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Subject: Soot and odour removal after a fire

Soot and odour removal after a fire

From: Linda Roundhill <artsconservation>
Date: Tuesday, September 3, 2002
Reni Teygeler <rene.teygeler [at] wxs__nl> writes

>Monographs that have been recovered after a fire form a big problem
>for the conservator. First it is almost impossible to remove the
>black greasy soot from the covers and second it is next to
>impossible to remove the pungent odour.
>About the soot removal, the advice I was given is just to clean the
>books by hand with a soft brush. One important advice however was to
>handle the effected books as little as possible as to prevent
>smudges. It was said that an untouched layer of soot was easier to
>remove. Another advice is to remove the soot as soon as possible as
>the longer it stays on the covers the more difficult it seems to
>remove it.
>About the odour, there are some Dutch companies that claim to be
>able to remove the smell from the books after a fire but in the end
>it seems that they are only spraying the books with another scent in
>order to dispel the original pungent odour. In fact they do not
>remove the original odour but only try to 'out-scent' it with
>another one. One company claims to 'destroy' the odour molecules
>with enzymes after the soot has been removed.
>Does anyone have any experience in removing soot and the pungent
>odour from monographs after they have been recovered from a fire?

There have been numerous reports of odours removed with something
called zeolites which is a natural mineral with highly absorptive
qualities.  The theory is that when affected objects are enclosed in
a sealed space with this mineral, the odiferous particles given off
are actively absorbed.  I assume that a gradient is maintained which
helps speed up the natural outward migration of the odours (a sort
of  'purified air poultice'?). While some claim that after a few
months, no trace remains of the odour, I have not tried this myself
nor seen it first hand.  It seems unlikely that 100% of the odour is
removed, but supposedly it can be vastly improved by this method.

As I believe water can also be absorbed by zeolites, care should
probably be taken that objects do not become dessicated.  For more
information there is a company in Canada that produces zeolites for
many different industrial applications.  Their URL is

It can be obtained, apparently through many retail sources under
various names, especially in the pet odor elimination industries.

Linda S. Roundhill
Art and Antiquities Conservation
18121 157th Ave NE
Woodinville, WA 98072

                  Conservation DistList Instance 16:17
                Distributed: Tuesday, September 3, 2002
                       Message Id: cdl-16-17-007
Received on Tuesday, 3 September, 2002

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