Even when you feel safe after a fire, the memories linger in your mind as well as your nose. Smoke leaves a distinctive smell that is challenging to remove from your home and your clothing. However, a few techniques and tips will greatly reduce the smell of the smoke. By reducing the number of microscopic smoke particles, most of the smell should dissipate so that you no longer notice it. Plan to invest some time in order to salvage your possessions. Even if the fire was localized, smoke and soot can have traveled throughout the house, affecting walls, carpet, upholstery, drapes, and clothing. A certified professional fire restoration company can help you determine which items are salvageable and which are not.
Blow out the property with positive pressure, it’s much more effective than using an exhaust fan or opening a window. Set up the largest fan you can get, outside the front of your apartment door facing inwards. Turn it on high and blow fresh air in the house. As the smoke rose during the fire, it filled in all the little crevices in your apartment and needs to be thoroughly flushed out. Close all the other doors and windows and open one window for exhaust. This will force the fresh air into the room and push out any lingering smoke. Be sure to remove the screen for better airflow. Close the window and the door to the room and open the window in the next room. Work through the house blowing out each area separately for at least 15 minutes. Secluded rooms might need a second fan pushing fresh air in from another opening.
• If you attempt to dry out your house yourself, beware of any mold or mildew underneath beneath carpets and floors. Remove all carpets from the home. The presence of mold can be a serious health risk and can damage your floors beyond repair. You might need professional help from a restoration company.
After cleaning all the floors and solid surfaces of visible soot, the smell can remain. In the aftermath of a house fire there is a sizable secondary task of replacing all destroyed property and cleaning what remains. So to salvage household textiles and clothing, any cloth will need to be cleaned or aired out.
Vacuum the carpets with a machine that contains a HEPA, or high-efficiency filter to keep the smoke particles from blowing right back in the room. Use an attachment to vacuum couches and chairs. If the smoke particles persist in the furniture, you might invest in upholstery cleaner to loosen the soil and then vacuum again. Remove all the curtains and window treatments to launder.
Remove as much soot as possible from your clothing. This can be done by taking clothing outside and giving it a gentle shake or by attaching the plain attachment to your vacuum cleaner and running it just over the surface of the clothing. (Never use the brush attachment with your vacuum cleaner if removing the soot from clothing. The brush bristles can force particles of soot deeper.)
• Dissolve 1 cup of dishwashing detergent in 1 gallon of warm water. Completely submerge all items and let them soak overnight in a washing machine or bathtub. Drain them and launder as usual the next day.
• For items that can be bleached, mix 4-6 tablespoons TSP with 1 cup Lysol or household bleach and 1 gallon of water. Add textile items, rinse with clear water, and dry.
• Use liquid detergent if they are 65/35 polyester-cotton blend, 50/50 polyester-cotton blend, or pure cotton.
• Use powder detergent and bleach (for bleachable clothing only) for clothing that is 65/35 polyester-cotton blend, 50/50 polyester-cotton blend, or pure cotton.
• Be aware that dry cleaning is non-effective with clothing that is 65/35 polyester-cotton blend, 50/50 polyester-cotton blend, or pure cotton. Recognize that 100% polyester fabrics may never be fully returned to their original state.
Now take the clothing and put in a large trash bag. Position plain charcoal briquettes (no starter fluid) without touching the clothes, and then tie the end of the bag shut. Leave for about a week then remove and check for smell. (Avoid using household deodorizers to remove the smell. These will only temporarily mask it.)
Contact a professional if the smell of smoke lingers. They will be able to perform an ozone treatment on your clothes that will destroy the smoke molecule and the smell as well. This deodorizing treatment actually breaks up the smoke molecules to eliminate the order. All Seasons Restoration, based in Ventura, is available 24/7 at 805-256-1090