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Clearing the Smoke After a Fire

In the Nick of Time

The smell of smoke can overwhelm you, especially if you're working in a small area. Using a room deodorizer can help you breathe a bit easier while you're working. Or buy some dried eucalyptus branches, stick them in a pot or vase, and keep them with you as you work.

Burning things leave different types of residue and odors, which makes fire reclamation and restoration difficult. Techniques that remove smoke and smell from some substances don't work on others, and vice versa. Knowing what does and doesn't work and what to use on various surfaces and materials is often beyond the skill set of most homeowners, which is why insurance companies usually recommend hiring experts.

But let's say you had a small fire that only affected a single room—for our example,we'll use your kitchen. There's no structural damage…the fire was out before the fire trucks arrived—just a lot of soot everywhere and an awful smell from the fire. What's more, you didn't file an insurance claim because the damage is pretty much limited to the smoke and soot, and you figure the clean-up costs are going to be less than your deductible. So, you either have to hire and pay for the help out of your own pocket, or do it yourself.

Here's what you'll need if you choose the latter option:

  • Wet/dry vac. Preferably a unit that can handle wet and dry substances.

  • Dry-cleaning sponges. These are special sponges that do a great job of cleaning soot from just about anything. You can find them in art-supply (they're also great for keeping artwork clear of dust and whatnot while it's being created), cleaning, and paint supply stores. Expect to pay around $4 to $5 each.

  • Tri-sodium phosphate, or TSP. This is a caustic chemical commonly used as an all-purpose cleaning agent. It's a powerful degreaser and cleaner and makes short work of things like grease and soot. You can use TSP to clean clothing, walls, floors, and some furniture. Pine cleaners will work, too, and are typically less caustic. As such, using them will take a little longer.

  • Bucket for mixing the TSP or other cleaner. Get at least a gallon-size one.

  • Sponges, rags, mop, and so on for cleaning hard surfaces.

  • Rubber gloves, both for wearing while mixing cleaner and during cleanup. Oils from your fingers can mix with soot and smoke to further damage everything you touch.

  • Vacuum cleaner with edge attachment. You'll use this for getting into hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Common Household Disasters © 2005 by Paul Hayman and Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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