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Removing smoke odor after kitchen fire

Just for anyone else reading this, renter's insurance is quite different than homeowner's.

Broadly speaking, homeowner's covers the cost to rebuild the house as well as personal property, while renter's covers just personal property.

So if you own a property that someone is renting from you, and the tenant starts a fire, for example, the tenant's renter's insurance would only cover their belongings damaged in the fire. Your insurance would cover the damage to the house and personal property in it, like the appliances.

The lesson is if you're ever renting property, be extremely diligent about what insurance you buy. (And not to get too off topic, but if your home is ever vacant for some reason -- you're selling it and you've moved out, or you're in-between tenants -- you have to get vacant home insurance because your homeowners pretty much covers nothing if the house is vacant. I had a friend who learned this the hard way).

Oct 12, 2014
von_levi in Not About Food

Removing smoke odor after kitchen fire

I've read a lot of mixed things about ozone machines.

I was ready to buy one, but I had two concerns:

1. They remove odors from the air, but not from objects. If the smoke odor is clinging to a fabric or paint, the only thing that is going to work is thoroughly washing it, or just throwing it out.

So a week or so after using the ozone machine if the odor had not been washed out of objects I would begin to smell it again in the air.

2. Ozone damages rubber and electrical wiring. I didn't want to risk damaging my kitchen appliances as well as all of the electronics I have in the house (such as my audio/video system).

Nothing was damaged from the fire, but quite a bit of smoke was put out -- enough that it took over a month to get the smell out of the microwave which hung above the stove.

Oct 12, 2014
von_levi in Not About Food

Removing smoke odor after kitchen fire

The house was newly painted when I bought it, so I'm not sure what exactly it is, but the window and door trims were painted with a high gloss, and that's what the smell clung to the most.

The walls were done with a "regular" matte paint; the smell didn't cling to it.

Next time I paint, no high gloss!

Oct 12, 2014
von_levi in Not About Food

Removing smoke odor after kitchen fire

I was out of town for a nearly a week with the whole house sealed up and when I return it didn't smell when I opened the door, so I think that I can declare the house odor free. (My only fear is that it's still there, but masked).

Since I wrote the original post I continued to air out the house non-stop (a lot easier now that it's gotten cooler out).

So the total time it took was 6 weeks.

Some other things I've learned from this experience is what to pay more attention to when buying a house.

The ventilation in the kitchen and really the whole house isn't that great. Not that I expect to ever do this again, but I cook a lot, and when I deep fry, for example, the smell of the oil lingers for a while.

Further, the choice of paint in the kitchen was a mistake (previous homeowner did that). When I repaint the house I'm going to go with a paint that odors cling less to.

Sep 28, 2014
von_levi in Not About Food

Removing smoke odor after kitchen fire

I recently had a pretty bad kitchen fire, so I thought I'd post what I did to remove the resulting smoke odor in the hopes that it will help other people who face this problem.

If you're looking for the highlights, probably the most original thing I did was use trisodium phosphate (TSP) for cleaning the walls (more on that below).

If you're reading this because you're in the same boat as me, let me start by saying that as bad as things may seem, there probably will be light at the end of the tunnel. It just might take a month and a lot of cleaning.

I was boiling some dried soy beans and thought I turned off the stove before I went out of the house; I came home two hours later to find the house filled with thick smoke.

For the first week (after I had done a lot of cleaning) there was little change in the odor and I was convinced that I was going to have to hire a fire recovery service, but sure enough the odor eventually faded. And the odor was really bad at first -- it smelled like a chain smoker lived in the house.

I was hesitant to involve my insurance company because there wasn't any direct fire damage -- and no appliances were broken. The problem was the odor. So I wanted to try cleaning things myself before I went to them.

So here are the details of what I did:

I bought two high velocity fans at Home Depot ($50 each), positioning one blowing air into my home through the front door and another facing outwards at the back door (which is in the kitchen). Getting fresh air into the house and pushing out the dirty air is pretty much the best thing you can do for removing odors. I did this whenever I was home for about three weeks.

I replaced the air filter with a MERV 13 filter. This is going to be a bit controversial because some people say to shutoff the HVAC system after a fire so smoke doesn't getting into the system. My system was running when the fire occurred, so that ship had already sailed. MERV 13 filters are used in commercial buildings and are strong enough to remove smoke and odors. But you should know that they do heavily restrict airflow and can damage a home HVAC system -- so I just used it for two weeks. I do feel it made a difference helping to clean the air in my home.

I scrubbed down *every* surface in my kitchen -- including the ceiling and inside cabinets -- using TSP. I found that the smell of smoke was clinging pretty tightly to paint with a gloss finish, and neither vinegar nor all purpose spray cleaner with bleach did much to remove the smell. TSP was pretty effective, though the places that got hit with the most smoke required several passes. TSP is powerful stuff, so be sure not to get it on your skin and not on metal -- it will stain it.

Every object in the kitchen was cleaned. I put whatever I could in the dishwasher and washing machine, and scrubbed the rest down with all purpose cleaner that included bleach. The smoke odor clung particularly tightly to soft plastics and anything with a laminated surface for water protection -- this included cardboard boxes for things like salt and plastic wrap. In most cases I put the contents of the boxes into something else and tossed the boxes.

Let me just emphasize that I cleaned absolutely everything in the kitchen. If you don't remove the smoke molecules from surfaces and objects, they'll just keep smelling up the air in your home.

