The basics of furniture restoration

If your home has been in a fire or hit by a flood, chances are you lost most of your belongings. With a bit of good fortune, it is possible that some your furniture have been spared, however, you still must deal with fire, smoke and water damages. The biggest mistake made by most homeowners is throwing away damaged furniture with the assumption they cannot be restored. What people fail to understand is that more often than not, it is possible to restore furniture. Homeowners should weigh their options before purchasing new furniture, especially when it concerns replacing antiques or furniture with sentimental value. The best solution is to contact a professional fire restoration company to restore your damaged furniture. These companies have the necessary equipment and skills to remove soot and smoke smell from valuable objects, and completely restore scorched items. They also offer advice on how to best restore furniture yourself. Hire specialists where possible as they are better trained in restoration projects. Keep in mind that although cleaning and fixing furniture can be costly, it is not nearly as expensive as buying new ones.

Restoring fire damaged furniture yourself

If your furniture has sustained minor damages only, you may restore it yourself. First remove the furniture from where the fire happened. Furniture usually sustains water damage caused by fire hoses. If possible, place furniture outside and allow drying completely. Secondly, remove soot from furniture. Soot is black powdery or flaky substance consisting largely of amorphous carbon, produced by the incomplete burning of organic matter. It sticks to floors, ceilings, furniture and other hard surfaces. Begin with the removal of components such as drawers, knobs and panels from your furniture. Then use a soft bristle brush to remove excess soot.

Beginning the cleaning process

Before you start, cover the surrounding floor with a plastic or sheets. If possible, do the cleaning outdoors to avoid damaging your floors. Wear gloves to protect your hands from cleaning solutions, and open all doors and windows in your workspace. Dip a clean cloth in denatured alcohol or paint thinner, and wring to get it damp but not dripping wet. Rub the surface of the furniture with the cloth bit by bit to remove soot. When all the soot is rubbed off, wipe the surface again with a clean wet cloth. You may want to use a toothbrush to clean your furniture between cracks and crevices. Dry the furniture with a clean, dry cloth. When the furniture has been thoroughly dried, it can be polished with beeswax using a soft lint-free cloth. If the furniture only sustained soot damage, this process should do the trick.

Restoring scorched furniture

Scorched furniture requires greater attention. Use sand paper or steel wool to rub the scorched areas until burn stains are gone. Be sure to go with the grain so as not to damage the furniture further. Dip a clean cloth in denatured alcohol or paint thinner, and wring to get it damp but not dripping wet. Rub the surface of the furniture with the cloth bit by bit to remove soot. Once furniture is dry, refinish with polyurethane. This should suffice in restoring your furniture back to original condition. If the furniture has been severely scorched, it is better to throw it away. Should your home insurance cover restoration costs for valuable furniture, hire a professional to do the job, and take advantage of their expertise.

Cleaning furniture upholstery

When it comes to soot-stained furniture, consider contacting a remediation specialist, especially if your furniture is heavily coated with soot. If you decide to do the work yourself, first shake as much soot as possible off the fabric before beginning the cleaning process. Soot is the ash-like, oily residue left behind after a fire, and can be difficult to clean if you do not know what you are doing. Do not rub soot into the material, especially cloth or other textile, as it will result in an even more stubborn or permanent stain. Never clean soot with water. Water weighs soot down, creating sludge that seeps into the surface and is difficult to remove.

Sprinkle cornstarch or baking soda on each soot stain, and leave approximately 15 minutes. Vacuum as much soot as possible starting from the outer edge of the stain, and moving toward the center. A vacuum is often enough to remove soot from your belongings. Be sure not to use any of your vacuum’s brush attachments or accessories as that will push soot deeper into the fibres. A simple nozzle works best and should be held about 1/4″ from the surface to ensure it doesn’t rub soot into the material. Vacuum away all the baking soda or cornstarch. Next, mix a solution of two cups of warm water and one tablespoon of dishwashing soap. Scrub the stain in a circular motion with a clean cloth until the stain has disappeared. Use a clean cloth and fresh water to remove soap residue. To facilitate the drying process, open all doors and windows. Use a dehumidifier or fans to speed up the process.

