Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Restoring Fire-Damaged Kitchen Accessories Part 2

August 14, 2002
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Last month we covered the typical items found in the kitchens of most homes, including dishes, glassware, pots, pans and typical utensils. Most of these items are fairly durable and easy to clean with the right chemicals, techniques and procedures.

Let's look at some of the more delicate items that may be found in the kitchen.

Fine China
Always hand-clean delicate and expensive fine china using experienced, responsible (perhaps supervisory) personnel. The risk and liability for the company is too great to entrust this responsibility to anyone else. Extreme caution on your part is wholly justified. China patterns are routinely discontinued, meaning a single broken piece may be quite difficult to replace; when an accident occurs, insureds frequently want to discuss purchasing eight to 12 new place settings, plus serving pieces.

It is a good idea to pad sinks, counter tops and drying areas before processing begins, and then be sure to consider the following recommendations:

  • Presoak. Clean delicate china by hand, not in a dishwasher. Because glazed china surfaces are quite durable, when heavily soot-damaged they clean up relatively easily. First place each piece in an alkaline presoak solution for five to 10 minutes. Be sure to place the presoak solution in a heavy-gauge plastic or rubberized container with a flat bottom, and make sure all surfaces are totally immersed.

    Use caution when working with china with metal trim. Additional cleaning and time are required here. Test, evaluate and clean the china with the least-aggressive solution required to do the job. When metal trims or paints are present, minimize their exposure to highly alkaline presoaks to avoid discoloration or damage. Simply place these particular items in the presoak solution for two to three minutes, then hand-clean and rinse.

  • Agitation. Detail-clean all heavily smoke-stained surfaces with a scouring pad, paying special attention to unglazed pedestals where smoke staining is most apparent. Powdered abrasive cleansers may be needed for extreme smoke and heat damage, but again, be cautious when cleaning pieces with metallic trim.
  • Finalizing. Final-clean china by hand with free-rinsing dishwashing detergent, and dry it thoroughly before wrapping and packing. Use plenty of packing material to provide extra cushioning.

    Crystal
    Before restoring delicate and expensive crystal, be sure to evaluate pre-existing damage caused by wear and tear (e.g. chipped edges), and carefully consider the position of storage cabinets relative to the fire's origin. Crystal stored in upper cabinets over stoves where fires originate is always suspect, even when it appears fine on the surface.

    When heavy damage from smoke and heat is sustained, before removing the crystal from cabinets, always brief insureds (and adjusters if possible) and make notes about that briefing in writing. Be sure they understand that baked-on, oily smoke residue may be the only thing that is keeping the crystal from falling apart, and when you presoak it, damage sustained from rapid heating and cooling (i.e. hairline cracks) may become apparent as those soils dissolve. Generally, the thicker the glass, the less damage will occur due to the crystal having undergone slower, more uniform heating and cooling. However, because of the possibility of acid etching, try and clean crystal as soon as practical using the following procedures:

  • Presoak - As with china, aggressive, heavy-duty alkaline presoak solutions do not harm crystal, with the possible exception of items with metallic trim. Again, use a flat-bottomed plastic or rubberized container to prevent breakage. Placing a soft towel on the bottom is also a good idea. Remember, the presoak solution makes crystal surfaces extremely slippery, so wear chemical-resistant gloves for a better grip and to avoid skin injury from harsh chemicals.
  • Agitation - Detail-clean all heavily smoked surfaces by hand, concentrating on rims, edges and crevices where smoke residue is most likely to be missed. Use caution on painted designs or metal trim.
  • Finalizing - Clean by hand and rinse with non-spotting dishwashing detergent, and dry the crystal thoroughly before packing it (carefully, of course).

    Silver
    Begin by carefully evaluating the piece to determine if it is solid silver or silver plate. Check for "sagging" handles or spouts where solder may have been softened by the heat. Next, evaluate cleaning options, keeping the delicacy of silver plate in mind. Remember, when silver is exposed to acidic soot residues (nitrogen and chlorine dioxide), tarnishing occurs rapidly. For this reason, inventory silver and remove it from the damaged premises, clean it and store it until structural restoration is completed.

    When silverware and serving pieces have been lightly soot damaged, they may be hand cleaned with mild dishwashing detergents followed by light polishing for complete restoration. Some jewelers even provide an electrostatic bath in which silver pieces may be dipped to make cleaning faster and easier. However, when heavy soot damage is present, there is no substitute for meticulous cleaning by hand, following these guidelines:

  • Cleaning - Wash away excess soot residue using a mild, alkaline dishwashing detergent solution, followed by careful rinsing.
  • Polish application - Carefully apply a quality silver polish to all surfaces, concentrating on crevices and difficult-to-access areas. A small, soft-bristled brush is often required to "polish out" these small, inaccessible surfaces. Allow the polish to dissolve residues for three to five minutes.
  • Polishing - Remove the polish application using a soft, lint-free cloth. Evaluate the result and provide touch-up polishing as required.
  • Wrapping and packing - Wrap silver in a special pH-neutralized (non-acid) paper or cloth, or pack it with acid-neutralizing strips (ask a jeweler). Naturally, pad it well during packing. And always maintain security during processing and storage.
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