Can furniture be cleaned properly after a fire?

Can your furniture be saved after a fire?

If you’ve been through the trauma of a house fire, you’re no doubt wondering if your furniture, among other things, can be saved.  After you see the results of soot and smoke everywhere, you may find yourself wondering if the fire should have just kept going and you can just start over again!  Take heart though, all is NOT lost!

Does it matter WHAT burned?

This isn’t something the average homeowner will consider, but it can make a difference in how easily things clean up.  The burning of natural materials (wood, natural fabrics, etc.) generally give off a dry smoke residue free of oil and grease which will increase the efforts needed to clean.  Protein fires (the burning of meat, oil or other organic matter) and synthetic material fires (plastics, nylon, polyester, etc.) give off an oily residue that is greasy to the touch.  Of course, fire isn’t selective and no home has just ONE type of material in it.  Many usually burn together leaving both sorts of residue, requiring multiple cleaning techniques.

Energetic homeowners at times will attempt cleaning without realizing the importance of technique.  ‘Gettin’ after it’ with Mr. Clean and a towel many times has resulted in a much bigger bill because that can “set” the residue, requiring more elaborate restoration procedures later.  Other factors also include: age and previous wear, heat levels and molecular changes to plastics.

What happens to surfaces in a fire?

Heat will cause air to rise and be attracted to cold surfaces such as the upper portion of the walls, metals and glass.  Pressure generated during the fire can drive smoke into porous surfaces, cracks, crevices and leave odor behind.  Porous wood furniture can swell when exposed to heat.  Upon cooling, these surfaces “shrink” somewhat, trapping odor and can smell smoky for years.

Residue from smoke is acidic in nature and will slowly damage or “etch” surfaces until it is removed.  To contain the amount of the loss, it’s very important to remove as much smoke as possible from surfaces such as door hardware, bathroom and light fixtures, countertops, appliances, drapes, furniture and carpet.  The longer the time before cleaning the more difficult it will be.
 **Note:  Did you know that you will save a lot of work by not TOUCHING anything after a fire?  The OIL in your fingertips will set the soot into the surface you touch, making cleaning more difficult!  Besides, a lot of soot is highly carcinogenic, so the less direct contact you have, or your pets have with it, the better.** 

So what’s the best step to take to be sure everything is properly cleaned? 

Professional restoration companies will employ techniques that properly remove all soot residue and then deodorize all contents.  Sometimes that is accomplished with the detergents we use, other times it’s by ozone.  Ozone will destroy the molecules in all the nooks and crannies, killing the odor effectively.  Depending on the amount of damage to the structure, items can be cleaned on site, along with the house itself.  Other times, we must “pack out” the home, itemizing and boxing all items, cleaning them at the warehouse and repacking again, awaiting reconstruction. Believe me, speaking from experience, once all cleaning and deodorizing is done, you will never know you had a fire!  It’s that good!

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