Can You Clean Up Smoke and Water Damage Yourself?

by Team eLocal
contractor pointing at water damage on ceiling

A house fire or flood is a devastating circumstance to deal with on its own. Many homeowners lose precious belongings and irreplaceable heirlooms due to fire, smoke or water damage. And, of course, there’s the cost of fixing it. You may be considering picking up a mop and bucket yourself to avoid a hefty remediation bill.

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Large-scale water, fire and smoke damage usually requires professional restoration to make your home safe and healthy again. However, it's often possible to clean up more minor damage yourself with some basic household cleaning materials. Let's explore some situations where you can — and can't — deal with cleanup on your own.

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Can You Clean Up Smoke and Fire Damage on Your Own?

Whether you can clean up fire and smoke damage on your own depends on the materials involved and the extent of the damage. The American Red Cross states that homeowners can remove smoke and soot from walls, ceilings and fabrics using tri-sodium phosphate (TSP). However, the substance is caustic and only suitable for fabrics that can be bleached.

You should always wear thick rubber gloves and thick-soled shoes when working with TSP to avoid irritating your skin. You can add up to 6 tablespoons of TSP and 1 cup of household cleaning solution to a gallon of warm water and use it for washing clothes, painted walls and ceilings and washable wallpaper.

If you can't bleach fabric items such as clothes, you could try removing the smoky odor by washing them with your regular detergent. Adding vanilla extract to your laundry load can sometimes remove the smell of smoke.

Can You Clean Up Water Damage or Mold on Your Own?

You can sometimes clean up water damage on your own if the flooding was relatively recent. According to HouseLogic, thoroughly cleaning and drying your home and belongings within 48 hours can significantly reduce the risk of more severe damage and mold growth. The following tips can help you dry your home as quickly as possible:

  • Use powerful mechanical fans to circulate air around your home, and open doors and windows if the air outside is relatively dry.
  • Open cabinets and drawers to allow air to circulate in hard-to-reach areas.
  • Remove excess moisture from individual rooms using a dehumidifier.
  • Suck up standing water with a wet-dry shop vacuum.
  • Remove waterlogged rugs, soft furnishings and other items and place them outside to dry.
  • Remove linoleum and other floor coverings to dry the subfloor and discard and replace soaked insulation.
  • Place desiccant packages around the room to absorb moisture.
  • Hire or purchase a sump pump to remove standing water from floors and basements.

Whether you can clean up mold yourself depends on the size of the problem. The Environmental Protection Agency states that you can usually tackle mold growth yourself if the moldy area is no larger than 10 square feet.

The easiest DIY method for removing mold is scrubbing it off surfaces with a sponge or rag. You can then apply a solution made from one cup of bleach and a gallon of water to walls, ceilings and floors to kill the mold. However, it's important to check that the materials are suitable for bleaching. Leave the bleach solution on the surfaces instead of rinsing to prevent the mold from regrowing.

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When Is It Better to Call a Professional to Clean Up Fire, Water or Smoke Damage?

Sometimes, water, fire or smoke damage remediation is beyond the skills of regular homeowners. You'll need to call the pros if there's significant damage to drywall, ceilings and floors because you may need to replace the damaged areas.

You can't perform your own fire cleanup if your home is soaked with water from fire hoses. Attempting to dry your home out yourself could cause structural issues and lead to mold growth. Instead, you should call a fire damage restoration service to carry out specialized drying and cleaning.

You'll need to hire a professional mold remediation service if the moldy area in your home is larger than 10 square feet. Consider calling the pros to tackle your mold problem if you have a respiratory illness, as inhaling mold spores could make your symptoms worse. Specialist mold remediators can help you remove mold from valuable items or those with sentimental value.

Don't attempt to clean up water damage yourself if the problem involves multiple rooms or you can't find the source of the leak. A professional water damage restoration service can diagnose the issue to prevent the problem from getting worse. You should also hire a professional if the water damage involves sewage or contaminated water, or if you have a backed-up toilet or drain.

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