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Clearing the Smoke After a Fire

One of the first things you want to do is get fresh air circulating through your house. This will lessen the smoke smell, but it won't get rid of all of it.

If it's dry outside, open all windows and doors to grab as much breeze as possible. If things are soggy from the water used to hose down the fire, you might want to run some fans or a dehumidifier as well. Be sure to check the status of the electrical wiring and outlets in the damaged room before you plug in anything. And, keep central air or heat turned off until after the room is cleaned. This will help keep soot from circulating through your house.

A Fine Mess

Don't use upright vacuum cleaners or vacuum cleaner attachments with brushes on carpets, upholstered furniture, and curtains. Doing so can force soot deeper into fibers.

Next, figure out your game plan. It's usually best to work from the top down, as fire debris tends to float downward, which means you'll probably want to tackle hard surfaces like the ceiling and walls first.

Before you do, use your wet/dry vac to remove all dry soot and any chemical residue from fire extinguishers that is underfoot. You don't want to track this stuff through your house. If you're vacuuming carpets or rugs, hold the nozzle of the vac slightly off the surface to avoid working the soot further into the fabric. Cover soft surfaces with plastic after you're done to protect them from accumulating soot that's still circulating in the air and from dirt that might be tracked in by inspectors or workers.

Next, remove loose soot from hard surfaces with the dry-cleaning sponges. Unlike regular sponges, these are used dry (hence the name). Wipe the ceiling first, then do the walls. Start each stroke at the top and work down. As you work along, the sponge will collect soot. You can use a knife to skim it off the sponge and expose a new cleaning surface.

The extra-soft surface of dry-cleaning sponges work well on many surfaces, but not all. For example, they aren't good on oil-based paint, acrylic paint, or vinyl wallpaper, and they also aren't very effective for removing the soot from grease fires. You'll need to use a regular sponge and TSP or a similar cleaner on these surfaces.

Work quickly, but be thorough. The more soot you're able to remove, the faster the smoke smell will dissipate.

Use your sponge and cleanser to wipe down all the surfaces in your cupboards, pantry, and other storage areas. Throw away any open food packages as you go. The smoke makes it unfit to eat. Dishes, glassware, and cooking utensils can be washed as you normally would.

If there are soft surfaces such as curtains, carpet, or rugs in your kitchen, you might want to consider hiring a professional fire restorer. Incorrect cleaning methods here can hurt more than help, as the oils in soot easily damage these materials. Vacuum up as much soot as you can from a distance of about an inch or two from the surface you're cleaning. Then cover it up and let someone else tackle it.


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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