Salvage Hints

Professional cleaning and restoration of personal belongings damaged by fire and water is recommended. There are several companies that provide these services in our region. Most are listed on line or in the telephone directory.

Some of the cleaning recommendations in this section involve the use of Tri-Sodium Phosphate (TSP). TSP is a caustic substance commonly used as a cleaning agent and may irritate the eyes and skin. Use TSP with care. Keep it out of reach of children and animals. Wear rubber gloves to reduce the possibility of skin irritation. Read the TSP product label for further information.

Removing water and drying surfaces as quickly as possible is key to reducing losses from mold and mildew. Consider using wet vacuums and fans to increase removal and drying efficiency. If weather permits lay or hang items outside to dry. Do not allow items to remain in wet piles.

Always test garments prior to using any treatment. Follow the garment manufacturer’s care instructions. To remove the odor of smoke from clothing that can be bleached prepare a mixture of 4 to 6 tablespoons of TSP, 1 cup household bleach, and one gallon warm water. Mix the solution well, add the clothes, remove, rinse thoroughly with water and dry.

If wet clothing has mildewed apply soap and warm water directly to the fresh mildew stain, rinse thoroughly, and dry the garment in the sun. If the mildew stain has set try using mixture of lemon juice and table salt or a diluted solution of chlorine bleach.

Cooking Utensils:
Wash cookware, flatware, etc. with warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly. If necessary, polish with a fine-powder cleaner. Copper and brass may be polished with commercially available polishes, salt sprinkled on a piece of lemon, or salt sprinkled on a cloth saturated with vinegar.

Electrical Appliances:
appliances that have been exposed to water, heat, or steam unless they have been checked by a qualified service technician. Be aware that the steam generated by firefighting can remove the lubrication from appliance or equipment parts. Any exposed appliance or equipment must be thoroughly checked for serviceability prior to use.

Unopened canned goods or food in sealed jars can be salvaged by washing cans and jars in detergent and water. Wash similar food cans and jars in batches in case the labels come off. Re-label cans and jars using masking tape and a marker, or a grease pencil, after they are thoroughly dried.

DO NOT use canned goods if the cans are bulged or rusted. Do not use food in jars if the jars are cracked or the seal is leaking. Discard food in unsealed containers. DO NOT refreeze food that has thawed. In general, any food (other than cans and jars as described above) that has been exposed to fire, smoke, steam, or water should be discarded. If the refrigerator has not been operating, discard the food.

Refrigerator Odors:
To remove the odor of smoke or spoiled food from the refrigerator or freezer, wash the inside with a solution of baking soda and water. If this does not remove the odors or if there is some mildew in the unit, use one cup 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 unit to absorb lingering odors. In cases of heavy mildew, spoilage, or smoke exposure consider replacing the refrigerator or freezer.

Rugs and Carpets:
Allow these items to dry thoroughly. (Dry these items as quickly as possible to avoid mold and mildew.) Remove debris by sweeping or beating, then shampoo. Contact your carpet dealer or a carpet cleaning professional for assistance with large rugs or wall-to-wall carpeting.

Leather and Books:
Wipe leather goods with a damp cloth, then wipe with a clean, dry cloth. Purses and shoes can be stuffed with newspaper to retain shape and draw moisture form the leather or fabrics. Leave suitcases open to air and dry. Leather goods should be dried away from heat and sun. Once dry, leather can be cleaned with saddle soap. To remove debris, leather and suede clothing can be rinsed with cold water then dried away from heat or sun.

Attend to wet books as soon as possible. If available, freeze the book in a vacuum freezer. This special freezer will remove the moisture without damaging the individual pages. If there will be a delay in obtaining such equipment, a valuable book can be placed in a normal freezer and held there until a vacuum freezer can be located. A professional cleaning or restoration service may be your best bet to salvage books. Your local library may have information to help identify a suitable firm to assist with salvaging books or artwork.

Locks, Hinges, Misc. Hardware:
If possible, disassemble, dry, and wipe with oil. If it is not practical to disassemble a lock, hinge, or hardware, squirt machine oil into openings, seams, and wipe surfaces with oil.

Walls, Floors, Upholstered Furniture:
Always test a small spot before treating any fabric. If possible, use mild soap or detergent and water, and then rinse with clean water. For heavy smoke exposure try using a mixture of 4 to 6 tablespoons of TSP, 1 cup household bleach, and one gallon of warm water. Rinse thoroughly with clean water and dry thoroughly. For walls, work from the floor up (to prevent streaking) and rinse immediately. Wash the ceiling last. (Airborne soot and particulates may redeposit on the ceiling as you wash the walls.)

Do not repaint until walls and ceilings are completely dry.

Wallpaper may be repaired after cleaning. Commercial paste may be used to reattach loose seam edges to the wall. There are many different types of wallpaper, thus it may be wise to consult a dealer or installer to identify the best methods. Like walls, work from the bottom up to prevent streaking. Do not soak the paper.

Wood Furniture:
Do not dry wood furniture in the sun. It will warp, twist, and crack. Clean off mud and dirt with a towel or nonmetallic (not too stiff) brush to avoid scratches. Remove all drawers and removable shelves to permit drying and reduce warping or sticking. Scrub with a stiff (but not so stiff it scratches) brush and a cleaning solution (usually mild soap and water). Dry thoroughly to prevent decay and mold. Moving air with a fan is helpful, air conditioning is better.

If mold forms, wipe with a cloth soaked in a mixture of borax and water. To remove white spots or film, rub the wood surface with a cloth soaked in a solution of ½ cup household ammonia and ½ cup water. Wipe the surface dry and polish with wax or wipe the surface with a cloth soaked in ½ cup turpentine and ½ cup linseed oil. Use this mixture in a well-ventilated space. Caution: Turpentine and linseed oil are both flammable. Do not use near open flame or other ignition source.

For heavy staining of the surface, try rubbing with a fine-grain steel wool pad dipped in liquid polishing wax. Clean the area and dry with a soft cloth, then buff.

Burned or Damaged Money:
Handle burned money as little as possible. Attempt to encase bills or portions thereof in plastic wrap for preservation. If money is only half-burned or less, (half or more of the bill is still intact) you can take it to a regional Federal Reserve Bank for replacement. Many local banks can assist you with this process. You may also mail the burned or damaged money by “REGISTERED MAIL, return receipt requested” to:

Department of the Treasury
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Office of Currency Standards
PO Box 37048
Washington, DC  20013
Be sure to include your name, address, and telephone number to ensure prompt and correct replacement.

Mutilated or melted coins can also be replaced by a regional Federal Reserve Bank or mailed by “REGISTERED MAIL, return receipt requested” to:

 U.S. Mint
 PO Box 400
 Philadelphia, PA 19105
Be sure to include your name, address, and telephone number to ensure prompt and correct replacement.

Burned or mutilated US Savings Bonds can be replaced by contacting the Department of the Treasury at or obtaining Form PD F 1048 (I) from a local bank and mailing the form to:

 Department of the Treasury
 Bureau of Public Debt
Savings Bonds Operations
PO Box 1328
Parkesburg, WV  26106-1328

Remember to save all receipts and be sure your tax preparer knows you have suffered a fire loss.