A Beginner’s Guide to Repairing Smoke Damage
Fires might be the most devastating disasters for any home. Even when they don’t destroy, the high heat and thick smoke can damage things that are left behind. The implications for any homeowner are obvious, but also cause problems for antique collectors and hobbyist restorers. How do you give a favorite piece the help it needs to come back to life?
Thankfully, in many cases not all is lost. Here are some basic tips for restoring some kinds of valuables that have been damaged by smoke.
With electronics, your primary concern is soot. After a fire, thick soot can cover heat-producing components. This can cause overheating and, in the worst cases, electrical fires. Any electronic devices should be cleaned from the inside out with compressed air. Obviously you should avoid water, but high-percent isopropyl alcohol can be used for tight spaces.
Also watch out for melted plastic, especially if it’s near valuable components. This is typically unsalvageable. For computer hard drives, it is critical to take these to a professional; disassembling a hard drive yourself can do more harm than good.
For upholstery, you have two primary concerns: soot and odor. Your ability to repair it yourself also depends on the extent of the damage; most of the most powerful treatments, like ozone, are very expensive and accessible only to professionals.
For the DIYer, your main concern is time: the sooner you can get in there and clean the upholstery, the better. Wear nitrile gloves to prevent exacerbating smoke damage, and use dry sponges to wipe soot clean. Sometimes deodorizing is as simple as airing it out, but do not put anything in the washer; this can make it worse.
If damage is minimal, wood may be the easiest smoke damage repair for an intrepid DIYer. First off, bring the piece outdoors, or put a huge drop cloth around it to catch all the soot.
First, wipe a dry sponge over the surface to remove loose dirt and soot. For the deeper stuff, grab something like Restor-a-finish and apply liberally in sections; doing small areas is important, because it can damage the surface when left on too long. Work the restorer gently with 0000 steel wool, following the grain of the wood. When you’re finished, just wipe the residue away and repeat.
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