Saving Valuables after a Fire
House fires are devastating. As you walk through the remnants of your home, what can you salvage? What the flames did not burn might now be covered in soot and ash. Or, the water used to put out the flame might have caused even more devastation. When a house sustains such damage, proper cleanup is crucial since the ash, soot and water will wreak havoc on what remains.
Conventional cleaning methods could cause bigger issues. Chemical agents could react with the residue and cause permanent harm, and in some cases, cause toxic fumes. Smoke damage cleanup is one of the most difficult jobs out there and might require professional service to save your valuables.
Saving Memories by Type
Books and Important Papers
Obviously burned books are unsalvageable but some smoke damaged books have a chance. Gently wipe the soot from the covers of the book with a slightly damped sponge. Choose a gentle detergent and don’t scrub. Light smoke residue can be wiped away from the pages, but with a dry sponge. If ineffective, an art gum eraser may be needed on pages with more debris.
To remove the smoke odor, try adding one of the following to a sealed box for 24 hours:
○ Baking soda
○ Fresh coffee grounds
○ Activated charcoal
○ White vinegar
Water soaked documents and books should be spread out on a table to dry. Lay papers flat; fan out the pages of books and set them upright. When the book no longer feels damp, place it flat with weight on top to minimize warping, however, this technique does not work on books with glossy pages; they may require professional restoration.
Your fine wood furniture has been through a lot. The soot and ash on the surface are very corrosive. If your first instinct is to scrub down dirty furniture, wooden floors, and metal objects with a towel after a fire — don’t… This can scratch the varnish. “The least amount of physical contact, the better,” suggests Perfection Property Restoration. Chances are that your cleaning tools will scratch the surface and ruin the piece.
Instead, professionals will use special chemical sponges to remove any loose soot and dust particles. Refinishing the surface might require lightly working a cream restorer over the wood using 0000 steel wool. Following the grain of the wood as you clean is important; going against the grain will leave the surface looking dulled and scratched.
You must act quickly, smoke can etch brass or copper in as little as 24 hours. A full-service smoke damage cleanup company like Perfection Property Restoration will be able to inspect each piece of furniture and help you determine the best course of action.
If the furniture got wet, it should be air-dried, slowly and out of the sun to help avoid warping. Remove the drawers and items inside drawers to facilitate drying. Only attempt cleaning once the object is dry. Never use home style vacuum attachments; they’re too rough on the finish.
According to Van Witt Fine Art Conservation, do not wipe or touch a painting covered in soot or ash. Even the lightest touch will grind the particles into the painted surface and permanently discolor it. Smoke contamination on fine art must be treated by a trained conservator; call an expert immediately because the longer the soot sits on your painting the more secondary damage it will cause due to the high acidic nature of soot.
Again, if the piece was water damaged, do not attempt to blot dry a wet work of art, as this could ruin the surface. Instead, lay it flat and let it air dry. Try to get four to eight inches of space underneath the artwork using blocks, and direct fans away from the surface. Also, don’t panic if the piece has been submerged in water; practice patience as the items dry.
If you can’t immediately air-dry wet photos or art, put them in the freezer. Wet photos should be dried face up, with nothing stacked on top. Individual photos can be placed in zip-top plastic bags; if you have entire boxes and albums that are wet, secure them in plastic wrap and tape any seams. When you’re ready to dry the photos, defrost them in the plastic to keep them damp, then gently separate with clean fingers.
If you are in need of a professional smoke cleanup company, contact the professionals at Perfection Property Restoration!