, meaning it has an electrical attraction to other materials in your home, the way static electricity causes static cling.
  • Soot particles are tiny, smaller than grains of flour or even the regular dust in your home. As such, soot quickly works its way into cracks, crevices, and even the texture of fabrics, stone, and other porous materials.
  • Soot removal is dangerous, as improper removal techniques can cause soot particles to take back into the air, rendering them even more dangerous.

Trust the Experts to Remove Soot From Your Home

If you’ve had a house fire or suffered any incident where your home was filled with smoke, then you have a soot issue to deal with. Before restoration work starts, all of the soot remaining behind must be removed in order to provide a safe workplace for your restoration team and ensure that your home will be a healthy place for your family once work is complete.

A professional fire restoration company will have the correct tools and training to remove soot safely and effectively without causing additional health hazards. With the soot safely removed, your home can be restored to its pre-fire condition.

Does a Fire Have Your Home Blackened and Sooty? Contact the Certified Fire Damage Restoration Team at AfterCare Restoration: 215.515.1000

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Aftercare Restoration is a local, veteran-owned emergency damage restoration company offering 24/7 fire restoration services, including fire board-up, demo, structural cleaning, odor removal, and complete rebuild and reconstruction service. We’re committed to earning your trust and ensuring 100% customer satisfaction.

Because of our expertise and reputation for 5-star customer service, AfterCare Restoration is the leader in fire damage restoration and smoke soot damage restoration in Lehigh, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties. AfterCare Restoration is a certified firm by the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), the leading training agency in the disaster restoration industry.

Our team of IICRC-certified technicians is trained with the best methods and technology to clean up any size of fire damage and restore your property. We abide by the most stringent industry standards, meaning you can trust our team to do the job right the first time!

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