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How Do I Clean Up Soot from my Vent Free?

Q: Hello- I have been reading the letters on your website regarding the problems with the vent free products. I too have been experiencing terrible sooting all throughout my house. My question is this- how do you clean the soot? Is there a special product, or procedure for getting the walls clean? Thanks.

Julie Demo
Rochester, New York

Sweepy Hi Julie,

Here's one technique, published by Michigan State University Extension:

It is important that you carefully plan your clean up procedures in this process, especially when cleaning up soot, smoke residue or ashes from your fireplace. Soot, a carbonized deposit, can stain very quickly if liquefied through liquid chemical removal. Therefore, you want to remove as much smoke residue as you can through a dry method. Be aware that India ink, a permanent dye, is nothing more than carbon black mixed into a solvent medium. So be careful.

Your first step is vacuum, sweep, or wire brush the entire fireplace and surrounding affected area out. Be sure to use a quick 'flicking' motion with a brush and duster. Also,keep the vacuum head about 1/4 inch away from surface to avoid scratching. Wear old clothes, rubber gloves, a baseball cap, a disposable paper dust mask (available at any hardware store) and safety goggles during this process, especially when removing any loose particles. DO NOT RUB! If you start wiping down or rubbing this type of soil off with rags, the black pigment will smear and spread beyond your wildest imagination. Be sure to place newspapers under affected surfaces during this process so excess soot can fall on it and be disposed of easily.

Dry removal method requires buying a "professional" chemically treated soot sponge, available at janitorial supply stores (see links from this website). This tool is a 2" x 3" x 6" "special" dry chemically impregnated sponge which scoops up and absorbs dirt and soot into it's pores. Use until the sponge gets filthy dirty and then switch wiping area to a cleaner part of sponge. When it's filthy on all sides, remove surface layer by shaving dirty level with a razor blade to expose a new sponge surface. Do Not wring out sponge with water or clean it or you will ruin the chemical treatment. When finished remove the newspapers carefully.

After you have removed as much of the smoke residue dry with both vacuuming (dusting or brushing) and the dry, chemically treated sponge, then put down a plastic drop cloth and wash these same surfaces with a warm, mild solution of a water soluble citrus cleaner degreaser. Apply liberally, according to directions, onto surface and agitate with a hard bristle scrub brush. Be sure to use a plastic drop cloth under work area to avoid staining of unaffected areas. Wash and wipe down surfaces with a regular, wet sponge. Wash and wipe down surfaces with a clean, terry cloth towel. Then, rinse with water, and wipe dry again. If necessary, you may want to repeat "wet" procedure. After drying, you may wish to further "lighten" up brick work by dabbing onto the stone with a clean "normal" sponge a weak dilution of a bleach dilution mixed at 1 part bleach with 4 to 6 parts cool water. Bleach contains optional brightener and may bring out the accent of the brickwork even better.

Note: Always test an inconspicuous area for colorfastness, etc. before treating the exposed area.

Also note that certain stains are permanent.


To read about how much CO2 a vent-free fireplace exhausts into the breathing space, click here.

To read about respiratory irritation from vent-free exhaust in the breathing space, click here.

To read about a recent study of the effects of long-term exposure to CO gases, click here.

To read postings from vent-free gas exhaust exposure victims, click here.

To read a posting about vent-free gas appliances from an indoor air quality scientist, click here.

To read exerpts from a recent Consumer Reports article about vent-free fireplaces, click here.

To read letters in defense of vent-free products, click here.

To read our opinion about vent-free gas appliances, click here.

Have a vent-free experience you'd like to share with the Consumer Product Safety Commission? Click Here.


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