Cleaning Up After a House Fire

    merlin1075/stock.xchngThere are few things more heartbreaking than the damage caused by a house fire. The first thing a homeowner should do after a fire is call his or her insurance company to find out the details of his or her coverage. The second thing is to call in a professional cleaner to do the clean-up.

    Don't try to DIY

    Casper Bemis, of Sterling Quality Cleaners in Keene, NH, a cleaning company that specializes in disaster restoration, offers a few suggestions for homeowners about cleaning up after a house fire.  "Mostly, what people should do is nothing. A typical homeowner should not try to clean up after a fire themselves. They don’t have the proper tools, methods or skills to do the job." 

    Bemis warns that homeowners, perhaps trying to save money, who attempt to clean walls, ceilings, or other "non-washable" surfaces, tend to make the problem worse by smearing.

    Cleaning soot

    Bemis explains that the soot from wood is different from the soot from plastics. "The clean-up is handled differently since you can’t wash oil-based (petroleum products such as plastics) from non-washable surfaces."

    Bemis's company, for instance, works to clean non-washable surfaces well enough to reduce or eliminate the need for painting. "Not cleaning properly doubles the cost of cleanup," he remarks. "It’s less expensive to clean than to paint."

    According to Bemis, it costs approximately 20 cents per square foot to clean, as opposed to about 70 - 80 cents per square foot to paint.

    Furniture, upholstery and window treatments

    Bemis states that after an assessment is done with your homeowners insurance company, companies such as his work to bring your belongings back to as original condition as possible. 

    In terms of soot, a specialized latex sponge is used dry to get off the first layer of soot, and then the items are often steam cleaned.

    If there is water damage, the National Institute of Restoration advises placing upholstered cushions on end to dry more easily. Also, place furniture up off the floor on small blocks of wood or other small hard, flat objects to lessen damage to the wood of the furniture legs.

    Cleaning in general after a fire

    Bemis said that washable surfaces, such as kitchen counters, can be cleaned as you normally clean them.

    Some items will unfortunately be unsalvageable. Many companies will help to clean up your belongings such as photo albums, but insurance companies will not take sentiment into account in terms of monetary loss.

    Bemis reports that it takes a crew of two to three people a week or more to do restoration after a fire. "It would take the homeowner a month or longer working all day every day to do the same job. We will go over every square inch of your house."

    Other tips from the National Institute of Restoration

    • Contractors doing water cleanup should be certified.
    • For water damage, try to mop or blot up as much as possible.
    • Don’t leave books, magazines, or other colored items on the wet floor, as the dyes will stain.
    • Don’t use televisions, computers, or any other appliances until they have been checked out by a professional. Also, do not use any of these items while standing on a wet surface.
    • Don’t send smoke-damaged clothing or other fabrics to an ordinary dry cleaner. They usually don’t have the proper skills or chemicals to deal with the damage properly.

    Cris Carl is a Networx writer.  

    Updated March 25, 2018.

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