After the Fire

Salvage Hints

A word of caution before you begin, several of the cleaning mixtures described in this section contain the substance Tri-Sodium Phosphate. Tri-Sodium Phosphate is a caustic substance used commonly as a cleaning agent. It should be used with care and stored out of the reach of children and pets. Wear rubber gloves when using if you have tender skin. Read the label for further information and instructions on how to use the product.


Smoke odor and soot can sometimes be washed from clothing. The following formula will often work for clothing that can be bleached:

  • 4 to 6 tablespoons of Tri-Sodium Phosphate
  • 1 cup of household chlorine bleach
  • 1-gallon warm water
  • Mix well, add clothes, rinse with clear water, then dry well.

To remove mildew, wash the stain with soap and warm water. Then rinse and dry in sun. If the stain has not disappeared, use lemon juice and salt or a diluted solution of household chlorine bleach.

If you are taking woolen, silk, or rayon garments to the cleaners, remove trimmings, shoulder pads, etc. If the garment is damp or wet, dry it in a well-ventilated area. Shake and brush well and take the garment to the cleaners as soon as possible.

Cooking Utensils

Wash pots, pans, flatware, etc. with soapy water, rinse, and then polish with a fine-powered cleaner. Polish copper and brass with special polish, salt sprinkled on a piece of lemon, or salt sprinkled on a cloth saturated with vinegar.

Electrical Appliances

Do not use appliances that have been exposed to water or steam until you have a service representative check them. This is especially true of electrical appliances. In addition, steam can remove the lubricant from moving parts. If gas and power were turned off during the fire, call the electric or gas companies to restore these services. DO NOT try and do it yourself.


Wash canned goods and jars in detergent and water. If labels come off, be sure you mark the contents on the can or jar. Do not use canned goods when cans have bulged, are dented, and/or rusted.

If your home freezer has stopped running, you can still save the frozen food. Keep the freezer closed. Your freezer has enough insulation to keep food frozen for one day to possibly three days. Move food to a neighbor's freezer or rented locker. Wrap frozen food in newspapers and blankets or use insulated boxes. Do not refreeze thawed food.

To remove odor from your refrigerator or freezer, wash the inside with a solution of baking soda and water or use one cup of vinegar or household ammonia to one gallon of water. Baking soda in an open container or a piece of charcoal can be placed in the refrigerator or freezer to absorb odor. (Remember that you can NEVER mix ammonia and bleach. The mixture produces a toxic gas.)

Rugs & Carpets

Rugs and carpets should be allowed to dry thoroughly. Throw rugs can be cleaned by beating, sweeping, or vacuuming, and then shampooing. Rugs should be dried as quickly as possible, by laying them flat and exposing them to a circulation of warm, dry air. You can place a fan to blow on the rugs, which will result in faster drying. Make sure the rugs are thoroughly dry. Even though the surface seems dry, moisture remaining at the base of the tufts can quickly cause the rug to rot. Contact a cleaning professional for more information on cleaning and preserving carpets.

Leather & Books

Wipe leather goods with a damp cloth, then a dry cloth. Try stuffing purses and shoes with newspaper, so they will retain their shape better. Leave suitcases open. Leather goods should be dried away from heat and sun. Only when leather goods are dry, you can clean them with saddle soap. Rinse leather and suede jackets in cold water and dry away from heat and sun.

Wet books and other paper material must be taken care of as soon as possible. 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 you can place them in a normal freezer until a vacuum freezer can be located. A local librarian can also be a good resource for advice on where to obtain restoration services.

Locks & Hinges

Locks (particularly iron locks) should be taken apart and wiped with oil. If locks cannot be removed, squirt machine oil through a bolt opening or keyhole, then work the knob to distribute the oil. Hinges also should be cleaned and oiled.


Preserving damaged photographs is often very important to victims of any disaster. You can replace many items but you cannot replace photographs of loved ones who have passed away or recreate baby pictures. If photographs are not burned they can usually be saved. Do not ever try to peel apart photographs that have stuck together. Always remember that photographs were originally developed in water solutions and then washed. Soak the photos in clear, clean water and rinse carefully and thoroughly and let stuck photographs separate on their own. 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. After washing photos, dry them image side up on a smooth hard surface.