One of the worst things that can happen in your home is when you have a fire. If you are one of the lucky ones, the damaged is contained to just a small area of the home and chances are things can be cleaned and repaired. Even when something has not been burnt, it can still have singing or smoke damage that will be nasty and smelly.
Wood can be one of the hardest things to clean because if it has not previously been sealed in some way, it can be porous and can hold the smell even when the soot has been removed. Some wooden surfaces that can be affected by fire and need to be cleaned or repaired are things like wood paneling, wood furniture, wood trim, doors and window frames. If these surfaces have been painted, stained or sealed, it may be easier to remove the soot and smell, but if not, it can be a little more difficult.
First, let's tackle finished wood. Sometimes finished wood can be repaired with a good simple cleaning. If the wood has been singed, it may need to be sanded and refinished with with whatever product was on it, sealer, stain or paint.
If it only has soot, usually a good cleaner will do to get that off. First, wipe as much of the soot off with a dry cloth as you can. Paper towels or even and old bath towel will do. Next, use warm water with a degreaseing cleaner and wash the surface down. Repeat until all traces of the soot are gone.
For unfinished wood, it is very important to pay close attention to the cleaner you use. The wood can be stained from the soot and the strong smell of smoke will be present. With things like wood trim such as window frames, baseboards, etc., those can easily be replaced if the cleaning doesn't go well, but if it's your great grand mother's wooden rocking chair or other valuable wooden antique, that's a different matter. If the piece of furniture is worth a lot of money or very sentimental to you, you might want to consider a professional furniture restorer.
If you choose to give it a go yourself first, if possible, find the least noticeable spot on the wood and test the cleaner you have chosen. Some recommended cleaners you may have at home are vinegar, baking soda and of course, a good degreaser. The vinegar and baking soda can also help to remove the smoke smell from unfinished wood that can not be smoke sealed with a special product designed for removing odor. You may wish to visit a hardware or larger home center to find products that are especially made for cleaning fire and smoke damaged wood.
Be sure and have a bucket of warm water, dry clothes, and sponges for the cleaning. You may have to change out the water several times during the cleaning. Test the cleaning product in the inconspicuous area and allow to dry. If all looks well, you can continue.
How To Repair Fire Damaged Wood
For wood that has more than just smoke damage, this will require a little more effort than simple cleaning. If an area of the wood has been burned, then it will likely have to be replaced. As stated above, if it's a door, a window frame, baseboards or wood paneling, these can be replaced easily and refinished or not. When it's a wood furniture piece, you may to use a professional restorer to make it look perfect. If you are handy with woodwork, you could attempt to do the repair yourself, but this could be risky if it is valuable.
Always make sure you are replacing a wood piece with the same wood species that was used before. If the piece of wood being replaced is going to be painted, the species might not make that much difference, but it's always best to go with what was there before if possible.
When it comes to repairing things like wooden studs in a wall, attic beams or floor joists, a fire inspector can likely tell you if they can be salvaged or if they will need to be replaced. There is no point in trying to save wood pieces like these if they could in any way compromise the integrity of the structure of your home.
How To Treat Fire Damaged Wood
Treating fire damaged wood that has been cleaned and repaired already is different than cleaning it. Even when smoked and fire damaged wood has been cleaned, it can still hold that obnoxious odor of smoke for a very long time. Getting rid of the smell can be tricky. This could mean that you will need a special smoke sealing product to be rid of the smell. It may not always be easy to determine if a sealer is in order. A sealer can be used to remove the odor, but not for cleaning. Smoke sealers are designed to be used on surfaces that are going to be repainted like wood or drywall.
What is the Difference Between Sealer and Encapsulant?
These two products might seem the same to those that do know know the difference, but there is a very big difference. An encapsulant is a product designed to be used to cover things like lead paint or asbestos that has not been removed. It prevents the toxic elements from escaping and causing harm when they have been used on porous areas. A smoke sealer is designed specifically for use on surfaces to prevent odor and staining from returning after that surface has been contaminated by fire and smoke and only after it has been cleaned.
How To Seal Fire Damaged Wood
As stated above, any surface that has been fire and smoke damaged must be properly cleaned first. Once the cleaning has been accomplished, then you can use the correct sealer to help remove and prevent odor and stains from returning. This process may be something that you can do yourself, but depending on the amount of fire you had, it could be a very time consuming job.
Even though you may have tackled the cleaning process yourself for your wood furniture, wooden trim, walls and floors in your home, when it comes to sealing and really getting rid of the smoke odor and preventing it's return, you may need a professional to help you accomplish this part of the restoration process.
In most cases, if you have homeowners insurance, it will pay to have the services performed. When a home has a smoke smell lingering in the air because of a fire, it can really reduce your ability to sell the home in the future. Not to mention that living with that smell while you are there will be unbearable.
Remember, when fire has taken place in a home, the smoke goes everywhere even if the fire does not! This is the main reason why bringing in a professional when there has been a good deal of fire and smoke will be the best bet to ensure your home is returned to its former state as quickly and thoroughly as possible.