Cleaning smoke damaged homes in Chicago is no easy task.
One of the worst smoke and soot residue jobs I worked on while living in Chicago was a table and chair set coated from top to bottom. The fire started in the kitchen and had very little heat and flame; just a lot of smoke. According to our supervisor, the damage was probably 90 percent smoke and soot.
At a townhome in the Bissell Street District in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, cookware was allowed to boil dry, and eventually, it burned everything on the stove surface. The materials that burned include metal, plastics, and wood. The smoke traveled into the adjoining dining room where it covered everything.
The table was around a century old and the chairs all over eighty. There was not
much monetary value in them, but the set had been passed down in this family, and the current owner was the fifth generation to have it in their home. Their insurance company did not care about that and gave them a check for the replacement cost. They decided to use it to try and restore them instead.
When the fire soot coating is this thick, we cannot clean it at the job site. We transported the set to our warehouse and began removing the residue. We started with water and sponges, which got us to the wood surface. The soot had penetrated the finish, however, so we had to switch to mild chemicals that removed the finish without harming the finish. It was a long process, taking several days; but it was worth it. We found there was almost no damage at all to the wood itself.
For the chairs, it was a double problem. Since the seats and backs were upholstered, we could not use the same cleaners. Fortunately, we were able to remove the legs from the chairs and then set them inside one of our immersion cleaners. This machine uses sound to generate bubbles in a chemical cleaner using ultrasound waves and forces them through the upholstery fabric. I have used this machine for several years, and it cleans fabric that I thought was going directly to the trash.
The immersion also loosened the residue on the chair frame and made it easier to remove. Once we had the chairs and table stripped, we consulted with the owner and selected a finish that looked more like the pictures the family had from the 1950s. It took time, but the owner was pleased with the results at the end.
This dining room set at this Lincoln Park residence was an extreme case, but it does show that if you have had any fire damage to your home, you need to bring in a professional service. Cleaning and restoration are never simple, and an untrained person may cause more damage to the property before they finally call in an expert.