ICS Magazine

Rx for Restoration: Appliances and Electronics Vary in Size, Cleaning Effort

October 15, 2001
As restoration professionals, you're going to face electronics in your efforts. That said, read on.

In today's homes and businesses, restoration technicians inevitably encounter a variety of appliances and electronic components. Knowing how to restore them following a fire-damage is a challenge to be undertaken by only the trained, professional restorer.

There are appliances in every fire-damaged home and they come in a variety of sizes, shapes and component types. They include refrigerators, stoves, ovens, dishwashers, clothes washers, dryers, vent hoods, microwaves, food processors, coffee makers . . . the list goes on and on.

Before restoration can begin, technicians must consider the item's surface or finish along with the type and quantity of smoke and heat damage to which the appliance has been exposed. For example, most small appliances have plastic surfaces, while large appliances have either porcelain-coated metal or enamel-painted surfaces.

Porcelain is extremely durable and withstands extreme heat and soot damage without discoloration. Most stoves, washing machines and some ovens have porcelain-coated metal surfaces. Other appliances are made of metal painted with a durable enamel. However, when subjected to heavy soot and/or heat damage, they discolor rapidly if residues are not neutralized quickly.

Clothes dryers, dishwashers and refrigerators usually have enamel-painted metal surfaces. Plastic small appliances discolor most rapidly of all when subjected to severe smoke and heat damage.

In severely fire-damaged homes and businesses, it's important to ensure that power is supplied to refrigerators and freezers that contain foods. Failure to do so can result in spoiling or thawing of foods, along with subsequent biocontamination, odor and monetary loss - not to mention the increased difficulty in cleaning.

It is imperative that acid soot residues be neutralized immediately on all appliances to prevent discoloration, especially on those with enamel paint or plastic surfaces. Cleaning and restoration steps normally include:

Exterior - Clean appliance exteriors with a mild general purpose, alkaline cleaner. When heavy, oily soot residue is present, use heavy-duty degreaser. Clean thoroughly around door gaskets or air circulation vents to remove smoke and odor from those areas as well. Finally, clean appliances with glossy finishes with glass cleaner to remove smudges and smears, especially on metal trim.

Interior - Next, check appliance interiors for smoke infiltration. Most appliances are sealed and thus sustain little, if any, smoke damage on interior surfaces. Notable exceptions might be clothes washers and dryers, which often are found with lids or doors open.

Once exterior and interior cleaning restoration is completed, it's important to operate these appliances through a full cycle to remove any traces of residue and odor.

If electrical power has been off for an extended period, refrigeration appliances may require more extensive cleaning and deodorization on interior surfaces. For grossly unsanitary situations involving quantities of thawed foods and major biological contamination, usually it's best to move the appliance outdoors and engage in meticulous decontamination and pressure cleaning procedures. On upright freezers or refrigerators, some disassembly of cooler box components may be required in order to access contaminated insulation. Follow cleaning with exposure to ozone gas within a confined area or plastic tent for several days to remove severe odor.

Mechanical Components - Restoration technicians should next consider the appliance's mechanical components compartments. Were these components operating during the fire? Did they circulate soot and odor through the appliance? Appliances such as refrigerators and freezers often sustain substantial smoke and odor within these compartments when compressor cooling fans are operating. Fortunately these compartments usually are located at floor level, well below the heat line. Therefore, the smoke damage sustained may be in the form of light or loose soot. In that case, after temporarily disconnecting power, careful vacuuming and general cleaning of mechanical components compartments may be sufficient.

When smoke residue is heavy, hot or extremely oily, the appliance may have to be removed from the structure for more thorough wet cleaning (light pressure washing), or for processing by a specialized subcontractor. When finished, stand freezers upright for several hours before power is restored.

Safety Check
Once clean and odor free, have appliances checked by authorized service personnel before being placed back into operation. This is especially true of stoves, on which fires originate, or other appliances, such as microwaves, which may have been close to the fire source.

Finally, operate appliances that sustained severe smoke and heat damage under the supervision of service technicians, company personnel or insureds for a few hours, just to confirm that nothing has been overlooked.

Next time we'll look at the process of electronic appliance restoration procedures.