Fires are an immensely destructive force. They can devastate families in a matter of minutes, burning up all their possessions in what seems like the blink of an eye. In 2019, house fires were responsible for an estimated $14.8 billion in property damage.
While a house fire can certainly destroy almost everything in your house, there are some things you can salvage during a home restoration to help reduce the psychological impact on your family. The more you can salvage, the more normal your life after the fire will feel. Here’s how to tell what is and isn’t salvageable after a fire.
Types of Damage to Expect After a House Fire
It might surprise you, but flames aren’t the only destructive element in play during a house fire. In fact, there are a few different types of damage you’ll have to deal with after a fire. Each one will impact your possessions in unique ways. For example, smoke damage won’t hurt plastic items like kitchen utensils and containers, but they’ll melt pretty quickly with even slight exposure to fire damage.
Understanding the different types of damage a house fire can bring will help you determine what is and isn’t salvageable after a fire.
When you’re looking for a home restoration company, be sure they’re equipped to handle all the different types of damage that can occur. You don’t want any issues left behind.
Obviously, a house fire will cause fire damage. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Fire damage can impact the items in your house one of two ways:
- Flame damage – Fire consumes matter. So, if something in your house is flammable and gets too close to the flames, the fire will start to eat away at it. This is a major problem for materials like cloth and wood. If your furniture or clothes catch fire, it won’t take long before there’s nothing left but a pile of ash.
- Heat damage – Fire is also very hot (obviously). Some materials, like plastic, might not be flammable, but they’re highly susceptible to heat. You might come back after a fire to find your appliances and other plastic materials not burned but melted all over the floor.
Fire damage is the most immediate type of damage that occurs during a house fire. It’ll quickly damage just about anything it comes into contact with, but it’s also the fastest to go out. Once the flames are gone, you don’t have to worry about lingering fire damage impacting your belongings for days or even months after the fire, unlike some other types of damage.
Where there’s fire, smoke is almost certain to follow. Smoke is made of tiny particles that weren’t in a fire. Instead, the particles are released into the air to float around and cause other types of damage to your property and belongings.
Smoke particles are made of many different chemicals, some of which can be hazardous to your health:
- Carbon monoxide
- Sulfur dioxide
- And more
As the old saying goes, “what goes up, must come down.” After the fire, the smoke particles come down and embed themselves in materials all over your home. That means if there are dangerous chemicals in the smoke, they’re now all over your house.
Smoke damage can be dangerous long after the flames have been put out. If you choose a home restoration service that’s not equipped to handle smoke damage, it could continue to impact your family weeks or even months after the fire, potentially causing a wide range of health problems:
- Shortness of breath
- Skin or eye irritations
- Chronic bronchitis
- Heart or lung disease
You might think a cloth chair is salvageable since it wasn’t burned by the flames, but there still might be smoke damage that’s hurting your family. Be sure to remove anything that has been damaged beyond repair by smoke to keep yourself and your family safe.
What’s the best way to put out a fire? Douse it with water! Since the fire was inside your house, you’ll likely have to add water mitigation to your list of home restoration tasks.
Water damage impacts porous materials like wood and drywall. It can seep into the material itself, causing it to lose its structural integrity. Water damage on your floors could lead to weak spots, and water damaged wall supports could start to sag and make your home unsafe to live in.
The level of water damage will depend on the scope of the fire. If your entire house was engulfed in flames, the firefighters would have no choice but to completely cover every inch of your home with water—which means lots of potential water damage. If the fire was contained to only one room, the water damage might not be as significant.
It’s important for the home restoration service to clean up all traces of water after the fire has been extinguished. If they don’t, it could lead to a more significant, long-term problem: mold.
Mold damage occurs after a fire if the water used to put out the fire isn’t properly cleaned up. Any damp materials will be a breeding ground for mold for weeks or months to come. There’s nothing like experiencing a house fire, paying for a home restoration, and replacing all your belongings only to have to deal with mold damage just a few weeks later.
Like smoke, mold damage can hurt more than just the items in your house; it can impact your family’s health as well. Mold has been shown to be responsible for several negative health effects:
- Skin rashes
- Shortness of breath
- Mood swings
- Aches and pains
- Memory loss
Mold affects mostly wet, porous materials. If your home restoration service doesn’t properly clean the water damage from your favorite chair, for example, and it starts to grow mold on the inside, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to salvage the chair, even if it is several days after the fire.
Following a house fire, make sure you hire a home restoration expert that can handle water damage. If all the moisture isn’t removed from the area, you’ll definitely have a mold problem down the road. Pay attention to the warning signs of mold. The faster you take care of a mold problem, the less of an impact it’ll have on your house.
What Can Be Salvaged?
