Cleaning Your Home After a Fire or Storm
After your insurance company representative has assessed the damage, you need to make a decision regarding the cleaning of your home and possessions.
You have two options: either hire certified restorers or serve as your own cleaner. Below are general cleaning tips should you choose to clean yourself.
These are starter guidelines - talk with friends and family for more tips and contacts.
Have any tips of your own? E-mail us.
Before You Begin
After a serious fire or natural disaster, you might have to move out of the house during cleanup and repairs. See our After A Disaster for information on finding housing, rebuilding and moving back home.
If you are hiring cleaning professionals or restorers to clean up your home, see our article How to Choose a Contractor or Restorer.
If you cleaning, bring these items before you return home - read our 'What To Take With You' [WHN page link TK] — a starter list of supplies you may need plus documents and records. Bring a backpack for items or something easy to carry supplies in (think hands-free).
Protect your skin and respiratory tract from harmful fire, mold and chemical residue. During a fire or natural disaster, many chemicals may be released. Take breaks periodically from cleaning. Make sure you have access to plenty of fresh air while cleaning.
Red Cross Voucher
The American Red Cross can provide a voucher to purchase new clothing, groceries, essential medications, bedding, essential furnishings, and other items to meet emergency needs.
Listen to the radio, look up American Red Cross, or call a family member or friend an have them find out where to go for assistance. The Red Cross can also provide you with a cleanup kit: mop, broom, bucket, and cleaning supplies.
Secure needed building permits. (See tips from the Better Business Bureau.)
Unless they are trained, discourage friend and relatives from assisting in the process. There could be liability issues if they become injured or if they further damage the property or possessions.
Keep children, elderly adults, individuals with asthma and pets (especially birds) away from the affected area.
Turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box, even if the power is off in your community. That way, you can decide when your home is dry enough to turn it back on.
Be sure to have electrical power turned off and exposed wires secured by a qualified electrician before working around appliances or wet surfaces.
Disconnect all appliances and light fixtures. Power surges occurring when power is restored can damage appliances and fixtures.
Read, understand and follow all safety precautions with all chemicals, tools, and appliances you work with.
Be certain to follow approved connect requirements. It is against the law and a violation of electrical codes to connect generators to your home's electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices.
The improper connection of a generator to your home's electrical circuits may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.
Do not operate any gas-powered equipment indoors. They will use up oxygen and release deadly carbon monoxide.
Whenever you are cleaning or re-building, make sure you have adequate protection: heavy gloves, NIOSH-approved face filter and boots.
Cover clean items with plastic while further repairs are being carried out in the dwelling to prevent re-soiling.
Turn on air conditioning for maximum drying in summer; open windows to speed drying in winter.
As you clean each room, seal it off from the rest of the house with duct tape and plastic film to help keep it clean.
Clean and protect bathroom faucets, tub fittings, chrome/metal type towel bars with a light coating of oil.
Wash plants with water on both sides of leaves (water softener helps).
Be particularly careful to thoroughly disinfect surfaces that may come in contact with food, such as counter tops, pantry shelves, refrigerators, etc.
Either wash all linens and clothing in hot water or dry clean them.
For items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, air dry them in the sun and then spray them thoroughly with a disinfectant.
Remove and discard contaminated household materials that cannot be disinfected, such as wall coverings, cloth, rugs, and drywall.
If flooded, pump out your basement gradually. The walls could collapse or the floor buckle if the surrounding ground is waterlogged.
Before treating any garments, always read the care label for proper instructions.
To remove water stains, use the following formula. Be sure to wear plastic gloves.
- 4-6 tablespoons of TSP (Tri-Sodium Phosphate) (2 tablespoons of sodium) - hypo chlorite can be substituted)
- One (1) cup of household chlorine bleach
- One (1) gallon of water
- Mix well, soak clothing, rinse with clear water and dry well.
Mildew is a bacteria growth, not simply dirt. To remove mildew stains, wash items in clothes detergent and water, rinse and dry in the sun. If stain and odor are still present, try the following formulas:
- Lemon juice and salt
- One (1) tablespoon of perborate bleach in 1 pint of lukewarm water
- Diluted solution of household chlorine bleach.
Wash pots, pans, flatware with soapy water, rinse, and polished with a fine powdered cleaner.
Pots and pans can be sterilized by boiling in water for at least 10 minutes. CAUTION - Don't burn yourself. And SECOND CAUTION - Some parts of the pots and pans (handles, knobs, etc.) WILL NOT withstand the high temperature. Remove such things where practical.
Flooring and Rugs
Use a wet/dry shop vacuum for removing water from floor and rugs.
If the room was subject to a great deal of water, you may need to hire professionals to remove tacked down carpeting or vinyl or other flooring, since water and resultant dampness can cause odors and warp floors.
Let floor dry completely, prior to replacement of floor coverings. If mildew is not killed, odor will return.
Have rugs and carpeting thoroughly cleaned and dried as soon as possible, to reduce any possibility of mildew, mold or bleeding from dye. Contact professionals to clean or, if needed, removed tacked down carpeting and padding.
Brush pile carpets in one direction to dry.
If furniture cannot be removed, cover legs with plastic (baggies work) to avoid rusting or stains on carpet.
Floors, Walls and Wallpaper
Walls, hard-surfaced floors, and many other household surfaces should be cleaned with soap and water and disinfected with a solution of one (1) cup of bleach to five (5) gallons of water.
