A house fire is always a terrifying and destructive experience, but the amount and type of remediation required afterward can vary widely depending on how and where the fire got started, what materials it burned, and how much oxygen was available. These are the basic factors that determine whether a fire flourishes or whether it just sits and smolders. And while you’d think that smoldering is less damaging than a fast-burning fire, it actually produces much more damaging soot. Here are the three main types of smoke produced by house fires and the soot that materializes from them.
1. Protein smoke
Protein smoke is easy to identify by smell; it has that horrible smell you get when a bit of meat falls onto the stove burner and turns to charcoal. Protein smoke can be a big problem after kitchen fires. The soot it produces is practically invisible, which in turn may motivate the inhabitants to not call for professional remediation (especially if it was a small fire) because it doesn’t look like there’s much damage. However, the residue left by protein smoke can stick to all the surfaces in your kitchen, not only turning them tacky and disgusting to the touch and allowing them to trap dust in a gummy layer, but also damaging the surfaces it sticks to. Its acidic tendencies can corrode many types of material, and its penetrating smell may be nearly impossible to eradicate without professional equipment.
2. Wet smoke
Wet smoke is produced when a fire can’t get going properly and simply smolders instead. This can happen when the fire doesn’t have enough airflow or when the burning materials aren’t very flammable (whether because they’re wet or because they’re flame-resistant synthetic materials). Like protein smoke, wet smoke also deposits soot throughout your home and is very corrosive. It can pit fragile surfaces like plastics and china, as well as metals, if left unremediated. Although all smoke is acidic, wet smoke is especially good at corroding things since it sticks closely to surfaces rather than collecting in loose flakes like dry smoke.
3. Dry smoke
Dry smoke comes from fires that burn cleanly. This means they occur in “ideal” conditions; they have plenty of oxygen and the fuel they burn combusts well. The type of soot these fires produce is easily visible and tends to be flaky; it often collects in corners near the ceiling as cobweb-like structures. While it may not be as insidious as protein smoke or as persistent as wet smoke, dry smoke is still corrosive and the deposits it leaves can still damage any surfaces that aren’t properly cleaned after the fire.
These three types of smoke can all be professionally remediated, and in most situations it’s not advisable to do the cleanup yourself. This is especially true in situations with soot from wet smoke, which is hard to remove without causing further damage, or that from protein smoke, which is difficult to detect.