A puff back is a relatively common issue in homes with furnace-based boilers and happens when the oil or gas in your furnace isn’t ignited immediately. Gas and oil fumes keep on building up in the system while the spark plug or furnace ignition system takes its time to catch the fumes.

When the spark eventually reaches the buildup, there is a small “explosion” in the boiler or a backfire. The explosion forces a burst of soot-saturated air through the ductwork and out of the vents throughout the home.  A very similar type of scenario can happen in homes with baseboard heat rather than forced air systems.

The soot from this exposition goes everywhere and be quite difficult to clean up. By everywhere, we mean the walls, ceilings, floors, and inside cabinets and closets.  If the fumes keep building for too long, there is also a risk of a larger explosion and fire damage. How can you prevent it from happening and what is the best way to clean it?

Avoiding Puff Backs

Check to Be Sure the Flue is Clear

If there is a blockage in the flue/exhaust pipe, this could impact the fuel-to-air ratio and prevent the system from operating normally. Typically, there is a cap on the flue exhaust to prevent birds, debris, and other items to enter the pipe.  Inspect this regularly to help avoid a blockage.

Make Sure There Are No Leaks or Soot

If there are any oil drips near your furnace or if you can hear gas leaking from the pipes, it means there is a high likelihood of encountering a problem. Also, look for any soot around the unit.  In some cases, the furnace may have extremely minor puff backs in advance of the one you won’t be able to miss.

Service the Furnace Regularly

Getting your furnace cleaned can be the key to preventing puff backs and spreading soot throughout your home. An annual inspection by your local HVAC company is a great habit to get into.

If you have experienced a puff back, the best course of action you have is to call an expert fire and smoke damage restoration service, and you should leave your house until they have the opportunity to place air filtration devices (air scrubbers) and begin the cleaning process.  If you need to enter your home, you’ll want to wear the proper PPE (we’re happy to help you with this). The toxic nature of soot has been known to cause issues such as heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory issues.  If you have any doubts, you should call your family doctor for their advice.

Pay close attention to the condition of your furnace to avoid the possibility of a puff back and give experts a call immediately after finding soot coming from your vents.  We’ll get out to you right away to answer all of your questions and to begin the cleaning process.


Serving South Central Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland
PA# 019590 MD# 108211
We also do : Water Damage Restoration, Drying & Dehumidification, Fire, Smoke & Soot Clean Up, Sump Pump Failures, Restoration and Mitigation, Crime Scene Clean Up, Pack Outs, Biohazard, Puff-back Cleanup, Mold Remediation, Sewage Clean Up, Water Extraction and General Contracting

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1214 East Market Street
York, PA 17403



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