Is an Ash Vacuum a Soot Remover? Get the Facts Here

If you search for how to remove soot and ash vacuum online, don’t be surprised at how many results you get, because a lot of people have been looking it up. While it’s true that an ash vacuum can remove a lot of dirt and particles, there are still some who aren’t sure if it can handle soot, so can it?

To answer the question, yes, an ash vacuum can clean soot but because soot has an oily residue it’s going to fill up the filters more rapidly compared to ash. Because of this it’s going to be harder to clean the filters with an external shop vacuum or an air compressor. If you have any experience with oil burning stoves you know the importance of changing filters. If the filters are not replaced, getting rid of the soot will be much harder.

What is Soot?

Soot and ash are often mistaken for one another, and some people use the terms interchangeably. However the two are very different. Soot particles are the result of hydrocarbon combustion that is incomplete. Strictly speaking, soot refers to the gas-phase combustion process, but today it refers to various pyrolysed fuel particles like petroleum coke, charred wood, cenospheres and coal. To put it simply, soot comes from burning of fossil fuels, pollution etc. In addition, there are some pellets that produce soot.

Black soot. "Carbon black" by FK1954 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -


Where Does Soot Come From?

Aside from those mentioned, soot can also emanate from furnaces, fireplaces, waste incineration and house fires. Soot may also be produced indoors courtesy of halogen bulbs where dust has settled, candles, oil lamps, cooking and plant matter smoking.

What is Ash?

Ash on the other hand, is a broad term that refers to products of combustion, incineration and fire. This includes cigar ash, bottom ash (the result of coal combustion), wood ash, incinerator bottom ash and ash resulting from analytical chemistry. Even if you’re not familiar with the various types, there’s no need to worry about them as an ash vacuum cleaner can remove it quickly.

Which is Bigger, Soot or Ash?

In terms of size the two vary as well, with soot agglomerates measuring 100 nm (0.1 microns) in diameter on average. Ash particles however, usually start out smaller than soot but eventually grow and expand up to 1 – 10 microns.

Why Do I Need to Remove Soot?

A soot remover is necessary because if left untreated, it will darken surfaces or produce particle agglomerates such as those on ventilation systems, causing them to look black. Soot is also the reason for “ghosting” where walls, ceilings and floorings get discolored at the point where they meet. Soot is also the reason for wall discoloration along baseboard electrical heating systems, and there’s also evidence that it could lead to all kinds of health problems so it’s best to remove them quickly.

Now that you know what soot is and why you need to remove them, follow these steps to get rid of them permanently.

How Do I Remove Soot?

The most effective way to remove soot is to use an ash vacuum cleaner. Here’s how you do it.

  1. Place a plastic tarp or newspaper below the soot stain area to protect the flooring where the soot might fall from the walls.
  2. Wear rubber gloves to keep soot off your hands and clothing, and wear long sleeves if you’re going to use chemical cleaners (just to make sure it doesn’t end up on your skin).
  3. If you’re going to remove large stains, wear protective goggles to keep your eyes from getting irritated.  
  4. Get the vacuum cleaner. Connect the proper attachment on the hose and turn it on according to the user manual.
  5. Position the hose over the soot, making sure that it’s as near the wall as possible.
  6. Run the hose over the stain. You may need to do this several times to remove the soot.
  7. If some of the soot won’t come off, attach a brush to the vacuum and brush the stain lightly. Careful when you brush, and apply just enough pressure to remove the soot without scratching the wall.

The steps above should remove most if not all of the stains. If there are traces left, get a dry cleaning sponge, those designed specifically to remove soot. Just drag the sponge down in a straight line, going through the stain completely without making a stop. Don’t scrub the stain with the sponge.

You may need to repeat the process if the stain is large, and check every now and then if the sponge has darkened due to the soot. If it has, flip the sponge over, and if both sides have soot, get a new sponge or remove the top layer with a knife.

The process above should be enough to remove soot, but for the finishing touches you can prepare a mild detergent and use it to clean the wall or floor. Prepare the detergent according to the product instructions and once you’re done cleaning, prepare a bucket of clean, warm water and rinse the wall or floor. Don’t use harsh detergents because it might damage the wall, and just like with the sponge, check the detergent and replace it if necessary. 

How Does Soot Affect an Ash Vacuum Cleaner?

As was pointed out above, soot clogs filters much more quickly than ash so it makes filter cleaning more difficult. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but only that it will take more work. To ease the process you should try to clean the area as much as you can prior to using the vacuum so it doesn’t have to do as much work.

If you ever tried to figure out how to remove soot from carpet you know how hard that can be, but if you follow the directions given for an ash vacuum there shouldn’t be any problems. It’s imperative that you follow the instructions as provided in the user guide as there are different models available, and their application and functions vary.   

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