FEMA Release Date: November 3, 2007
Release Number: 1731-012
PASADENA, Calif. -- Among the tragedies left behind by fire is the loss of family valuables. Guidelines from Heritage Preservation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may help residents and businesses salvage some keepsake items from the recent wildfires.
Cherished heirlooms that survive a fire are often covered with soot and ash, requiring prompt and gentle attention to avoid further damage. The following tips for cleaning soot and ash are based on the experience of respected conservation professionals who care for our nation's treasures in museums and libraries.
· Safety first! Avoid skin or lung irritation. Wear plastic or rubber gloves, an N95 mask, and goggles during cleanup.
· Get started promptly. The longer soot or ash sits on a surface, the more damage it does.
· Handle objects as little as possible. If you must move them, use a tray or hanger, and grasp them in places that are normally hidden from view.
· Resist the urge to wipe soot and ash-covered surfaces with a clean cloth; wiping will embed the soot and ash in the object and make it much more difficult to recover.
· Remove soot and ash with a vacuum on the lowest setting. Do not let the nozzle touch the object and do not use a brush attachment; let the wand float over the surface.
· After vacuuming, you may need to clean the object with a soot sponge, which can be purchased at major hardware stores. Unlike other sponges, these are used dry. Lay the sponge on the surface, press gently, and lift without rubbing. Cut off sections as they become dirty.
· If soot and ash are wet – from fire hose water or a burst pipe - don't do anything to remove the objects from wet surfaces. Attempting to remove them will cause further damage. Get advice from a professional.
· Do not rinse sooty or ash-covered treasures.
· When cleaning textiles, do not unfold them - this will only disperse the soot.
· Call in a pro. If a valuable family treasure is badly damaged, a professional conservator may be able to help. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works has a free referral service 202-452-9545 or aic.stanford.edu. The Regional Alliance for Preservation 800-843-8482 or www.preservecollections.org has information on preservation services.