The secret of dealing with fire and smoke damage is in knowing whether to tackle it yourself or call in a team of professionals. In the aftermath of a fire, shocked homeowners are understandably anxious to immediately set about putting their home right, taking out damaged items and restoring comfort and tranquility as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, a clean up operation needs to be delayed for a short time while the practicalities take place. Most homes carry insurance and some items are listed as valuable while others are not. Take the time to take photos of the damage and ring your insurers to secure permission to start cleaning up. Usually the insurance company will say go ahead but do take plenty of pictures as a precaution.

Check out the electrical wiring and make sure the area is safe to work in: no point in surviving the fire and then blowing yourself to bits in an electrical explosion.

Once you have established the cleaning can begin, make a decision whether to call on the services of a professional team of cleaners with the experience of cleaning fire and smoke residue. Soot and smoke pervade everything, coating walls, floors and ceilings and penetrating a sickly odor into fabrics and wallpaper. Cleaning up the effects of smoke and fire can be a prolonged and unpleasant task.

Having decided to try cleaning up the mess yourself, remove everything outside if you can, to introduce some fresh air to the proceedings. Open all the doors and windows and leave them open for as long as you can each day while you start cleaning from the top of the rooms and working your way downward. Be methodical and set objects aside which must be dealt with specifically, such as metalware and plastic toys. These items may be submerged for cleaning. Store cleaned items in a separate area.

Remove curtains: separate synthetic fabrics from natural fibres as these will have to be cleaned by a different method. Mix a solution of TSP (trisodium phosphate cleaner) in a gallon of water and use this to wash ceilings, walls and floors. Make sure that you do not forget to wash curtain tracks and poles and even plastic hooks; they will all be carrying smoke odor and stains.

Use a wet and dry vacuum to shampoo carpets and sofas and dry them thoroughly. Once they are clean, use plastic sheeting to protect them from being tracked by willing helpers.

If you are tackling a kitchen fire, dispose of all food that has been exposed to either the fire or smoke or water vapour. Refrigerated items usually survive but inspect the contents carefully before deciding to keep them. Use tumble dryer sheets in the pages of your cookbooks to try to minimise odor.

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