Good ideas

I wrote this article for insurance pros, but the content is relevant for regular Joes too.  Take a look. 

Anyone who’s lived through a fire or flood knows that the impact to clothing and upholstery can be severe.  While these items may not be lost to a fire or flood, they often suffer smoke, soot and water damage.  And as those in the insurance and restoration business know, the only way to save severely damaged soft goods is to act fast and appropriately.

Here’s what homeowners can do:  Homeowners can take some simple steps to help mitigate damages to clothing and upholstery and reduce overall cleaning and restoration costs.  Insurance adjusters should remind homeowners to follow these important first steps:

  • When it’s safe to go inside the property after a fire or flood, move clothing and upholstered items away from wet areas.
  • Pin up draperies and upholstery skirts to prevent water circles from forming.
  • Separate wet clothing and other soft goods.  Space them out to help prevent further moisture damage or potential mold.
  • Don’t sit on upholstered furniture that’s been damaged by water or smoke.
  • Handle damaged soft goods with gloves to prevent further damage.

When to call in the professionals:  Property owners may assume that they can clean clothing and upholstery to resolve any water, smoke or soot damage.  However, in most cases, owners are advised not to tackle this kind of cleaning on their own.  “We recommend using professional restoration and cleaning services with expertise in addressing specific issues associated with fire and water damage,” says Doug Fairless, who manages contents and structure operations for American Technologies, Inc.

For damaged clothing, professional dry-cleaners are usually enlisted to clean these items.  ATI professionals handle upholstered furniture and can either clean the items right on-site, or if necessary, transport them to an ATI facility for detail hand cleaning and storage.

Fire-damaged clothing:  Fire-damaged clothing is first treated with ozone to remove any smoky odor.  Then the clothes are professionally dry-cleaned.  This is the preferred cleaning method because dry-cleaning is most effective in removing the ozone scent along with any other residual odors.

While dry-cleaning is commonly used for most damaged clothing, certain items like undergarments, socks, sheets and towels, for example, may be laundered with detergent and water.  Fabric type and specific label instructions will ultimately determine the best cleaning method for clothing and other soft goods.

Fire-damaged upholstery:  When exposed to fire, upholstery may not only suffer damage from soot, but from smoky water as well.  Typically, the cleaning process for upholstery begins by drying down wet items, and in some cases, followed by a light vacuuming.  The items are then treated with ozone to remove odors.

 In some cases, after the damaged upholstery is treated with ozone, it may be temporarily stored until final approval from the owner’s insurance carrier is given to complete the detail hand cleaning.  While the final cleaning step may be delayed, most professionals agree that it is critical to get the smoky odor out of the upholstery immediately to ensure a complete recovery.

Water damage is a difficult challenge:  Saving water-damaged clothing and upholstery is tricky.  Severe damage may result in watermarks that can’t be removed.  In this case, the items are written up as a loss.  For minor water damage, upholstered items may be successfully wet-cleaned.  Draperies are typically dry-cleaned for best results.  In the case of clothing, fabric type and label instructions will determine whether dry-cleaning or laundering is best.

Saving clothing and upholstery after a fire or flood takes a combination of quick action and expert mitigation.  It’s important that homeowners know what basic steps they can take and when it’s time to call in the experts to not only ensure a full recovery, but save time and money in the long run as well.

Editorial note from Cindy Ritter:  I wrote this article for American Technologies, Inc. (ATI), a leading US restoration and remediation contractor.  It was directed to insurance professionals as part of ATI's business-to-business marketing campaign.