When remediating books, documents or highly treasured items, great care and caution must be taken. Some items affected by smoke or fire are very valuable, such as jewelry or money, or may hold sensitive information, such as monetary checks or other personal documents.
As such, restorers will need to adhere to special protocol for each of these items on an individual basis. In this article, we will explore the various types of sensitive and high-value materials that might be encountered by remediation experts, as well as what restorative efforts might look like for each one.
Wet and Dry Cleaning Methods
There are typically two main types of cleaning utilized by restorers: wet cleaning and dry soil cleaning.
Wet cleaning refers to traditional water-based cleaning solutions typically used for cleaning a variety of items and materials, while dry soil cleaning refers to a method of removing surface contaminants through the use of tools such as HEPA vacuums, dry sponges, crumbly dough and art gum erasers. Unlike wet cleaning, dry soil cleaning will never utilize water during the cleaning process. There may be times when both dry and wet cleaning methods will need to be used.
When choosing which type of cleaning method to use, restorers must first consider the material being restored and must also perform a test clean in an inconspicuous area to ensure that no further damage will be done using the chosen cleaning method.
Personal Records, Documents and Books
Books and general paper documents are generally extracted from the fire affected structure during the pack-out stage, along with soft goods and clothing. Though methods of cleaning and other considerations will strongly be influenced by the type of material the books are made out of, the extent of damage done and the overall construction of the book, there is usually a somewhat universal process that takes place to attempt to restore these types of damaged items.
Books that are damaged by smoke can often be restored using deodorization techniques that include thermal fogging, ozone gas or dry solvent-based deodorants. The same goes for general documents affected by smoke. Pages can also be cleaned using dry soil cleaning techniques. This may include using a dry sponge, art gum eraser or crumbly dough on smoke affected page surfaces.
In order to restore books and general documents that have become wet, remediators will transport these items to a location off-site during the pack-out stage, as previously discussed. Afterwards, these items will be unpacked and dried immediately to stunt further damage and the potential for microbes to form. If drying cannot immediately take place, restorers have the option of freezing or freeze-drying books, instead. Each book will be separated by wax paper so that they don’t stick together.
Personal documents, such as financial information and the like, will never be handled solely by the restorer. Instead, restorers will relinquish these documents to the client for the client to review. The client will decide which items should be highest on the priority list for remediation, and the rest will be processed thereafter.
If there are any documents of extreme importance that are seriously smoke affected or charred, restorers will work with the client to remove or cut off damaged sections, and will reproduce originals in the form of photocopies. In some cases where the original document must be retained, restorers may seal the original document of importance in a bag to be kept, along with photocopies of the original for additional reference.
Cutlery and Dishes
Dishes and cutlery can be pretty simple to clean, especially if there was only light to moderate smoke and soot damage involved. Oftentimes, restorers simply clean these dishes using a dishwasher or by hand washing them. Once restored, the cleaned dishes and cutlery will be wrapped in bubble wrap until they are ready to be used.
As for clients who have fine china or crystal food service items, restorers will take extra care to wash each piece by hand. A restorer has been trained on how to properly handle this type of material, and will never put fine china or crystal in a dishwasher.
Clients with fine china or crystal to be restored should bear in mind that the remediator rehabilitating these items cannot be held liable for any non-visible damage incurred from restoring these sorts of dishes.
Firearms, Jewelry and Money
Contents like firearms, jewelry and money are valuables greatly treasured by clients and will be handled on an individual basis. Firearms can rust easily and should be inspected by a gunsmith for restoration. Jewelry should be inventoried and relinquished over to a jewelry cleaning professional by the client. Money will never be taken off-site by a professional and trustworthy restorer.
Taxidermy refers to the skin of deceased animals that have been stuffed and prepared for decorative purposes. These items can be cleaned using dry soil cleaning methods in some cases. HEPA vacuums, powder cleaning or low PSI air wash techniques may be employed.
Restoration of Valuable Items Will Require Adherence to Specific Protocol
In summary, when restoring items of great value or that contain sensitive information, remediators must be sure to adhere to the proper guidelines to avoid taking on unnecessary liability for items lost, stolen or damaged.
In addition, careful means of restoration will need to take place to ensure that the items being rehabilitated do not incur additional damage from the restoration process itself. Clients with questions about proper protocol involving valuables should direct their queries to their local restoration technicians.