Ruiz, a contractor specializing in fire restoration
in Lincoln, Neb., responds: Smoke smells of
any kind can be frustrating to remove, because
smoke permeates walls and other porous surfaces and
can get trapped in household ducts. If not properly
removed or encapsulated, smoke odor reoccurs,
especially during warm or damp weather. Although
your clients had the right idea to encapsulate the
odor with a sealer after a thorough surface
cleaning, they used the wrong products. Smoke
smells require odor-neutralizing cleaners, and
while water-based Kilz has excellent stain sealing
power, it doesn't really block odors.
Here's a four-step approach I've found to be
effective in getting rid of smoke smells: First,
remove and replace any existing porous materials in
the room, such as carpeting, pads, and drapes.
Second, clean the walls, ceiling, and floor with a
chemical designed to mitigate smoke odors, such as
Bridgepoint's Smoke Odor Counteractant (Bridgepoint
Chemspec's Air Neutralizer (Chemical Specialties
Manufacturing Corp., 800/638-7370,
with a heavy-duty wall cleaner like TSP. Don't
forget to remove heat registers and clean inside
the register boot.
Third, if you have access to a hot fogger
(available at many equipment-rental shops and
professional carpet-cleaning outlets), thermal fog
the room. While there are several "flavors" of
odor-eliminating thermal fog, the candy-scented
ones tend to mask smoke odors best; I've found
Bridgepoint's cherry-scented Thermal Fog to be
especially effective. If you can stay out of the
house for a few hours, you could also place an
ozone generator in the room, and then air out the
room after about four hours of treatment. Both
hot-fog and ozone treatments will chase away smoke
smells in areas that are inaccessible to surface
cleaners and sealers.
Finally, apply a smoke and soot sealer to the
walls, ceilings, and (if possible) subfloor with a
paint sprayer, wet fogger, or garden sprayer.
Unlike Kilz, chemically engineered smoke sealers
deodorize and encapsulate smoke odors so they don't
become airborne. You can also spray these
deodorizing sealers into ductwork.
If these steps seem too complicated, consult a
professional restorer. You can find one in the
phone book under "Fire & Water Damage