How do I clean items that have been in a fire?

Many items that have been in a fire may be salvaged. Your first thought may be to rinse the items. Don’t do it!

Water and other cleaning solutions will drive soot and ash further into the surface of your items. They will become impossible to remove.


  • Vacuum the soot and ash off your items. If possible, use a HEPA filter in the vacuum.
  • Wait until wet or damp items are dry before vacuuming.
  • Reduce the suction on your vacuum by using the lowest setting or have smaller plastic tubes inserted into the main tube to reduce suction.
  • Do not use a brush or allow the nozzle to touch the surface.
  • Vacuum all exposed surfaces before opening out folded items such as textiles or books. Shelved books may be charred on the outside but intact inside.
  • Carefully handle glass, ceramic, and metal items. Heat can make them very brittle.
  • Use supports to safely carry your more fragile items.
  • Carefully handle fabric items. They may look intact but fall apart when moved.
  • Do not try to force open photograph albums. Take them to a conservator for advice.

Dry cleaning soot sponges can be carefully used if the item is sturdy enough for the additional handling. The dirty surface of the sponge can be cut off to expose a new cleaning surface. Dry cleaning soot sponges are available in major hardware stores and specialist suppliers.

The Heritage Emergency National Task Force–Heritage Preservation shows you how:  Field Guide to Emergency Response: Dealing with Soot (video)