Even after a fire has been extinguished, a surprising amount of damage can occur in areas of your home that were untouched by flames. Smoke, soot and ash residue can cause devastating damage that can continue to harm your home and property even after the flames are out.
Not only is smoke inhalation the primary cause of death from indoor fires, smoke conducts high temperatures from the fire, and the corrosive acidic nature of smoke, soot and ash cause further damage that worsens over time.
Where there's smoke, there's usually soot, another by-product of fire. Soot is a powder-like or greasy substance made up mostly of carbon, and it presents many health hazards. Prolonged exposure carries a risk of cancer, including skin cancer, and cancer of the esophagus, lungs, and bladder.
HOW DOES SMOKE AFFECT YOUR HOME?
Smoke often contains several different acids, usually including carbon and sulfur, but the makeup varies depending on the type of fire. Scientists are still making new discoveries about what smoke is made of, and as recently as in 2011, researchers discovered a new type of acid in smoke. But even smoke that isn't acidic can still cause harm.
One of the most damaging effects of smoke is on the metal surfaces in your home. Depending on the type of smoke and the kind of metal, the damage can range from tarnishing to complete corrosion. From doorknobs and kitchen fittings to structural elements including pipes in your home, smoke can cause significant damage. As well, corroded pipes are at risk of leaking and causing further water damage.
Smoke damage can start to occur in minutes and can cause permanent discolouration to porous building materials often used in home construction. These include plastics and marble used in countertops or tiles. Likewise, hardwood floors, also being porous, often need to be refinished or even replaced after corrosive smoke and soot damage.
Even floors and walls that aren't porous can still be at risk. Smoke odour and permanent stains can set in on walls and synthetic carpet, and acidic residues left behind may continue to corrode wall coverings such as paint or wallpaper.
Smoke damage cleanup should be done by professionals who have the expertise, products and equipment to do the job properly and thoroughly. But until they are able to arrive, you can do some short-term temporary preventative measures yourself. Rub affected metal surfaces with olive or vegetable oil and leave it on. This isn't a long-term solution, but it will slow or prevent pitting and discolouration until the specialists can arrive for a full professional cleaning.
COMMON ITEMS THAT BECOME DAMAGED BY SMOKE
- Carpets. Carpets and rugs made of synthetics may be permanently stained by smoke, ash and soot in a matter of days. Cleaning is often possible if the carpets were not damaged by heat, water, or chemical agents used to fight the fire. But professional cleaning must be done before the damage becomes permanent.
- Curtains and upholstery. Curtains and upholstery often discolour as a result of smoke and soot, and cleaning them often requires special procedures and products such as alkaline cleaning solutions. Trying to vacuum curtains and upholstery yourself can spread soot instead of cleaning them, so it's best to call in experts who have the specialized equipment and expertise to clean smoke damaged home interior fabrics properly.
- Furniture. Smoke, soot and ash can harm your furniture, whether it's made of porous wood or corrodible metal. Similar to curtains and upholstery, furniture is at risk of damage if the wrong cleaning agent is used. It's easy to damage varnishes, paints, and wood stains and metal when trying to clean smoke damage yourself, so again, professional cleaning is advised.
- Clothing. Soot can embed into clothing as well the other fabric materials around the home. Cleaning smoke and soot damage from clothing requires specialized cleaning techniques and solutions, and the cleaning needs to be done as soon as possible, before staining becomes permanent. Attempting to clean clothing with regular washing machine laundering can fail to remove the oil-based soot, and instead cause smoke odour to permanently set in. Residual chemicals in soot remaining in clothing can also cause skin irritation, making it all the more important to get clothing cleaned thoroughly, promptly, and professionally. Some dry cleaners offer specialized cleaning for smoke-damaged clothes.
- Appliances. Corrosive damage from smoke can extend to the outside and inside of your appliances as well. Smoke odour can permeate the interior of your refrigerator and other appliances, and the caustic effects of smoke residue can damage the electrical systems.
- Plastic. Plastics collect more soot than almost anything else in your home and will begin to discolour in minutes. If possible, wipe them down with an alkaline cleaning solution. Most cleaning should wait for professionals, but if you can, act quickly to clean the plastic and PVC materials in your home.
- Porcelain. If not cleaned quickly, porcelain (such as bathroom fixtures) can discolour within hours after fire is extinguished. Smoke and soot residue on porcelain surfaces should be wiped and washed away with soap as soon as possible to prevent etching. Doing so can help prevent further damage until fire damage restoration professionals can arrive to clean these surfaces properly.
AVOID COSTLY DAMAGE TO YOUR HOME
Smoke and soot damage to your home's structure and belongings can be one of the biggest obstacles to restoring your home following a fire. The fire restoration and smoke damage experts at ServiceMaster Restore have the training and expertise to handle smoke damage and smoke odour removal in situations of any scale, quickly and effectively, so you can get your life back on track as soon as possible.
Contact your nearest ServiceMaster Restore location as soon as possible after a fire should occur in your home—it will make a difference when it comes to reducing the damaging effects of smoke and soot. Our network of local experts are ready to help, and they have the experience and the equipment needed to restore your home after fire.