Getting rid of smoke smell

If your furniture has only been subjected to mild smoke exposure, dip a rough surfaced clean cloth into solvent, and thoroughly rub small sections at a time. For most furniture finishes, denatured alcohol or paint thinner gets the job done. After removing the stains, clean the surface again with a damp cloth, and dry with another clean cloth. Once the item is dry, polish it with a trusted wax.

Before using any solvent, read the label and follow directions carefully. Discard cloths dipped in alcohol in a tightly closed metal can. If your furniture sustained severe damage, it means extreme heat pushed smoke into the varnish. As such, your job is to strip the furniture down, clean it with an ammonia-based cleaner, and re-finish it. In a case like this, the best results are likely to be achieved by a professional.

Restoring furniture after a flood

Just as with fire damage, you’re likely better off calling a professional water restoration company to restore damaged furniture. These companies have the required skills and tools to restore your furniture properly, and offer advice on how to best restore other pieces of furniture yourself. They are also well equipped to determine whether or not a piece of water damaged furniture can be salvaged. Antiques are worth the time, effort and expense of restoration. Unless damage is severe, you may clean and refinish antiques at home.

Before going ahead with any cleanup operation, calculate if the money you are going to spend restoring furniture is greater than the cost of replacing it. The extent of damage is also important. If you are dealing with contaminated water (upholstered furniture in particular), or your furniture has been soaked for more than 48 hours, or mold is growing, your furniture may be impossible to restore.

Doing it yourself

If your furniture has only minor damages from a clean water source, consider restoring it yourself. First take care of the flooded area. There is no point in cleaning your furniture if you haven’t buckled the source of the problem. You may require the services of a remediation specialist. Next, remove furniture from flood area. Move your furniture outside to dry, weather permitting. Should you discover mold and mildew on your furniture, see section below for more information.

If your furniture has doors or drawers, remove them to speed up the drying process. Next, hose down loose soil or dirt, and rinse with clear water. Use a cloth to remove excess liquid. Note: some wood furniture may take as much as two to three weeks before drying completely. In such cases, place the furniture back inside in a well ventilated room. Use fans, heaters, or dehumidifiers, or other industrial drying device to evacuate moist from the room. Most furniture not submerged in water has spots or cloudy film covering its surface due to dampness. To remove this, dip a cloth in turpentine or in a solution of half cup household ammonia and half cup water. Wipe entire surface. Wipe with a dry cloth to remove excess solution. Shine with wax or furniture polish. If the color is not restored, dip steel wool in linseed, olive or mineral oil. Rub lightly with the wood grain to prevent further damage. Wipe with a soft cloth, and wax again once the furniture is restored.

Do not undermine the importance of cleaning and disinfecting water-damaged furniture. Skipping these steps results in the growth of mold and mildew, which are potentially harmful to both your furniture and health. Hence, the prime consideration when deciding to keep furniture is whether or not it can be cleaned. Your second priority is whether or not that piece of furniture is still functional. Obviously, if it has been soaked in water for really long, it may not be fit for use, and you should think of a replacement.

Removing mold from furniture

First find a suitable place (outside ideally) to wash your furniture. To clean finished surface, use a bottle to spray water on mildew-laden areas. Then, wipe the furniture vigorously with a clean sponge or washcloth. Scrub only small areas at a time to prevent spores from spreading. Use a clean, dry cloth to dry the surface thoroughly. Ensure that each area is completely dry before proceeding to the next. Repeat this process several times until the contaminated areas are completely clean.

Mix one part detergent with three parts water into a spray bottle, and apply directly on mildew. Let solution sit 10 minutes to set in properly, and then use a soft-bristled brush to scrub the mildew deposits. If mildew remains, use a sheet of light-grit sandpaper to carefully scratch the mildew areas, making sure you go against the grain. Note: never use bleach on finished surfaces.

To clean the mold from unfinished areas, mix one part chlorine bleach with three parts water into a spray bottle, and apply directly on mildew. Let solution sit 10 minutes to set in properly. Gently scrub the contaminated area with a soft clean cloth. Rinse the surface thoroughly with clear water. If weather allows, take the cleaned furniture outside to dry.


What is a flood?

