Dealing with a house fire is never easy. But knowing that some or all of your belongings are salvageable can ease the stress. If you're wondering what to do with items that appear to be damaged by smoke, don't toss them out just yet. Here's what you need to know about handling those things safely and getting them back into usable condition.
Understand the importance of safety. Smoke is made up of particles that are given off in a fire, but what's actually in the smoke depends on what caught on fire.
For instance, when wood burns, the smoke contains elements such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, methane, traces of heavy metals, and VOCs among other things. When other items burn—like pieces of plastic, containers of chemicals, and leather clothes and furniture—they can leave behind a toxic residue that appears as a film on furniture, walls, and curtains and also penetrates your furniture and clothes. Because this film is toxic, it needs to be removed safely using special precautions.
Removing this residue should typically be done by a professional, as they use an industrial vacuum while wearing protective equipment. Once most of the damage to the home is restored, you may need to tackle individual pieces of wood furniture with special cleaners that are targeted for finished or unfinished wood.
Know what type of fire you had. Every house fire is a little different. Some are known as "high-oxygen" fires while some are "low-oxygen." The former tends to leave behind a dry smoke residue while low-oxygen fires are the ones that smolder, leaving more of a wet residue on your furniture and other belongings. If water was used to put out the fire, that can exacerbate the damage done, particularly to wood, as it can increase the absorption of smoke and moisture. The drier the residue, the easier it is to remove the odor and soot, but that doesn't mean that other types of damaged can't be fixed. It's just more likely that you'll need the guidance of a damage restoration company.
Tackle the damage ASAP. The earlier you deal with smoke damaged items, the better. The longer you put it off, the greater the damage can be. For example, waiting as long as several days can allow metal to corrode; clothing, drapes, and upholstery to become soot stained; and can cause wood furniture to need a complete refinishing. Hold off for several weeks, and your carpet fibers could turn yellow permanently, driving up the costs of restoration.
Once you have permission from the fire department to re-enter your home (this is crucial), the very first step to reducing damage is to ventilate the home as quickly as possible. Wearing a mask and gloves, place box fans inside the windows and turn them on so they're pulling the inside air out to remove smoke and dust from your home. From there, contact a professional as soon as possible so they can get started on the restoration process.
Clean your clothing. Most restoration companies don't deal with clothes, so you'll have to take care of this on your own. Obviously, you can usually tell what needs to be thrown out at a quick glance, and anything with burn holes or extreme damage should be discarded.
The next step is to sort your clothes by the type of fabric and care instructions. So anything that needs to be dry cleaned should be bagged and sent to the cleaners.
The rest of your clothes should be taken outside and gently shaken to remove any loose soot. You can also use a vacuum to remove some of the dry soot and smoke odors. From there, it's simply a matter of laundering until the clothes return to their original state, which can take several cycles. You may also have to deodorize if some residual odors remain. The best way to do this is by using different brands of laundry soap or maybe a splash of bleach.
If you feel you cannot do this on your own, it is best to contact a professional repair and restoration company, such as FRSTeam by DKS Dry Cleaning Restoration.