The occurrence of a house fire can be a devastating experience for homeowners. As a result of the blaze, homeowners can lose not only the safety and security of their residence, but also their prized possessions and even basic items needed for everyday life. Food, transportation, and even clothing are subject to the ruinous effects of fire.
While people who have comprehensive homeowner’s insurance can eventually get reimbursement for their damaged and destroyed property, the application process can take time, and completely replacing your lost wardrobe can cost a staggering amount of money. During a period of hardship when you have to pay out of pocket for new temporary housing while the gutted remnants of your own home are being rebuilt, the last thing you want to have to do is spend an excessive amount of money replacing your family’s casual clothes, work uniforms, and business wear.
Rather than spending a small fortune trying to get your family’s wardrobe in order, it may be better to try to salvage some of your clothes so that you can get back to your routine faster. When attempting to re-establish a normal daily existence in the face of recent trauma, being able to hold on to small, innocuous reminders of your normal routine from before the fire can be comforting.
With this in mind, here are a few tips for getting some of your flame-damaged wardrobe ready for use:
- The first thing you should do when attempting to repair your clothes is to sort what can be salvaged from what is beyond repair. Examine each article of clothing, and sort out the items with burn holes from the rest.
After you have eliminated the clothes that are too damaged to use, begin sorting the remaining clothes based on their fabric types and washing instructions. Keep an eye out for bleach-safe clothes in particular.
Also, watch for clothing items that have metal fittings, buttons, beadwork, or other accessories. These non-fabric accessories can often have irreversible damage that makes them an eyesore as well as propagating further damage to surrounding fabric. If these items have severe burn damage, remove them and replace them with new ones.
- Contact your insurance provider as soon as you are able. Processing an insurance claim can take time, so the sooner you begin the process, the better. While a full payout may not come for a long time, insurance companies may be able to provide a partial payout to help cover necessities. This payout can help defray the cost of replacing clothes, and help you keep a roof over your family’s head in the interim as you wait for a permanent replacement or repair for your residence.
Also, having the insurance adjuster on-site as soon as possible can help to ensure that they have a chance to see the clothes that were damaged by the fire and have those articles of clothing added to the insurance claim before they end up getting thrown out without being documented.
- Before beginning to wash any clothes that have an excessive amount of soot, try to remove the soot as best you can.
First, take the clothing outside and try to shake out as much soot as possible. It is important to only shake the soot off, not to beat the clothes.
Another way you can remove soot is with a high-powered vacuum cleaner. When using a vacuum, you should use a narrow, high-suction tip which should be held at least an inch or two away from the fabric. Never use a brush tip attachment, as the bristles of the brush can actually force particles of soot deeper into the clothing, and actually make it harder to reclaim the damaged clothes.
- Having either shaken or vacuumed out the excess soot, you can begin to clean your clothes. At this point, you should send any dry-clean only clothes to the dry cleaners, preferably one that is certified or experienced in the handling of smoke-damaged clothing.
Any polyester or cotton fabrics should be washed repeatedly in warm water without bleach solutions, while your bleach-safe fabrics should be repeatedly washed in heavy detergent in order the remove the smoke odor from them.
You may wish to hand-wash your clothes for at least the first two to three washings, as the soot and oils from the smoke could cause the next few loads of laundry to acquire the smoke odor after a fire-damaged load has been run.
- If you want to avoid using generic detergents, a mixture of 4 to 6 tablespoons trisodium phosphate, one cup of bleach, and one gallon of water is a highly-recommended solution for soaking fire-damaged clothes to remove smoke odors. After mixing this solution together, submerge the fire-damaged garments in the solution overnight to allow the mixture to penetrate the fabric thoroughly. In the morning, simply remove the fabrics, rinse them with clean water, and hang them outside to dry.
- If the smoke odor persists, avoid using household deodorizers to remove the smell. Most household odor products will only temporarily mask the smoke odor, not remove the particles causing the smell. Instead, if the smoke odor persists after numerous washings, try to see if you can find a company that can perform an ozone treatment service on the clothes to remove the stubborn odor.
- Contact a fire-restoration expert for further advice. Fire-damage control experts have specialized training in handling and restoring fire damage to clothes, structures, and other personal property. So, if you need any advice on how to restore or preserve your items, do not hesitate to contact a professional.
A fire in your house is a devastating event, but with some planning and a little help, you can recover from a fire quickly and restore normality to your life.