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What is a Puff Back and Why is it so hard to Clean Up?

A puffin is a cute little diving bird that fishes along the sea coast. We don’t have them here in Vermont, but we do have puff backs. Puffins make cute little odd quacking sounds; puff backs create black, greasy, oily messes…

A puff back is the puff of smoke and soot from a malfunctioning heating unit inside your furnace that brings gunk into your home. When a furnace works properly, it combines fuel and oxygen in balanced amounts for good, controlled combustion. The correct mix produces a steady flame and burns the fuel almost completely. The puff back happens when the mix is unbalanced. For example, when the rate of combustion in your furnace slows, but the fuel injected into the heating system remains constant, a sudden combustion can occur.

Much like the backfire of a car, a puff back can cause a “boom” and a big vibration. This vibration shakes loose accumulated soot in the heating system and duct work. The air stream of forced air that normally brings lovely heat into your home instead brings these soot particles. Think of how the heat moves into all the areas of your home. The soot from a puff back will take the same path.

Residue from a puff back is usually an oily, sticky film whose base is petroleum. It has a strong smell and makes a mess that permeates everything. Because the puff back is backed up by a little explosion, these soot particles get a boost getting into the nooks and crannies of your home and furniture. Not only does the soot from a puff back get into the fabric of furniture and exposed soft goods, it can get behind doors and into drawers. It can get into closets and permeate your wardrobe.

The combination of nooks and crannies, propulsion and a petroleum base makes the mess caused by a puff back so difficult to tackle. Often traditional cleaning methods make the mess even worse than when you started. Professional remediation teams like those at PuroClean in Williston will often use alkaline degreasers and wet-cleaning methods to restore property damaged by puff back soot. In some cases they also use sealants to preventing re-contamination.

In most cases, an immediate response by a trained professional restoration company is called for. Quick action by a pro will help mitigate your losses and return your home to a pre-loss condition as quickly as possible. Proper maintenance of your furnace and chimney can prevent puff backs, but if they do occur, it’s time to call the pros at Puroclean. Then you can get back to bird watching…