A flood is defined as the submergence by water of a normally dry area. The main causes of floods are rainstorms, snowmelts, hurricanes, earthquakes, broken dams, underwater volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. However, all floods are not the same. Some floods develop slowly, sometimes over a period of days, while others known as flash floods can develop quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes, and without warning. Just as some floods occur without causing problems; others are devastating, inflicting large-scale destruction and loss of lives. Flood damage clean-up is much more complicated than simply pumping water from the flooded area, and allowing everything to dry. There are many things to worry about, including mold, electrocution and gas leaks. Flood victims are advised to seek the help of a remediation specialist immediately.

What should I do to prevent further damage after a flood?

The most important thing is safety. Start by evacuating loved ones, and then valuables. Then call a restoration professional to prevent further damage. A flooded area left unattended for a long period of time may become the perfect ground for mold-forming bacteria. Also, if your furniture is exposed to vast amounts of water for over than 48 hours, it may become severely warped and unsalvageable.

How much will it cost to restore my furniture after a flood?

The cost of restoring furniture after a flood varies significantly depending on the extent of the damage and the material the furniture is made of. If you have a proper insurance policy, your insurance company should cover the costs of your furniture. Before attempting any restoration operation, it is important to know if the money you are going to spend restoring furniture is greater than the value of replacing it. For example, furniture made of particleboard is unlikely to warrant the work and expense required to restore it, unless water exposure was brief and the swelling unapparent. 

How do I restore furniture after a fire or flood?

The surest way to restore your furniture, especially after fire or flood, is to call a remediation specialist. Most often than not, your insurance company will cover cleaning operations. If you decide to do the work yourself, evaluate the object, keeping in mind age, value and materials. Answers to these questions will point to the best action for your furniture and situation. The most important aspect of furniture restoration is figuring out which cleaning products to avoid for your particular furniture.

When do I need to call a remediation specialist after a flood?

Call a remediation specialist immediately if your furniture has been soaked in infected water, drenched over 48 hours, or if you notice substantial mold contamination.

What is mold?

Mold is a type of fungus that mostly grows in humid environments such as bathrooms and basements, or in home appliances such as air conditioners and humidifiers. Mold can be found wherever there is moisture, oxygen, warmth and a source of food, such as fibre and plants. Leaky roofs, pipes, walls, or flooded areas are the preferred breeding grounds for mold. Mold travels through air as tiny spores looking for wet areas on which to cling and breed. Molded areas should be dealt with immediately before the spores contaminate other areas.

Mold is both an allergen and an irritant. In addition to its unsightly appearance, mold is the source of physical reactions ranging from simple allergies to major health hazards. Basic symptoms include sneezing, watery and red eyes, difficulty breathing, headaches and skin rashes. Mold spores can also reach the lungs and cause asthma. Unlike pollen allergies, and contrary to popular belief, mold allergies are not associated with a specific season. They can happen any time of the year. As such, everyone should always keep an eye on the appearance of mold in the buildings they occupy.

How long does it take furniture to dry?

Although your furniture may feel dry to the touch, that may not be the case. A good estimate for drying time is two weeks. Drying times for individual items vary depending on many factors. For example, the cleaning method used and the application of fabric protector may affect drying time. The level of atmospheric humidity and airflow are also important.

My home was just damaged by fire. What should I do to prevent further damage?

The most important thing is safety. Start by evacuating loved ones and valuables. Then call a restoration professional to remove smoke and soot as quickly as possible. The longer soot and smoke stay in the home, the more difficult it is to clean and deodorize. Also, do not attempt to clean fire or smoke damage yourself. Restoration professionals use scientific methods specifically geared to cleaning different types of damage. You might render the cleaning process more difficult by using inadequate methods.

Is it possible to salvage warped furniture?

It is possible to save slightly warped furniture, such as tables, chairs, beds or dressers. Most wooden boards can often be straightened if they are made of solid wood. Never attempt to straighten warped parts yourself. If such pieces are worth salvaging expenses, send them to a reliable furniture repair specialist. Get a cost estimate before submitting to repair.  

If I experience a flood will I automatically get mold?

Not necessarily. If you act immediately and know the appropriate steps to take, you significantly reduce the risk of developing mold. If mold does occur, you should contact a remediation specialist immediately. They can fix any type of mold problem, quickly and safely.

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