Disaster Cleanup: What Items Can You Salvage?

Imagine that a flood or a fire sweeps through your building, leaving wreckage in its wake. Do you know how you would begin to recover?

This scenario affects more businesses than you might realize. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that fire departments put out fires in over 3,300 office properties a year. And disasters like these are costly — the Congressional Budget Office estimates that damages from hurricane-force winds and storm-related flooding cost commercial businesses $9 billion annually.

But with some planning and hard work, it’s possible to salvage many of your business effects. In the guide below, we’ll help you figure out what items you can recover after a disaster and offer some fire and water damage restoration tips.

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Fire damage can lead to burned and destroyed furniture. In the aftermath of a fire, you’ll also need to consider smoke damage to your furniture.

What is smoke damage? Smoke damage occurs when the visible particles that comprise smoke settle on surfaces and become soot. These particles quickly sink into surfaces, particularly soft ones like upholstery, and become difficult to remove. They create a toxic indoor air quality if left in place because they contain many harmful substances — such as carbon monoxide, methane, formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds — that can lead to health issues.

When furniture gets wet in a flood, it is more likely to grow mold. Fire-damaged furniture may also become damp and susceptible to mold if the sprinkler system comes on or if the furniture is in the path of the water used to put out the fire.

Can You Save Furniture?

Fortunately, you may be able to salvage furniture that has become damaged in a fire or flood.

If upholstered furniture has sustained minimal water damage, you may be able to dry it to prevent a mold infestation. If it has suffered burns or smoke damage, you may be able to replace the upholstery. If upholstered furniture has become completely waterlogged, though, it may not be salvageable except at a substantial cost.

If solid wooden furniture gets wet, you may be able to dry out the wood to prevent warping and mold growth. If it has sustained scorch marks, you may be able to sand the damaged areas or replace them. Wood veneer furniture may become unsalvageable in a fire because it tends to delaminate at high temperatures.

Cleaning Tips for Damaged Furniture

Below are a few cleaning tips for furniture that has experienced fire or flood damage.

1. Separate Damp Materials

If your wet furniture is touching other wet objects, try to separate the damp materials to help them dry more quickly. Carefully remove sodden throws and pillows from the couch, and take tablecloths off the tables and books off the bookshelves.

2. Gently Dry Your Furniture

If your furniture is wet, try drying it gently with a fan, and open your windows to increase airflow. Direct heat can damage your items permanently, so avoid using hair dryers, ovens, irons or even direct sunlight for drying.

One of the most vital water damage restoration tips is to prevent mold growth, but mold can form within 48 hours of water damage, so you’ll need to dry your furniture quickly.

3. Reduce Humidity

When you’re thinking about how to prevent mold after water damage, one of the best steps you can take is to dehumidify the area. Using a dehumidifier near your furniture as it dries will remove moisture from the air, accelerate drying and help prevent mold growth.

4. Clean Carefully

If your furniture is dirty, clean it with care. Use soft washcloths or rags to remove dirt, soot, mud or debris. Try to keep from rubbing too vigorously, though — that can work dirt more deeply into the fabric.

5. Disinfect

It’s challenging to disinfect soft upholstery, but you can disinfect hard furniture using a household cleaner. Check the label of the cleaning solution to make sure it is safe for use on wood surfaces.

6. Protect Yourself

Remember to protect your health and safety as you clean your damaged furniture. Floodwaters can harbor disease-causing bacteria, and inhaling fungal spores can cause illnesses of the lungs and lead to other adverse health effects, from fatigue to organ failure.

If your furniture has become damaged in a flood, wear gloves when you touch it, and wash your hands frequently. Consider wearing goggles or a face mask as well. Immediately call for professional help if you believe items have become contaminated with sewage.


After a flood or a fire, you may discover damaged or waterlogged electronic products like computers and phones. Water or fire damage to electronic circuitry can make these items unsafe to use — you would risk sustaining severe electric shocks. Water damage can also corrode the metallic components of your electronics, leaving them susceptible to irreparable rust damage.

Can You Salvage Electronics?

