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Smoke from Apartment Fire soaked into reclaimed wood furniture

Weathered, untreated, reclaimed wood furniture, including an armoire made from unfinished 200-year-old barn siding, with chips of original paint visible. All highly porous. How do I treat after apt fire?

I will do anything to salvage these pieces, although they may no longer look the same.

Many thanks for any advice.

Re: Smoke from Apartment Fire soaked into reclaimed wood furniture

I painted burn-outs a little a long time ago- nasty work it was. What the cleaners did was to wipe everything to be salvaged with 'smoke sponges'. These are chemically treated to grab and retain soot and smoke. You may have to wipe with new ones, renewing them a few times as you clean. AFAIK they will not hurt anything, and when they start smearing or transferring soot to a surface it's time to grab a new one. Next an appropriate super-cleaning soap was used-"Purple Power", "Simple Green" and "Awesome" are a few common brands. After that it was a process of airing everything out before seali9ng and refinishing everything so residual smoke odors didn't escape.

The downside is that this doesn't work well with porous items like cloth or unfinished wood. All you can do there is clean as best you can then air out until you're satisfied with the remaining odor- or satisfied that you'll never be satisfied with it. The one other thing which might help is baking soda. We used to stash a 50lb block of this in the attic, changing it several times, to absorb odors. Since it's basically inert and cheap, you could try covering the items with it or at least one side at a time to let it absorb the odors. Given enough time it may work.

Restoration companies will all tell you to toss the porous items because they can't be cleaned. This is partially true and from their perspective the only way to guarantee the results. Insurance covers replacement of uncleanable items. Since you can't replace your items that should be your last resort, but waiting too long may affect your ability to make a claim. Get advice from a lawyer there- you should be allowed the time needed to try saving these rarities without compromising your ability to file a claim somehow.

The only other alternate I can think of is to seek out an art conservator-restorer. They should know somebody with deep expertise in this field; after all museums are affected by fires too and they're not going to throw out a Rembrandt no matter what! Somebody in the world must have the needed skill to get the best possible results, though cost may become the limiting factor. Home fires are always events of great sadness because of the smoke ruining more than the fire reached and among that is usually a lot of irreplaceable heirlooms and memories. I sure hope you can find a solution.


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