Though restoration often invokes images of ripping up flooring, a lot of paintwork and many pieces of equipment everywhere, the truth is that not every project will require restoration to that extent. While you will almost always have pieces of equipment floating around your home or business during a fire restoration project, the majority of the restorative work, depending on the severity of the fire, will involve cleaning. 

First Things First

Before starting the cleaning and restoration process, a fire-remediation technician will first need to receive clearance from the necessary entities. Remediation specialists should not begin work until insurance companies and other parties have collected the evidence needed for their own processing needs. Once clearance has been obtained, then the rehabilitation of the structure can begin. 

When attacking a fire-impacted home or business, remediation specialists will first need to assess what items are charred and need to be discarded. Discarding charred items reduces offensive odors left over from the fire event, will remove painful reminders of what was lost for property owners, will prevent further soiling of the immediate area and will provide more space for remediators to move about the structure at hand. 

Protective Cleaning 

Once restorers have removed charred items and gained clearance from the proper channels, it is time for cleaning to commence. To start, remediators will want to test surfaces for effectiveness, safety and protection before committing to using any particular product. This not only keeps materially interested parties happy, but it prevents unnecessary further damage to items and surfaces. 

While the general rule of thumb is to test cleaning products in an “inconspicuous area”, remediators may not always find this to be the most helpful practice. There are three reasons that this sort of testing may not always work:

  • The inconspicuous area is not an accurate representation of the entire affected area as a whole.
  • The formula used on the inconspicuous test area wasn’t duplicated on the entire affected surface in the same way.
  • The amount of time elapsed during testing wasn’t reflected when trying to replicate the same cleaning methods over the entire surface area. 

All in all, the remediator taking on the cleaning job must account for time, the surface affected, cleaning products used and more to make a correct determination as to whether or not the cleaning method chosen will be effective. Cleaning methods and supplies that are too aggressive may deteriorate materials, while those that aren’t aggressive enough won’t complete the job. Thus, testing for the effectiveness of the cleaning techniques and supplies being utilized is vital. 

Processing a Room

Stage the Scene for Cleaning 

Prior to cleaning, restorers will want to make sure that the structure they are addressing is secure and safe to enter. To do this, the restorers will want to secure breakable items, remove interior decor, set aside curtains, blinds and other draperies and will want to protect photographs. 

Moreover, the restorer will select the correct type of personal protective equipment, or PPE, depending on the type and severity of the affected space. 

Top-Down Cleaning 

After the proper cleaning method and supplies have been chosen, restorers will begin cleaning in a top-down fashion. By cleaning from the top to bottom, restorers ensure that they aren’t re-infecting an area that they’ve already cleaned. 

For instance, if during the cleaning process debris falls on the floor, it won’t be as much of an issue if the floor has not yet been cleaned. Also by using the top to bottom approach, remediators can have a clear and definitive way of cleaning that is easy to remember and will ensure that they aren’t forgetting anything. 

Although every remedial plan for fire and smoke will be different, the following is a basic outline for the order in which most projects will be tacked: 

  1. Address the ceiling
  2. Address the walls 
  3. Address the doors, windows and trim
  4. Finish by cleaning the floor


Preconditioning surfaces to be cleaned is a major step in restoring a fire-affected structure. It can be likened to vacuuming the floor before shampooing the carpet, or sweeping loose particles from laminate flooring before mopping. 

In the same way, preconditioning surfaces to be cleaned involves the removal of small particles, like soot and varying debris, in order to ready the affected area for wet cleaning. 

The process mentioned above is commonly referred to as dry soil removal, although it is not synonymous with dry cleaning. 

Dry cleaning involves liquid cleaning agents with no water, whereas preconditioning simply removes loose particles before the wet cleaning process ensues.

Some of the most common tools used in the dry soil cleaning process include:

  • Dry brush
  • Air washer
  • Lamb’s wool duster
  • HEPA vacuum

Bottom to Top Wall Cleaning

Remember the top to bottom cleaning method described, previously? It won’t work when wet cleaning a wall. Most restorers will wet clean walls using a bottom to top technique to keep walls from streaking. Nevertheless, the remediation team may still struggles keeping cleaning agents from running back down the previously cleaned bottom portion of the wall. A careful and skillful technician will be able to handle the job. 

The Best Cleaning Starts With the Right Approach

All in all, the best fire and smoke restoration efforts start with a great cleaning approach. By following the aforementioned process, your fire and smoke remediation team has the ability to tackle any rehabilitation project using similar, but alterable, methods. As such, the plan devised by your restorer will depend greatly on his or her best judgement, along with results from cleaning tests and the severity of each given situation.