Smoke odors and soot stains can come from a pleasant evening spent around the campfire or the fireplace. Unfortunately, they can also happen due to a natural disaster or even a small kitchen fire that leaves soot stains and a lingering odor on clothing, carpet, and upholstery.
Even if the fabrics do not appear to be burned but are especially sooty, there may be damaged. If hot embers touched the surface of the fabric, small pinholes may appear after washing. Be sure to check each piece carefully before cleaning to be sure the item is worth saving.
For clothes that have blackened areas or soot stains, take the clothes or table linens outside and shake off any excess soot. Wash as recommended on the care label using heavy-duty detergent (Tide or Persil are the highest performing brands), one cup of distilled white vinegar, and 1/2 cup of all-fabric or oxygen-based bleach (brand names are: OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite). Use the water temperature appropriate for the fabric as recommended on the care label.
Before tossing in a dryer, check each item for remaining stains. If stains remain, repeat the washing cycle. Also, check for any holes. Air-drying outside is recommended for all fabrics to both help remove odors and prevent holes from becoming larger.
If there are no stains just smoke odor, fill the washer with cool water and add one cup baking soda. Completely submerge the smoky fabrics and allow to soak for at least two hours or overnight. Add detergent and wash as usual but add one cup of baking soda to the rinse cycle.
It may take three or four washes with the baking soda to get rid of the smoky smell completely. You can also try a commercial in-wash odor removal product such as Febreze liquid, OdorXit, or Fresh Wave.
Dry-Clean Only Fabrics
If the garment is labeled as dry-clean only, shake off any excess soot. As soon as possible take the items to a dry cleaner, and point out and identify the stains to your professional cleaner. You will have the best results if you select a professional cleaner that specializes in fire cleanup.
For items that have only a slight smoky odor, you can use an in-dryer home dry cleaning kit to freshen the fabrics. Follow the package instructions and then hang clothes outside to get some fresh air.
Removing heavy smoke odors and soot stains from carpet is best left to professionals. They have the proper equipment and chemicals to help restore order to your home.
For light soot staining from a fireplace, use a shop wet/dry vacuum to remove as much of the soot dust as possible. Do not use a household vacuum because the roller brushes can spread the soot and drive it deeper into carpet fibers.
To clean small spots, mix a solution of one tablespoon dishwashing liquid and two cups warm water. Dip a soft-bristled brush into the solution and working from the outside of the soot stain toward the center (to prevent spreading), work the solution into the stain. Blot the solution away from the stain with a dry white cloth or paper towel. When no more moisture is transferred, "rinse" the area by blotting with a cloth dipped in plain water. This is important because any soapy residue left in the fibers will actually attract more soil.
Allow the carpet to air-dry and then vacuum to restore the pile.
For light smoky odors, sprinkle the entire carpet with baking soda. Work it into the fibers by using a damp sponge mop. Allow the baking soda to dry and remain on the carpet for at least two hours. Vacuum away. Repeat as necessary.
The same cleaning techniques and solutions recommended for carpets can be used for upholstery. Take extra precautions and avoid over wetting the fabric since that can cause mildew problems in the cushions and stuffing.
If the staining is heavy or if the fabric is silk or vintage, consult a professional cleaner or if you need more stain removal tips.