Fortunately, depending on the situation, you may be able to salvage some of your electronics. Water and fire damage can cause shorts and fry the circuitry, but if the damage is moderate, you might make some repairs.

Cleaning Tips for Damaged Electronics

If you can establish that your damaged electronics are safe to clean, you can try to salvage them using these tips.

1. Dry and Dehumidify Them

Thoroughly dry your electronic items in the open air. A dehumidifier can help here as well. Using a dehumidifier to remove moisture from the air in the room allows your electronics to dry out faster and may help you recover them before permanent damage sets in.

2. Scrub Them Gently

If your building’s electronics have become covered with soot, ash or stormwater debris, you can use soft cloths to clean them. Be careful about inserting cleaning implements into your electronics’ inner workings, though — doing this could cause damage.

3. Disinfect Them

If floodwaters have touched your electronics, disinfect them to kill microorganisms. Be sure to read the label to see whether the cleaner is safe to use on your electronics.

4. Seek Professional Help

If your business has expensive electronics that would be difficult to replace, or if they are not safe for you to clean yourself, try working with a professional salvage company for machinery and electronics cleaning. The pros may be able to dry your electronics safely in a specialized low-humidity, temperature-controlled environment and get them functional again.

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Books and Documents

Books and documents may singe in a fire and become susceptible to mold growth after a flood. Because paper is porous and permeable, water-soaked book pages and documents may fall apart in a flood, or the ink may run and render them illegible. Or, they may retain their structure, but dry stiffly or misshapenly.

Can You Salvage Books and Documents?

When you’re cleaning business contents after a fire, you may not be able to salvage papers. But after a flood, you may be able to recover some. You may want to work with restoration professionals for document recovery services, including flash-drying, freeze-drying, sanitizing, rebinding and digitizing.

Cleaning Tips for Damaged Books and Documents

To clean your damaged books and documents after a flood, try using these tips.

1. Spread Them Out

Lay your papers out one by one to help them dry — just make sure you do so in an area where they can’t blow away. Similarly, you can fan out the pages of your books. You can also insert materials like paper towels between the pages of wet books to absorb water and help the pages dry more readily.

2. Air Them Out

The paper of books and documents is delicate, so here especially, it’s essential to avoid using high heat for drying. Dry your books carefully, using a fan or opening windows.

3. Allow Air to Reach Both Sides

Placing your papers out on the floor to dry is OK, but they will likely dry more slowly. To help the air dry your documents more effectively, try putting the papers on a plastic screen. If they are strong enough, you can hang them by their corners using clothespins — just make sure their weight won’t cause them to tear.


After a flood or a fire, don’t try to operate appliances until a qualified professional has assessed the damage. Like electronics, building appliances contain sensitive electronic components that could cause severe electric shocks if you tried to operate them. And gas appliances have burners and other metallic parts that water can damage irreparably.

Can You Salvage Appliances?

Is it possible to save flooded appliances? Fortunately, and often with professional cleaning services, the answer is sometimes yes. If the electronic circuitry is intact and metallic parts are in good condition, your appliance is likely a good candidate for salvaging.

Cleaning Tips for Damaged Appliances

If appliances are safe to clean, you can try applying some of these tips.

1. Wipe Them Clean

Wipe your appliances down gently to remove dirt and debris. Wiping your appliances down also helps remove water and keep them from corroding. You can use soap and water or special oil soaps designed for floors.

2. Let Them Air-Dry

As with electronics, you don’t want to fry your appliances’ complex internal components with high heat. The best thing you can do is to let your building’s appliances air-dry naturally.

3. Lower the Humidity

Using a dehumidifier helps your equipment dry faster and more thoroughly. A dehumidifier removes moisture from the air and accelerates the evaporation of the water inside your appliances.

4. Disinfect

Disinfect the accessible surfaces of your appliances if floodwaters have touched them. Doing so helps ensure that building employees will be able to use the appliances safely.

Floors, Walls and Ceilings

In a flood, your floors and walls are likely to take the brunt of the damage, but extreme water levels may also affect the ceiling, or the basement ceiling may sustain water damage. A fire can burn through floors, walls and ceilings quickly, and water from fire sprinklers and firefighting efforts can add water damage as well.

