After a fire is properly extinguished, if there isn’t too much permanent damage, you will usually have a great deal of clean up to do, if you plan on living at the residence. There will obviously be odors, smoke damage and moisture control that you’ll have to attend to, and this can be an overwhelming task.
To make it easier, we’ve put together a checklist of things you should look for, and some instructions on how to clean each area/item on the list. The biggest thing we want to drive home though, is that some things are simply unsafe to try and re-use after a fire. When in doubt, cut your losses and throw these things out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially when your family’s health is involved.
Here are some Tips for After Fire Clean-Up
Walls to Ceilings: Paint
Painted walls can be washed with detergents (even bleach). Use detergents that are safe for paint (check labels) and rinse with clean water. Avoid harsh scrubbing pads like steel wool that will scratch the paint – soft sponges usually work best (tip: big sponges for washing cars save a great deal of time). It’s logical to start from the ceilings and work downward, as you will likely drip dirty spots as you clean. If you decide to repaint, make sure that the walls are thoroughly dry.
Often, fires require a lot of water to extinguish, and this water can cause all kinds of water damage to linoleum and vinyl flooring. The problem is that the water can get underneath the flooring, and begin to rot away the wood, and form mold and mildew odors. You can lift up or remove the flooring, but it takes specialized skills. It is recommended that you call in professionals if you don’t know what you’re doing, it will save you lots of headache, damage and potential injury.
Refrigerators & Freezers
This is an area where you want to be careful, anything that involves food and consumption is a potential health risk, and you should always err on the safe side. Without hesitation, throw out any food that is questionable. As for cleaning the actual refrigerator, you can use common dish detergent, vinegar or bleach. To deodorize, you should rinse with a baking soda solution (about 1/2-cup baking soda to 1 gallon of water), followed by a clean water rinse.
Dishes are also a potential health risk and you should take extra precaution when washing them. Wash as you typically would, scrubbing off all debris and making sure to clear pots, pans, plates, silverware and all other dishes of discoloration. In addition, we recommend soaking dishes in a solution of about 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach to every gallon of water. Let the dishes soak for at least 20 minutes and then rinse well with clean water. NOTE: Any rubber, plastic or wooden kitchen utensils, baby bottles, etc. cannot be properly disinfected and should be discarded. There is too much risk to use these items again with food.
Mold & Mildew
Mold and mildew is going to be a problem in a lot of places after a fire is extinguished. Mattresses, furniture, carpet, rugs, clothing, etc. We recommend hiring a professional to assess these items and properly clean them. It might not be possible, and you should get rid of anything with permanent mold damage. Mold is a huge cause of health problems, and you don’t want to risk it.
Clothing is usually salvageable, but it takes a great deal of care. We’ve actually put together a separate guide for cleaning clothes after a fire, and you can find that on our blog next week.