Educational Resources

Smoke Damage Restoration

Smoke damage to the piano has long since been a devastating problem for the owner, technician, and insurance adjuster alike. Majestic Piano Company, LLC, has effectively addressed this age old problem. The following topics are included to define the perils of smoke regarding the piano as well as offer insightful information on successful avenues for complete odor removal. Please keep in mind that the corrosive nature of smoke makes it essential to have your piano restored as soon as possible.

Understanding Smoke

Smoke is the product of incomplete combustion made visible by the presence of small particles of carbon. All burnable substances involved in the fire create complex odors. Burnt plastics, fabric, meat, carpet and draperies provide an acceptable analogy of complex odors. Smoke generally dissipates quickly after the fire leaving residue. Rapid cooling particles of the incomplete combustion will leave a difficult film and odor on and in the entire piano. Smoke is acidic causing discoloration, corrosion and overall damage to the instrument.

Types of Smoke and Resultant Odors

We generally refer to smoke as either driven or free floating. Driven smoke is pressurized having force behind it. Vertical surfaces are the most commonplace for finding driven smoke. Free floating smoke originated as driven smoke but has lost the active energy. Horizontal surfaces are the recipients of this type of smoke. Driven smoke found within the piano interior brings with it numerous odors. We refer to these odors in three primary categories; Synthetic, Natural, and Protein.

Synthetic odors consist of plastics, and synthetic textiles. This form of residue in chiefly black in color and will smudge easily. Natural odors tally from burnt wood, cotton or paper products. The residue from natural odors is gray and black in color and usually form a powdery substance. Protein odors result from meat, flesh, grease as most kitchen fires promote. The residue from protein fires is greasy in nature and is yellowish to brown in color. Several processes and techniques are required for thorough odor removal to insure your piano will not project future ill aromas.

Low and High oxygen fires attribute to the severity of damage realized within your piano. A low oxygen fire is the smoldering type and leaves a wet smoky residue. A high oxygen fire produces a dryer residue and sometimes is easier to remove.

How the Piano is Affected by Smoke Damage?

The piano consists of assorted woods, metals, steel, felts, and plastics. Humidity fluctuations even on a low scale represent instability in tuning, tonal qualities, and overall consistency. In the event of a fire, intense dry heat is present. As the flames are extinguished, the hot, humid smoldering effect takes place. It is not uncommon to witness a relative humidity factor as low as 2% at the course of a fire. The extinguishing process could easily exert the humidity level upwards of 150% or more. As the humidity level increases, the woods found in the piano expand. The pores within the wood collect or adsorb the various malodors. Should the piano exist in the path of the air currents of driven smoke, the odors will then be driven deeper into the wood than that of free floating smoke.

Other substances within the piano are porous and highly susceptible as they adsorb odor bearing particles. The piano action for instance is greatly affected . The felts of the action serve as natural wicks for odor, the metal parts corrode quickly due to the acidic nature of smoke. The glues used are broken down making many of the action parts weak, misaligned, or completely unfunctional. Should rubber parts exist, they will become hard and brittle.

Oxidation found on the piano's strings is not uncommon. The soundboard and ribs have been known to separate as well as develop cracks and pressure ridges. Structural damages partnered with offensive residue creates undesirable ramifications.

What to Do with a Smoke Damaged Piano

Do not touch the piano with bare hands. The smoke is toxic and may impinge the touched surfaces as your finger oils react with the residue. If you must touch the piano, wear latex surgical gloves. Do not attempt to wipe and clean the instrument. Using the incorrect product(s) can and will leave undesirable results. Contact your piano technician making him or her aware of the nature and condition regarding your piano. Proper assessment of the damages will help your piano professionals serve you in an expedient manner. Survey the damages and provide the following information according to this check list:

  • Your name, address and telephone number
  • Piano's Manufactured name and age (a serial number would be helpful)
  • Time and date of the fire
  • Location of the fire:, bedroom, basement, etc.
  • Location of the piano at time of fire
  • Insurance Company name and adjuster's name with phone number
  • Your piano technicians name and telephone number
  • Whether or not the piano was touched by flame

To the Piano Technician


A comprehensive check-off worksheet is available for the asking. Properly evaluate the piano's condition and record your findings:

  • Case parts (overall condition of finish) (determine poly-lacquer-stain etc.)
  • Strings: (rusty, light corrosion, or filmy)
  • Tuning pins: (rusty, light corrosion or filmy) (size-torque)
  • Pinblock (give best visual assessment)
  • Plate, aliquots, hitch pins
  • Action (remove action-wear surgical gloves) (hammers, shanks, do swing tests)
  • Keys (Key bushings)
  • Pedals (lyre)
  • Humidity Control System (whether or not it exists and/or sustained damages)
  • Underside or backside (beams, ribs, soundboard)
  • Dampers & damper felts (grand)
  • Name & Serial number of piano
  • Customer information
  • Insurance information (adjuster's name, #, company name)
  • Restoration Company information (should one be involved with piano handling)

Could I do some of the cleaning myself?

Smoke damage restoration consists of numerous processes involving detoxification and odor counteractant techniques. Simple products such as bleach, baking soda, and grocery store cleaners are never effective in the successful removal of smoke damaging odors. It is not wise to attempt a cleaning such as this. The very nature of complex residues and odors may at times react unfavorably to inappropriate methods and or products. Should you encounter a smoked damaged piano, call us immediately that we may be of service to benefit both you and your client.

A little about the Majestic Piano Company, LLC

Majestic Piano Company is the pioneer and authority regarding smoke damaged pianos. Numerous classes, experimentation, product testing, grouped with comprehensive research brought together pertinent information for your damaged instrument. We are a full service piano rebuilding and restoration facility, located in Hopkins, Minnesota. We offer nationwide piano transportation and guaranteed smoke odor removal for pianos and organs. Complete written estimates, appraisals, limited verbal evaluations, prompt service, and complete customer satisfaction are the standards that set us apart from all others. Our dedicated staff believes in continual education which translates to the highest quality craftsmanship for your peace of mind.


©1996 David Swartz , RPT 
Dave Swartz, RPT
6201 Lower 161st St W
Rosemount, MN 55068-1214 
(952) 432-5232