Although house fires are definitely destructive, there are some items that can withstand the various types of damage a house fire causes. Generally, these items fall into one of two categories:
Hard, Nonporous Items
Hard, nonporous items are the most resilient when it comes to fire. Unless they’re completely charred, burnt, or melted, objects made of these materials are easy to salvage and bring back to usable condition:
- Glass – Glass can withstand high temperatures, is easy to dry, and won’t absorb smoke particles. Typically, objects made of glass will survive even the worst house fires. This includes things like china and dishes as well. Even when stained, it’s easy to clean. Soak glass items in a vinegar and dish soap mixture or in white vinegar and baking soda to get rid of stains after a fire.
- Metal – Metal is one of the toughest materials around. It has a very high melting point, isn’t susceptible to smoke damage, and is easy to dry. Although it might stain a bit, you can usually remove the stains with a bit of vinegar and dish soap. After the metal is clean, give it a light sanding and give it a fresh coat of paint. It’ll be good as new!
While they’re technically not “nonporous,” most hardwood floors can also be salvaged after a fire. Hardwood floors are protected by a coating, so the smoke and water typically don’t reach the porous wood beneath. Unless they’re extremely burnt or charred, just clean your hardwood floors with oil soap, sand them down, and refinish them to your liking.
Generally, any item that’s strong enough to survive the heat and the flames without absorbing water and smoke is completely salvageable after a fire. It might be a little stained, but it’s nothing a little cleaning won’t fix. If you need help cleaning up after a fire, contact a home restoration specialist. They’ll be able to provide expert advice to properly salvage items and get your home back in livable condition.
Washable Cloth Items
Cloth might not fall into the “hard” and “nonporous” categories that most salvageable items fall into, but it has one thing going for it: It’s easy to wash. As long as they didn’t actually catch fire (which would make them unsalvageable), cloth items can be salvaged after a house fire.
Washable cloth items include anything in your home that can be tossed into the washing machine:
- Furniture with removable covers
After it’s safe to return to your house, put all your cloth items that aren’t burnt or charred into the washing machine with four to six tablespoons of Tri-Sodium Phosphate and one cup of cleaner or chlorine bleach. You can also wash your clothes in cold water with a tablespoon of pure vanilla extract for an alternative cleaning method. This will get your clothes nice and clean and remove the smell and chemicals from smoke damage.
Of course, make sure you dry all your cloth items before putting them back into use. You don’t want to add mold mitigation to the cost of home restoration!
What Can’t Be Salvaged?
While there are plenty of items in your house that will likely survive a fire, there are some items, however, that you should never, under any circumstances try to salvage after a house fire. Even if they don’t appear damaged, it’s always best to be safe than sorry and remove these products from your home:
- Melted or stained plastic – Plastic doesn’t hold up well during a house fire. Even if they don’t melt from the heat, plastic items can pull in smoke and soot. For items like food containers, this can be especially dangerous. It’s best to simply throw away all your damaged plastic items and replace them following a fire.
- Nonperishable foods – Similar to plastic, nonperishable foods can absorb smoke and soot if they’re exposed to the fire. That means, if you eat them, you can also be exposed to all the chemicals and toxins from the smoke. If any canned or boxed foods are either open or show obvious stains or burn marks, it’s best to just throw them out.
- Perishable foods left at room temperature – If the fire was substantial enough, there’s a good chance it knocked out your power or disabled your refrigerator. If that’s the case, all your perishable food items need to go. Refrigerated foods will start to spoil after two to six hours without power. If the fire actually entered the refrigerator, get rid of everything inside, whether the power went out or not.
- Medicine, cosmetics, and hygiene products – These items can be expensive, but your medicine, cosmetics, and hygiene products can be contaminated by the smoke and soot from the fire. It’s always safest to discard them. If you do need to throw out prescription medication, be sure to call your doctor right away to get it replaced.
- Damaged cloth items – Obviously, if there’s anything that’s too burned, melted, or damaged to use, you should throw it away. Even if it is washable, there’s no sense trying to salvage your couch if the legs and a corner is burned off. It’d probably be easier to replace it. This goes for items like clothes, furniture, bedding, mattresses, carpets, and curtains.
If you have a doubt about an object after a fire, it’s best to throw it out. Unless it’s sentimental, replacing an item is always better than using a contaminated one. It could continue to hurt you and your family long after the flames are gone.
That’s why it’s always best to work with a home restoration specialist after a house fire. They’ll be able to inspect your home and offer advice on what to get rid of and what to salvage—and how to salvage it.
Contact a Home Restoration Expert
A house fire is devastating enough. Salvaging some of your personal items is a good way to maintain some sense of normalcy during post-fire life. Generally, there’s a good chance anything hard and nonporous or cleanable will be able to survive the fire, smoke, water, and mold damage caused in the aftermath of a fire.
To ensure safety when choosing which items to salvage and which to throw away, it’s always best to work with a home restoration team. Only a home restoration specialist will be able to identify the signs of fire damage and contamination to keep your family safe after a fire. Central Florida Restoration Solutions has been providing Florida homeowners complete home restoration services for decades. We offer fire, smoke, water, and mold removal services to protect your family from any type of damage you might experience. After a fire, contact the experts at CFRS to simplify the cleanup process and get your life back on track.