When restorers go about remediating a fire-impacted home or business, cleaning will likely be their tactic of choice. While some projects will certainly require more than simple cleaning techniques, in reality, much of the restoration project will involve surface cleaning of some sort. 

Because of this truth, fire remediators must remain educated on the right types of cleaning products to use on the right kinds of materials. Failure to pay attention to these details may render unexpected and unnecessary repercussions and could end up costing all materially interested parties more time, money, energy and effort in the long run.

Two Types of Cleaning

There are two types of cleaning involved in fire and smoke restoration projects. One is referred to as “dry soil” cleaning, while the other is the more traditional “wet” cleaning approach. 

Simply put, wet cleaning involves water while dry soil cleaning does not. Wet cleaning can be further categorized as being water-based, solvent-based or abrasive. Dry soil cleaning, on the other hand, utilizes tools such as crumbly dough, erasers and dry sponges.

Both types of cleaning methods are important because there are surfaces that may require one or the other, or even both. These are referred to as “washable” and “non-washable” surfaces, where washable refers to the ability to withstand liquid cleaners whereas non-washable cannot. 

Ceiling Tile, Painted Surfaces and Wood

The subsequent guidelines are brief explanations detailing how a remediation expert might tackle surfaces such as ceiling tile, painted surfaces and wood. Though every situation is different, the following can be seen as a general rule of thumb for how these types of surfaces might be approached during restoration.

Acoustical Ceiling Tile

This is one of those components within a home or building that restorers aren’t going to want to wet clean. Rather, your restorer is apt to use a dry sponge or HEPA vacuum to remove light soot. For more heavily soiled ceilings, you may see your remediator removing the ceiling’s “grid” system, or trying other practical cleaning approaches to remediate the situation.

Painted Surfaces

When it comes to cleaning painted surfaces, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Painted surfaces come in a variety of types, including latex, which is water-based, alkyd, which is oil-based, satin, eggshell, semi-gloss, high-gloss and flat. 

The easiest of these to clean using traditional wet cleaning methods by far is high-gloss paint. This type of paint is commonly used in kitchens, bathrooms and other areas where there might be high-levels of moisture, or where practical means of cleaning, such as in school buildings, is needed. Because it is easy to be cleaned, restorers can use general cleaners and degreasers to take off soot and other residual deposits brought on by smoke or fire events. 

Other types of paint, however, aren’t as easily managed. Eggshell and flat paints, for example, will react negatively to moisture, and as such, aren’t good candidates for wet cleaning methods. Nevertheless, if dry soil removal techniques aren’t enough, wet cleaning methods will have to be implemented. Thus, a fresh coating of paint is likely to be necessary.


Wood that has been affected by fire and smoke may need to be addressed differently depending on whether or not it has been finished. 

Unfinished wood can be difficult, and must be approached with great skill and technique. At times, it may be necessary to remove wood paneling, clean behind it, and replace the wood, afterwards. Yet in other cases it may be necessary to media blast, soda blast or dry ice blast. In some cases, wet cleaning may be an option, along with light sanding. The methods chosen will depend largely on the situation, severity and location of the unfinished wood. It will be up to the restorer to determine which method will work best.

Finished wood, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as difficult of a task. In most cases, finished wood will respond much better to wet cleaning practices, and can also be treated with wood restorative creams and vegetable-based soaps for a deep clean and restorative glow. Restorers will still need to be careful, though. There are still pitfalls involved even when rehabilitating finished wood, such as cleaning against the grain, which can potentially damage wood. 

Cleaning Techniques Must Match the Surface 

All in all, when it comes to fire and smoke restorative practices, one must take into consideration the type of surface being treated before applying any type of cleaner to it. 

Wet and dry cleaning can only be utilized on certain surfaces, and it is imperative that restorers know which surfaces will respond best to which types of cleaning methods to avoid potential damage. As such, property owners of fire-affected homes or businesses should always seek to hire well-trained and reputable technicians to take on their remedial cleaning needs.