Salvaging Items in Your Home


Smoke odor and soot sometimes can be washed from clothing. The following formula often will work for clothing that can be bleached:

  • 4-6 tablespoons Of trisodium phosphate
  • 1 cup Lysol or any household chlorine bleach
  • 1 gallon warm water

Mix well, add clothes, rinse with clear water, and dry well. Be aware that trisodium phosphate is a caustic substance used as a cleaning agent. It should be used with care and stored out of reach of children and pets. Wear rubber gloves when using it and read the label carefully.

To remove mildew, wash the fresh stain with soap and warm water, then rinse and dry in the sun. If the stain has not disappeared, use lemon juice and salt or a diluted solution of household chlorine bleach.

Cooking Utensils

Your pots, pans, flatware, etc. should be washed with soapy water, rinsed, and then polished with a fine-powdered cleaner. You can polish copper and brass with special polish, salt sprinkled on a piece of lemon, or salt sprinkled on a cloth saturated with vinegar.

Electrical Appliances

Appliances that have been exposed to water or steam should not be used until you have a service representative check them. This is especially true of electrical appliances. In addition, steam can remove the lubricant from some moving parts. If the fire department turned off your gas or power during the fire, call the electric or gas company to restore these services - do not try to do it yourself.

Mattresses and Pillows

Reconditioning a standard innerspring mattress at home is very difficult, if not impossible. Your mattress may be able to be renovated by a company that builds or repairs mattresses. If you must use your mattress temporarily, put it out into the sun to dry, then cover it with rubber or plastic sheeting.

It is almost impossible to get smoke odor out of pillows. The feathers and foam retain the odor.

Leather and Books

Wipe leather goods with a damp cloth, then with a dry cloth. Stuff purses and shoes with newspapers to retain shape. Leave suitcases open. Leather goods should be dried away from heat and sun. When leather goods are dry, clean with saddle soap. You can use steel wool or a suede brush on suede. Rinse leather and suede jackets in cold weather and dry away from heat and sun.

Wet books must be taken care of as soon as possible. The best methods to save wet books are to freeze them in a vacuum freezer. This special freezer will remove the moisture without damaging the pages.


Wash your canned goods in detergent and water. Do the same for food in jars. If labels come off, be sure you mark the contents on the can or jar with a grease pencil. Do not use canned goods when cans have bulged or are dented or rusted.

If your home freezer has stopped running, you still can save the frozen food with one of these methods:

  • Keep the freezer closed. Your freezer has enough insulation to keep food frozen for at least one day - perhaps for as many as two or three days.
  • Move your food to a neighbor’s freezer or a rented locker.
  • Wrap the frozen food in newspapers and blankets or use insulated boxes.

Do not re-freeze food that has thawed.

To remove odor from your refrigerator or freezer, wash the inside with a solution of baking soda and water or use 1 cup of vinegar or household ammonia to 1 gallon of water. Some baking soda in an open container or a piece of charcoal can be placed in the refrigerator or freezer to absorb odor.

Flooring and Rugs

Linoleum Tiling

When water gets underneath linoleum, it can cause odors and warp the wood floor. If this happens, remove the entire sheet. If the linoleum is brittle, a heat lamp will soften it so it can be rolled up without breaking. If carefully removed, it can be re-centered after the floor has completely dried.

Small blisters in linoleum can be punctured with a nail and re-cemented if you are careful. Dilute regular linoleum paste thin enough to go through a hand syringe and shoot adhesive through the nail hole. Weigh down the linoleum with bricks or boards. It usually is possible to cement loose tiles of any type. Wait until the floor is completely dry before beginning.

Rugs & Carpets

Rugs and carpets also should be allowed to dry thoroughly. Throw rugs then can be cleaned by beating, sweeping, or vacuuming and then shampooing. Rugs should be dried as quickly as possible.

Lay them flat and expose them to a circulation of warm dry air. A fan turned on the rugs will speed drying. Make sure the rugs are thoroughly dry. Even though the surface seems dry, moisture remaining at the base of the tufts can quickly rot a rug.

For information on cleaning and preserving carpets, call your carpet dealer or installer or qualified carpet cleaning professional.