Wear rubber gloves when cleaning, wash from the floor up, rinse immediately, and wash ceilings last.
Do not repaint until walls and ceilings are completely dry.
Heat and ventilate room for several days to dry the plaster as well as the paper.
If mildewed paper is washable, wipe it with cloth wrung out of thick soapsuds, clean with clear water
Repaste edges or loosened sections.
When washing wallpaper, work quickly so paper does not become soaked. Work from the top to the bottom to prevent streaking.
Wood Furniture and Fixture
WHN Expert Tip: Furniture
Most furniture polishes and the turpentine-linseed solution are flammable. The cloth used in applying them is susceptible to spontaneous ignition, so hang the cloth outdoors to allow to dry.
Wipe off all finished surfaces with a soft cloth dampened with a mild cleaning solution.
Remove all drawers and open cabinets so they can dry thoroughly. This will prevent sticking.
Clean friction surfaces (tracks and guides) with a stiff brush and cleaning solution.
Dry thoroughly; wet wood can mold and decay. Open doors and windows for ventilation, and, if necessary, turn on a heater or air conditioner.
Do not dry furniture in the sun. The wood may warp and twist out of shape.
If mold is present or begins to form, wipe the area with a cloth soaked in a mixture of water and kerosene OR Borax dissolved in water.
To remove white spots or film, rub the surface with a cloth soaked 1/2 cup of household ammonia and 1/2 cup of water.
Wipe dry and polish with furniture wax or a solution of 1/2 cup turpentine and 1/2 cup of linseed oil.
You can also rub the wood surface with a 4/0 steel wool pad dripped in liquid polishing wax, wipe with a soft cloth and then buff.
Never try to peel apart photographs that have stuck together. Soak the photos in clear, clean water and rinse carefully and thoroughly, letting stuck photographs separate on their own.
After washing the photos, dry them image side up on a smooth hard surface like a glass table or kitchen counter. If they stay damp, they can be damaged by mold.
If you have quantities of wet photos, wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze them, then thaw them and wash them a few at a time.
Books can be dried by placing them on end, followed by pressing the book together – when reasonably dried, alternate drying and pressing to help prevent mildew until thoroughly dried.
The best method to save wet books is to freeze them in a vacuum freezer. This special freezer will remove the moisture without damaging the pages. If there will be a delay in locating such a freezer, then place them in a normal freezer to prevent mildew formation.
Sprinkling cornstarch or talc between the pages will aid in drying of very damp books - leave powders on for several hours and lightly brush off.
Leather Items and Footwear
Wipe leather goods with a damp cloth, then a dry cloth. Use of a polish or saddle soap on smooth leather items can restore necessary lanolin and oils.
Suede items can be brushed with a light steel wool, fine wire brush or fine sandpaper.
Consult a dry cleaner for heavily stained leather garments.
Stuff purses and shoes with newspapers to retain shape.
Leave suitcases open.
Leather goods should be allowed to dry in a well ventilated area away from direct sun or heat.
Paper and Coin Money
U.S. Savings Bonds — If your U.S. Savings Bonds have been mutilated or destroyed, you may be able to replace them. Complete the U.S. Treasury Form PD-F-1048.
Paper and Coin Currency — If your currency has been mutilated, you may be able to get it replaced.For more information visit the Treasury Department's web site.
Be smart, be safe.
Before you begin cleaning outdoors, be sure you are wearing appropriate, protective clothing (heavy shoes, gloves, long pants, etc.)
Begin cleaning up outside downed limbs, broken glass and other debris. Call trained professionals for major tree removal.
Keep your receipts for tarps, wood, and other items purchased to prevent further loss, since these expenses may be reimbursable under your homeowner's insurance policy.
Clean out debris and leaves from storm drains, downspouts and gutters to allow water to flow.
Salvage Hints from NYC Fire Dept. — information on salvaging your belongings
Have additional tips or links? E-mail us.
|After A DisasterSpotting and Documenting Storm DamageJust had a storm blow through your town? Here Stephen Hadhazi, a public insurance adjuster and publisher of DocuDamage.com, an educational consumer website, offers his top tips on how to spot and document storm damage.Securing a Damaged HomeHere's what to do to safeguard your home after a storm or disaster.Safely Reentering an Evacuated HomeBe safe, be smart. If you've been displaced, all you may be able to think about is getting back home. Wait!Replacing Valuable DocumentsHere is contact information for replacing documents and records that have been damaged, destroyed or lost.Rebuilding and Renovating a Damaged HomeAny form of construction can be a lengthy process. Here are some starter tips to get started. Moving Back Home After a DisasterWhile it's very difficult to do, think of this as an extremely extended camping trip as you cope over the next few weeks and months.How to Choose a Contractor or RestorerHiring a contractor or a restorer can be costly, but professionals may be the best way to remove water and mold and get the job done right. Plus, professional restorers can provide helpful hints to prevent further damage.Home Repair and Renovation Steps to FollowFollow these steps to make sure your post-disaster restoration or rebuilding project is done right the first time.Documenting Fire and Storm DamageIf possible, document the internal and external damage ASAP. Talk with recovery officials regarding safety issues you should be aware of - safety first! - as well as key areas/items you should take pictures of.Cleaning Your Home After a Fire or StormAfter your insurance company representative has assessed the damage, you need to make a decision regarding the cleaning of your home and possessions.Home Safety After a DisasterWhat to know about utility service after a disaster.|