Smoke damage can be caused by the smoke's gases or the soot it leaves behind. Depending on the extent of the damage and the type, different cleaning and restoration techniques must be implemented to properly clean the mess. When smoke damages books, photos, or important paper documents, the process to restore them can be especially difficult because of the fragility of these items.
Smoke damages can be categorized into three general types: wet, dry, and fuel oil soot.
Wet smoke is a low-heat, smoldering type of smoke that leads to sticky residue. This smoke damage has the potential to warp books and documents.
Dry smoke is a created by high temperature, fast-burning fires. It is especially damaging to older, more fragile books.
Fuel Oil Soot
Fuel oil soot occurs when furnaces and other heat sources give off gritty puffs of soot. This kind of smoke acts as an abrasive on paper items like books and archive documents.
Smoke follows a general pattern for movement and destruction. It moves to the top floors of buildings. It is attracted to cool areas and easily moves through plumbing and ventilation systems.
How Damage Occurs
Smoke damages books and documents by staining exposed surfaces, mainly covers and paper edges. Damages to these items will depend on the quality, age, and condition of the documents affected. It will also depend on how well the items were stored prior to encountering the smoke. Most home and business owners keep books on shelves. Therefore the damage occurs mostly on the outer bindings and the top edges. Properly stacked books and documents will actually protect each other from intense smoke and soot damage. Keeping book shelves and desks away from the ventilation ducts or pipe work will also reduce the likelihood of smoke damage.
Restoration and Cleaning
Regardless of how much damage your books or documents have received, it is important to take extreme care when handling them. Books may not seem to have experienced much damage, but smoke, especially dry smoke, can ruin book bindings and make pages very brittle. Never handle damaged books by their pages - otherwise, increased "fingerprint" damage can occur.
You can clean most mildly damaged books by wiping the covers and paper edges with a dry sponge. This removes residue and prevents soot and ash from continuing to stain your books over time. However, you must be sure that you clean these items in a low humidity environment otherwise the moisture in the air can collect on the paper and cause further damage.
If your books, photos, or documents have experienced moderate to heavy smoke damage, you should seek out a professional book and document restoration specialist. Restoration companies have a number of state-of-the-art cleaning techniques they can employ to recover your damaged books. Many companies have sanding techniques to remove stubborn soot stains on page edges and employ a deodorizing technique to remove smoky odors. Other professionals will use ozone gas chambers to remove stains and safely deodorize documents.
Smoke is a lesser known damager of home and business materials. It can, however, be the most damaging because it is harder to assess the extent of the damage until it is often times too late. By properly employing strategic storage techniques and proper material handling practices you can greatly reduce the potential for smoke damage in the event of a disaster or emergency.
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