When smoke, mold, or pet odors are involved, odor removal takes a lot more than a bit of cleaning and some air freshener. To rid your home of foul odors you’ll need a multi-step process of
- removing the source (which can be really difficult for soaked-in pet urine, mildew odors within building cavities, and the like),
- absolutely thorough cleaning, and
- treatment with a counteractant (such as a disinfectant, vinegar, ammonia, or enzymes).
For tobacco and fireplace smoke odor removal do-it-yourself methods are often effective, but only if you do your research on the best methods for deep cleaning various items such as curtains, area rugs, cushions, duvets, blankets — just about anything made of fabric — as well as walls, ceilings and floors.
Fire Odors Are the Toughest
Mold and bacteria release “MVOCs” — microbial volatile organic compounds — as they grow. So these problems need to be corrected or those microbes will just go on creating more odor for you to deal with. That can involve quite a bit of work and expertise, as major infestations can thrive within walls and just about anywhere moisture is present.
But even compared to those difficulties, smoke odor removal after a fire is even more challenging. Not only can microscopic smoke particles (along with oils and gasses) reach just about anywhere, the heat of the fire (and humidity after firefighting) opens up pores in wood and other porous materials (including paint!). Those pores then close, leaving you with stubborn long-lasting odors. Even surface cleaning gets complicated. Oxygen-rich burning produces “dry” smoke that calls for one type of cleaning while oxygen-deprived fires produce “wet” oily smoke that requires different cleansers.
Odor Control Technologies
While special equipment and techniques such as soda-blasting can make quick work of large building surfaces, complete odor removal usually involves meticulous hand cleaning.
Odor removal experts use commercial cleaning products specially formulated for the many combinations of contaminants and items to be cleaned, ranging from hard surface cleaning to delicate fabrics, walls to inside dresser drawers, carpet to HVAC ducts. Even the grout between tiles can absorb and release odors, and if the foam padding underneath a laminate floor becomes contaminated the floor must be replaced.
But there may still be odorous compounds trapped beyond the reach of surface cleaning, hiding deep within the building’s structure. Thermal foggers and ozone generators take care of that.
Thermal foggers create a fine mist of deodorant droplets (not coincidentally about the size of smoke particles) that can make their way through tiny cracks and crevices to counteract odor-causing compounds. Combinations of heat and humidity can re-open pores for permanent smoke odor removal. Thermal fogging is also used for tobacco, pet, and mold odor control.
Ozone and Hydroxyl Generators
Ozone generators for odor removal are not the same as what you might buy for “healthy” ions. They’re commercial-grade equipment that require training, and can not be used in occupied buildings. Oxygen molecules, O2, are two atoms of oxygen bound together. Ozone, O3, is three. That extra oxygen is highly reactive, breaking into volatile organic compounds while leaving behind only oxygen. Ozone treatments can kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi as well as (some people claim) bedbugs and lice. The downside is that the building must be vacated for 1-2 days and damp items may become bleached.
Hydroxyl generators are a popular alternative. Water is two atoms of hydrogen plus one atom of oxygen, H2O. Hydroxyl has just one hydrogen, -OH. It’s even more reactive than ozone, but that means hydroxyl ions degrade (this time into water) much more quickly. These generators can be run while the building is occupied, but their reach is limited and treatments take longer. It’s an open debate whether or not hydroxyl or ozone treatments are the most effective overall.