In a flood, floors, walls and water-damaged ceilings may become susceptible to mold growth. Wood and laminate flooring may warp, and laminate flooring may peel up as well. Composite flooring, which consists of wood, glue and fillers, will likely become soggy.

Drywall and ceiling plaster may become saturated with water, sag and ultimately crumble — a water-damaged ceiling is likely to require replacement. Staining, warping, buckling and peeling are also signs of water damage in walls and ceilings. Wall insulation often becomes soaked, and because it has no way to air out, it will quickly grow mold.

Can You Salvage Floors, Walls and Ceilings?

In some cases, damaged floors, walls and ceilings become structurally unsound and are not safe to salvage. But in other cases, if you address these structural components of your building right away, and if the damage is not too severe, you may be able to restore them.

Cleaning Tips for Damaged Floors, Walls and Ceilings

If your floors, walls and ceilings are safe to clean, try using these tips.

1. Shut off Electricity

Use your circuit breakers to shut off power to the building temporarily. Turning off the electricity will make it safer to clear out the water in your building.

2. Remove Waterlogged Carpeting and Furniture

Remove these items from the room so the flooring can dry out. If you plan to try to salvage the furniture, take it elsewhere for cleaning.

3. Remove Water

Remove as much standing water from the floor as you can. A mop or towels will be helpful, but you may need a professional extractor, which can help remove water even from the tiny pores of wooden flooring. If ceilings are sagging with water, you’ll need to cut into them and drain them. Open and drain wet walls as well, and throw away waterlogged insulation.

4. Dehumidify

Use a dehumidifier to remove moisture from the air as you clean. Rent an industrial-strength dehumidifier if you can, and boost its work with fans and cross-breezes through the window.

5. Scrub

Scrub the surfaces gently with cloths and soap to remove dirt or soot. Be careful not to scrub so hard that you grind the residues into the surfaces instead.

6. Disinfect

Disinfect the flooring, walls and ceiling with an appropriate cleaner. The disinfectant should kill bacteria in the floodwater residue. After disinfecting, it’s a good idea to dry the floor again.

7. Enlist Professionals

If the task of cleaning the structural elements of your building seems daunting, partner with a professional restoration company. The pros have access to specialized equipment, like moisture-measuring instruments and panel dryers that can blast dehumidified air at the floors. They also have extensive experience in developing salvaging strategies and determining what’s possible to save after a flood or fire.

Material Breakdown: What Can You Save?

After a disaster, you are likely to find various materials in different states of salvageability.

Bricks and Stones

Many bricks and stones are likely to come through a disaster intact. They are hard and compact and can resist becoming waterlogged.


Metals usually survive floods and fires unscathed, though some metals may warp or rust. Corrosion becomes a particular concern with small, moving metal parts.


Wood is likely to burn or scorch in a fire. Some harder varieties of wood may survive a flood, but many others will swell, warp or harbor mold.


Ceramics may survive a building fire, though the material may melt if the fire burns exceptionally hot. Standing water will not penetrate ceramic, but it is likely to penetrate the grout between the tiles in ceramic flooring.


Plastics, notorious for their ability to resist breaking down, will probably survive a flood. A fire is likely to melt plastics, however.


What should you throw away after a fire? Textiles probably top the list. Textiles like curtains, clothing, rugs, wall hangings and tablecloths will probably burn in a fire, or they may absorb smoke damage and become unsafe for health reasons. In fire restoration, clothing and other textiles often have to go. In a flood, they will likely become saturated with potentially contaminated stormwater and become impossible to clean and unsafe to keep.

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Contact Unlimited Restoration for Your Large-Scale Disaster Cleanup Needs

To get help in restoring your commercial building in the recovery from a flood disaster or fire, contact Unlimited Restoration.

We have years of experience with emergency water mitigation, water damage restorationmold remediationfire and smoke damage restoration and other post-disaster restoration techniques. We can help you repair your flooded business or restore a building after a fire, so you can get back to the work you do best. We also offer planning and training to help you prepare for and navigate future disasters more confidently.

Contact us today to learn more.


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