What is Considered smoke?

From a Fire Damage Perspective

As the saying goes, “The battle is lost already if the enemy is not known.” Many may find that smoke is a natural component of a fire. However, there is more than what meets the eye.

In order to combat smoke, one should understand what it is. Therefore, we at The Fire Restoration Team (TFRT), with decades of firsthand experience with smoke, will explain what constitutes smoke and how its behavior can impact you and your property.

What is Smoke Made of?

At its core, smoke is a collection of small gases and gases that are produced when materials burn. Depending on what is burning and the condition of the fire, soot can be composed of different-sized particles, as we will discuss.

The Perils of Smoke

In addition to having a pungent odor, smoke can be dangerous to your health. Inhaling smoke of any amount can lead to all sorts of respiratory problems that can exacerbate long-term conditions such as asthma or bronchitis. As mentioned before, soot, a bi-product of smoke, will form and corrode any exposed surface. Much of it can go undetected if not seen by trained eyes.

How to Handle Smoke Residue

Let’s take a classic example that often causes smoke to form. Whether grilling in the kitchen or handling boiling or broiling foods, gaseous particles spread around the home. One such example is protein residue.

Protein residue is a yellowish-brown pigment that sticks onto most surfaces when in contact. It mostly comes from burned meat or other overcooked food.

Fortunately, simple solutions, such as branded water-based cleaning chemicals and Clorox tools, are all you need. However, do not use these cleaning solutions on surfaces damaged by water.

Natural substance residue has an opaque & gray color. As the name hints, they come from flames consuming raw materials like wood. Unlike their protein counterparts, this residue is dry & powdery.

Rather than just water-based cleaning solutions, one should vacuum the area beforehand to facilitate cleaning it. What is nice about natural substance residue is that it does not have a strong odor.

What Factors Cause Smoke to Form?

As you may know, a few things come into play when smoke forms. Smoke is an assortment of airborne particle matter that can often include toxins. It occurs when there isn’t enough oxygen to burn the fuel completely. Understanding the following factors will help you understand the chemistry behind such reactions.

Air Pressure Changes:

Fire produces energy where pressure & heat businesses enter crevices and cracks in your home or business’s walls. Therefore, these cause air pressure changes, allowing stark differences in air pressures from one area of the property to another to form. Consequently, high-pressure gases coming from flames rush up to the areas of low pressure. That is why smoke tends to create and move upwards.

Combustion Temperatures:

You may have heard that heat always escapes to cooler areas. Some examples are closets, outside walls, etc. Therefore, heat causes pores to expand. The high temperatures generated by combustion also expand air, forcing smoke into crevices of the outside surface of your home or business property. Smoke can even penetrate the metallic surfaces of your fixtures and glasses.


In the context of fire damage, magnetism is the attraction of smoke to metal surfaces such as hangers, lighting fixtures, nail heads, and plumbing pipes. Smoke particles, which carry electrical charges, are attracted to the screw heads and other fasteners used to fix drywall and other materials on the studs of your walls. In the fire “restoration”  niche, these fasteners are sometimes called “nail pops.”


Ionization is when smoke particles attract each other with opposite charges. This process is known as “smoke webs.” They appear like cobwebs. They’re found on the upper corners of rooms around drapery pleats or inside cabinets or drawers due to the unique air movement in & around the spaces. Impingement is when a substance hits a surface with sufficient velocity; therefore, it splatters or impinges and remains on the surface.

Let’s Talk About How Smoke Moves When Fires Burn:

Cold Smoke or Free-floating Smoke

As was mentioned in the previous section, smoke is heavier than air when free-floating and typically settles on horizontal surfaces. These surfaces are the areas where the majority of smoke is deposited. This reaction originates from pressurized smoke that has lost its energy and velocity.

Hot Smoke or Driven Smoke

Driven smoke (known for being unbearable to the skin) occurs when the smoke is pressurized and has energy or force to keep it going. Its residue is found on vertical surfaces.

The primary consideration in determining the degree of smoke penetration throughout the structure is the temperature generated by the fire. These temperatures are typically beyond 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The severity of such contamination is directly related to combustion time, heat, and the presence of oxygen. Here are some takeaways about smoke:


Hot Soot-Laden Air Rises


Heat causes some surfaces to become soft and porous


Higher Combustion Temperatures Consume Fuel More Efficiently and Produce Less Smoke


Otherwise Known as the "Oven Effect," High Temperatures can Bake Residue onto Some Surfaces

Let’s Delve Into Some Facts About Smoke Odors

Air is a common source for gases to form & create odors. Whether they are unnoticeable or pungent, odors are detectable and linger. The olfactory lobe, a section of the brain, helps recognize odors. When molecules from the smell come into contact with the olfactory nerve endings behind the nose, a person detects the odor. This is otherwise known as “real odor.”

