Smoke damage to the piano has long since been a devastating problem for the owner, technician, and insurance adjuster alike. Cory Products has effectively addressed this age old problem. The following topics offer insightful information on successful avenues for complete odor removal.
Smoke is the product of incomplete combustion made visible by the presence of small particles of carbon. All burnable substances involved in the fire create complex odors. Burnt plastics, fabric, meat, carpet and draperies provide an acceptable analogy of complex odors. Smoke generally dissipates quickly after the fire leaving residue. Rapid cooling particles of the incomplete combustion will leave a difficult film and odor on and in the entire piano. Smoke is acidic causing discoloration, corrosion and overall damage to the instrument.
Odor perception occurs when airborne gaseous molecules contact membranes in the nasal passage, which are rich in odor receptors. It is important to note that solids and liquids do not smell! However, solids and liquids do produce gases which we perceive as odors.
Liquids evaporate, or turn into gaseous molecules. Some solids undergo a process similar to evaporation (called sublimation). Mothballs are a common example of a solid which sublimes into gaseous, odor-producing molecules. The molecules which make up all solids, liquids, and gases are in constant motion: the molecules in solids move relatively slowly, the molecules in liquids move somewhat faster, and the molecules in gas move even faster.
At higher levels of molecular activity (molecules moving faster), some of the molecules break free from the surface of a substance and become airborne gaseous molecules … which we then can perceive as odor. Increases in molecular activity can come about in several ways. Increased temperature can cause evaporation, as with boiling water. Higher humidity levels allow wood pores to expand, increasing molecular activity and airborne molecules.
A more subtle example is human perspiration which is helped to evaporate by our body temperature. Changes in atmospheric pressure or exposure to atmosphere can also assist evaporation.
Until perspiration reaches the surface of our skin it has nowhere to go. When it does reach the surface and is exposed to air, some of the perspiration molecules break, free to become gaseous body odor molecules. It is important to remember that solids and liquids do not smell — only airborne gaseous molecules smell.
Types of Smoke and Resultant Odors
We generally refer to smoke as either driven or free floating. Driven smoke is pressurized having force behind it. Vertical surfaces are the most commonplace for finding driven smoke. Free floating smoke originated as driven smoke but has lost the active energy. Horizontal surfaces are the recipients of this type of smoke. Driven smoke found within the piano interior brings with it numerous odors. We refer to these odors in three primary categories; Synthetic, Natural, and Protein. Complex odors result from various substances burning simultaneously
Synthetic odors consist of plastics, and synthetic textiles. This form of residue in chiefly black in color and will smudge easily. Natural odors tally from burnt wood, cotton or paper products. The residue from natural odors are gray and black in color and usually form a powdery substance. Protein odors result from meat, flesh, grease as generated by most kitchen fires. The residue from protein fires is greasy in nature and is yellowish to brown in color. Several processes and techniques are required for thorough odor removal, insuring complete odor elimination and detoxification.
Low and High oxygen fires attribute to the severity of damage within your piano. A low oxygen fire is the smoldering type and leaves a wet smoky residue. Residue from a low oxygen fire is typically more difficult to clean and remove odor bearing particles. A high oxygen fire produces a dryer residue and sometimes is easier to remove.
How the Piano is Affected by Smoke Damage?
The piano consists of assorted woods, metals, steel, felts, and plastics. Humidity extremes are commonplace in the event of a fire, including extinguishing methods. Intense heat and or sudden changes in humidity cause a host of challenges involving the instrument’s structural integrity, parts and mechanisms. As the humidity level increases, the piano’s wooden components expand. The pores within the wood collect or adsorb the various malodors. Should the piano exist in the path of the air currents of driven smoke, the odors will then be driven deeper into the wood than that of free floating smoke.
Other substances within the piano are porous and highly susceptible as they adsorb odor bearing particles. The piano action for instance is greatly affected . The felts of the action serve as natural wicks for odor, the metal parts corrode quickly due to the acidic nature of smoke. The glues used are broken down making many of the action parts weak, misaligned, or completely unfunctional. Should rubber parts exist, they will become hard and brittle.
Oxidation found on the piano’s strings is not uncommon. The soundboard and ribs have been known to separate as well as develop cracks and pressure ridges. Structural damages partnered with offensive residue creates undesirable ramifications.
What to Do with a Smoke Damaged Piano
Do not touch the piano with bare hands. The smoke is toxic and may smear residue as your finger oils react with the residue. If you must touch the piano, wear latex surgical gloves. Do not attempt to wipe and clean the instrument. Using the incorrect product(s) can and will leave undesirable results. Proper assessment of the damages will help your piano professionals serve you in an expedient manner. Survey the damages and provide the following information according to this check list:
- Owner’s name, address and telephone number
- Piano’s Manufactured name and age (a serial number would be helpful)
- Time and date of the fire…length of fire or odor causing incident
- Location of the fire: i.e….kitchen, bedroom, basement, etc.
- Location of the piano at time of fire
- Insurance Company name and adjuster’s name with phone number
- Restoration Company name & contact
- Whether or not the piano was touched by flame
To the Piano Technician
ALWAYS WEAR LATEX GLOVES WHEN ENGAGING A SMOKE DAMAGED PIANO
Properly evaluate the piano’s condition and record your findings:
- Case parts (overall condition of finish) (determine poly-lacquer-stain etc.)
- Strings: (rusty, light corrosion, or filmy)
- Tuning pins: (rusty, light corrosion or filmy) (size-torque)
- Pinblock (give best visual assessment)
- Plate, aliquots, hitch pins
- Action (remove action-wear surgical gloves) (hammers, shanks, do swing tests)
- Keys (Key bushings)
- Pedals (lyre)
- Humidity Control System (whether or not it exists and/or sustained damages)
- Underside or backside (beams, ribs, soundboard)
- Dampers & damper felts (grand)
- Name & Serial number of piano
- Customer information
- Insurance information (adjuster’s name, #, company name)
- Restoration Company information (should one be involved with piano handling)
Could I do some of the cleaning myself?
Smoke damage restoration consists of numerous processes involving detoxification and odor counteractant techniques. Simple products such as bleach, baking soda, and grocery store cleaners are never effective in the successful removal of smoke damaging odors. Our Fire-Clean restoration products are designed specifically for piano application and are professional formulations. We encourage you to participate in our classes offered at PTG institutes and hands-on certification seminars. Should you encounter a smoked damaged piano, call us immediately that we may be of service to benefit both you and your client.
Should you be an industry professional, please register as a dealer. There are more in depth articles and videos addressing odor control in the “Dealer Resources” section in the upper navigation bar.