lady fire

Originally posted – Oct 05, 2012

Previously, we looked at how fire and water garment restoration can be a profitable niche for some coin laundry owners – as well as how to potentially land this type of work.

Now, let’s assume that the restoration business has started to roll in. OK… now that you’ve got the garments in hand, what do you do with them?

Understand that you’ll probably be dealing primarily with two types of items: (1) garments that are smoke-damaged and also may have some mildew on them, due to additional water damage from when the fire department hosed the place down; and (2) garments with strictly water damage or mildew because of a flooding situation.

Let’s tackle the mildew problem first. The quicker you can clean and dry a mildewed garment, the easier it will be for you to refurbish it.

In the past, I’ve been a strong opponent of using chlorine bleach – and I still am. However, in the case of mildewed items, if those items happen to be white, they likely are the exception to my argument against chlorine bleach. And the reason is simple: chlorine bleach does an exceptionally good job of killing almost any kind of mold spore. And when you’ve got mildew, you’ve got the beginning of mold.

So, whenever you’re dealing with water damage and mildew, the first step is to separate the chlorine-bleachable items from those that aren’t. Again, you can use chlorine bleach on white garments, 100 percent polyester garments and even some lighter-colored items, if you wash them correctly. For this group of items, add chlorine bleach only once the drum is completely filled with water, and be sure to add just a small amount of bleach.

For colored garments that exhibit signs of mildew, I would suggest using a color-safe bleach, such as OxiClean or a similar type of product. For the most part, that will handle any light mildew issues resulting from water damage.

Of course, with all mildewed items, be sure to wash the garments with your normal detergent as well to get them clean; you’ll need the help of that detergent action, too.

As for smoke-damaged items due to fire, the ideal process for tackling smoke damage is with an ozonation system – ozone does a phenomenal job of removing any type of smoke odor. However, such a system likely will be cost-prohibitive for the typical self-service laundry owner, unless he or she gets extremely serious about catering to this particular business segment.

Fortunately, in lieu of buying a complete ozonation system, there are some very effective products on the market. One product, which typically is sold through carpet cleaning companies and suppliers, is called Smoke Away – and, although there are several products out there that mask smoke odors, this product will actually remove the smoke odors from the garments. It costs about $100 per bottle, but you don’t need very much of it to do a load of laundry.

Beyond that, I’ve found that the combination of creating a high pH level – as we discussed in an earlier column, using ammonia or a built detergent from a chemical supplier – along with using a strong oxidizer like OxiClean or a chlorine-free, color-safe bleach is extremely effective at tackling smoke damage.

In essence, this combination is the same as ozone. After all, ozone is a heavy oxidizer; you can’t oxidize any better than by ozonating a load of clothes. However, by adding chlorine-free hydrogen peroxide or a similar heavy oxidizer detergent like OxiClean with a high pH, you’re getting the same chemical reaction as with ozone – you’re actually breaking loose and oxidizing out the things that are causing the smoke odor. That combination works very well.

When doing fire restoration work, I would advise that, if as you’re sorting the loads you come across garments with heavy soot or burn marks, don’t even bother to clean those items. At my store, we’ll bag up those garments and return them to the client, explaining that those items simply are not restorable. Don’t put any effort into these items.

In addition, for the items we are able to restore, we typically will wash them twice. Also, unless the client strictly forbids it, we almost always used a scented fabric softener during the last cycle of the cleaning process, because we want to leave the item with a positive odor, rather than no odor at all. If clients receive their garments and can’t smell anything, they mentally will still smell smoke and a fire, because that’s what is in their mind. So, it’s always best to leave your fire restoration customers with a positive odor.

To this end, we also use scented fabric softeners during the drying cycle when we do this type of work.

Lastly, once you’ve washed and dried the smoke- and/or water-damaged items, be sure to keep them organized. Typically, the garments will be organized by room, so be sure to repackage the items and organize them the same way in which you received them. This will make it easier for the homeowner or business owner to find his or her items.

If you mix up which rooms the garments are to be returned to, it can cause a huge mess for your client – be that the fire/water restoration company, the insurance company or whomever. So, be sure to keep all of the laundered and restored items well organized.

All in all, fire and water restoration can prove to be a profitable – and not overly difficult – way to grow your laundry business in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace.

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