Due to the complications encompassing odor perception, contractors understand that eliminating odors is next to impossible. TFRT knows there is no one-step solution to reverting your damaged property’s air quality to a toxin-free state.

It takes multiple levels of planning. Making your place odorless and accessible requires contractors like ourselves to have the proper equipment & training to attend to these unpredictable situations.

FYI: Osmics is the field of science concerned with smell.

Why Is Outsourcing The Way To Go

Humans, as a species, can sniff out odors (known as the olfactory sense), which perplexes scientists. Many times, state-of-the-art equipment is utilized to detect smells from a scientific standpoint. However, funny enough, our noses can identify more than what we credit ourselves for, so much so that the human nose can recognize some smells instantly and can do so for concentrations as small as a 10th of a milligram.

When studying our sense of smell, we realized that for people to detect a material, its odor should be volatile, solubility in water and fatty substances, and adaptable to occupants’ sense of smell.

Did you know that Smoke Fumes Filled with Odor are a Result of Incomplete Combustion?

If combustion were complete, the gas from the smoke fumes would be harmless. The outcome of incomplete combustion is also known as soot and smoke residue. Particles from incomplete combustion or PICs come from compounds that produce other molecules or serve as catalysts, such as acetylene. These substances originate from burned material. That can include natural and synthetic substances. Convection currents of air carry this particular result throughout a structure. Still, eventually, as the atmosphere loses energy, the particles from PICs begin to deposit and build up in and around the design of your home or office.

You probably think that you have not stumbled across any carbonaceous substances. Any level of smoke is considered carbonaceous. Tar and resins release thousands of chemicals. This is just a natural part of the combustion cycle. Many people are familiar with the dangers of smoking and how the tarry substance that gets into your lungs can cause chronic illnesses.

Regardless if you are a smoker, exposure to the smoke of levels usually experienced in a house fire or any smoke can be just as harmful. The residue from these fumes penetrates not just the air but also the surfaces, the surroundings, and your body.

If you let that build up, you can see yourself in a hazardous environment. Many particles from smoke fumes are small. They can be within the range of .1 to 24 microns in size. This smoke builds up from the heat of the fire, causing the residue to stick to glass and stainless-steel surfaces.

Please be aware that smoke residue cannot be detected by odor. However, because of its high carbon content, it does absorb its charges.

So, How Do You Control Smoke Odor?

Now that we have discussed everything odor-related, let’s discuss more how we can control it. First, remember that some surfaces will become deeply embedded with smells from fire smoke.

Before orders expand, make sure to eliminate possible sources of it. You can use an absorbent or oxidizing agent to counter this pungent smell by allowing the deodorizing agent to penetrate the head. If the odor contaminates any surface, then clean it thoroughly with an appropriate agent.

Lastly, seal off any further releases of the order using sealers because their permeance factor or perm is a measurement that quantifies how strong and older can be in penetrating and staying environment or surface. Sealers are subjective errors. Therefore, keep an inappropriate cleaning agent in case the sealer fails.

Synthetic Residue:

As a result of oil-based burned material, many upholsteries are made of synthetic material that is subject to boiling in a particular manner. Unfortunately, when there is a fire, synthetic material leaves a filmy residue that is black and smeary.

If the residue is left undisturbed on a surface, it can be vacuumed away. However, when the smear is touched, restorers like us find it harder to remove it from a surface.

Lastly, synthetic materials leave ornate soot-covered webs with three nicknames in our industry: “smoke tags, smoke webs, or smoke streamers.” When it doubts, do not touch the synthetic residue. Please leave it to us.

Influences on Smoke Behavior & Penetration

Did you know that the way the smoke is distributed determines the concentration spots of its deposited residue?

Yes, that is true. Factors determining the smoke’s distribution include combustion time, geometry, & temperature.

Combustion is the chemical reaction when a substance reacts with an oxidant like oxygen to give off heat. Due to combustion, high temperatures augment the air pressure inside an enclosure.

Consequently, these environmental factors allow smoke in enclosed cavities and exposed surfaces. Fire residues tend to have awful odors, making removing their presence effectively and precisely more critical.


All in all, there is so much more than what meets the eye for smoke to form. However, much of it happens spontaneously, which is too much for our minds to comprehend. Nevertheless, learning the intricacies behind these chemical reactions within milliseconds is intriguing.

We hope this blog was very insightful and got you thinking about what constitutes smoke from a fire damage technician’s perspective. To learn more about smoke damage, check out this page to dive deeper into what you can be prepared to evacuate while implementing proactive measures to prevent smoke from reoccurring in your home or business.

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