Outside of the kitchen the smoke only really clung to fabrics and soft plastics, so I washed every single fabric I had in my house (clothes, curtains, bags, shoes, etc.), and sent the carpets out to be cleaned. I also kept all my cleaned clothes in my car for two weeks until I felt that air in the home had become sufficiently clean. For my sofa I washed the covers twice and sprayed the cushions with a Fabrize fabric spray.

I did all of this within the first 3 days of the fire, and it took at least 7 days until I noticed in improvement in the odor (among the worst week in my life). After two weeks there was significant improvement, and by the fourth week the odor was 90 percent gone (that's where I am at this point). I think continually blowing fresh air through the house will take care of the last 10 percent.

Ultimately I'm not sure what a fire recovery service would have done that I didn't do. I was pretty meticulous and the TSP is strong stuff.

Some other thoughts:

Vinegar: lots of people on the internet rave about its cleaning and odor absorption abilities, but it didn't do much for me. The best thing I can say about it, is that I had some rubber objects that the dishwasher could not fully clean; soaking them in a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water did the trick.

For removing odors I found used coffee grounds to be pretty effective. Despite my cleaning efforts some of the odor seemed to be trapped in my cabinets (probably because it was hard for fresh air to get into them). I put the grounds into plastic containers and placed those in the closed cabinets -- they definitely helped neutralize the odor.

The one thing that gave me the most trouble was the microwave. It's mounted above the stove and took the brunt of the smoke. I never use the microwave, so I unmounted it and placed it outside. I've tried cleaning it with everything imaginable, as well as boiling vinegar and lemon juice in it, and it's been very slow going getting the smell out of it. I'm kinda inclined to just junk it, but I also have the luxury of time to just keep airing it out.

Ozone Generators: I read up a lot about them, and while some people swear by them, the EPA claims there is little scientific evidence that they actually work, there are health risks, and they can damage various things in your home.

Smoke vs. Cigarette Smoke: Probably 75% of what I found on the internet about removing smoke odor was about cigarette smoke, and it's pretty much all doom a gloom. Your options range from repainting to gutting the house. This has to do with the nicotine which is pretty much impossible to wash out of surfaces and objects -- so don't fret when you read about how little there is you can do about cigarette smoke.

Sep 14, 2014
von_levi in Not About Food

Parade Day in Chinatown

I have an out of town friend who wants to get dim sum this Sunday -- the annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade is that day.

Does anyone know what affect that has on the wait times at restaurants? I assume it will be a madhouse outside, but is it business as normal inside?

Feb 14, 2013
von_levi in Manhattan

Daniel Boulud?

I'm going there this Saturday for pre-opera lunch; I'll report back if there are any issues.

You should send them an e-mail. I've always found that Boulud's restaurants have excellent customer service.

Oct 18, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Daniel Boulud?

I think you hit them on a bad day. I go about 6 times a year before the opera and have never had something like this happen.

Oct 17, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

good place to buy dried morel mushrooms?

Whole Foods or the Greenmarkets (there is typically at least one person at them selling dried mushrooms)

Oct 17, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Chinatown Dim Sum for rookies

I completely agree.

Part of dim sum is the experience.

If all you want are the best tasting dumplings, then you need to entertain non-dim sum choices.

I'd also reiterate the point that the waits in Chinatown on a Saturday can be quite long, but it's never that bad at JF.

Oct 06, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Best bagels in West Village/SoHo?

Agreed about going up to Murray's.

Oct 06, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Chinatown Dim Sum for rookies

I'd say Jing Fong.

Hardly the last word in dim sum, but as swannee noted, you get the zoo experience which I think is fun (or at least different), and they have so many tables that if there is rarely a wait on weekdays.

I'd also toss out Golden Unicorn as an option that has more of a sit-down feel.

Oct 05, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Solo bar dining near Lincoln Center

Bar Boulud, obviously -- it's my go to place for pre-opera meals.
Cafe Luxembourg -- that's my second choice.
Indie Food and Wine

Oct 03, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Subpar high-end sushi experience—trying to understand & some lessons [15 East]

"6. Parents are skeptical diners, not yet enthusiastic fine-sushi converts. Eating with new diners is not like dining alone."

My parents are pretty unadventurous eaters. I learned a while ago that it's just not worth taking them to something outside of their comfort zone. They go into the meal assuming that they're not going like it, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, and their clear discontent throughout the meal drags down the whole experience.

So not to blame your parents, but their dissatisfaction could have caused you to be much more critical and self-conscious than you normally are.

Oct 03, 2012
von_levi in Not About Food

near Lincoln Center/berfore Nutcracker

I probably go to Bar Boulud 75% of the time for pre-opera meals. Out of all the places surrounding LC, it's the best combination of value and quality. Sometimes I go to Cafe Luxembourg.

No offense to the other posters, but I think that Fiorello and Ed's Chowder are terribly overpriced and not all that great.

Atlantic Grill is fine, but nothing interesting.

Sep 30, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Best combo of craft beer & food in Manhattan?

Add Jimmy No. 43 to that.

Sep 29, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

NH chowhound Q's: best deli for out of towners, dosa (and chow-worthy) near Times Square?

re: Deli

I say avoid Carnegie.

As Kathryn noted, Katz's is known for its pastrami, and if you've never had it, it's worth the trip. I've heard some people claim that their corned beef is good, but I'm not aware if there is a general consensus on this.

For a more well rounded classic NYC deli, try Barney Greengrass.

Sep 24, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Casual Restaurants NYC Manhattan For December Trip

Skip Grimaldi's -- there's as good if not better pizza without the 1 to 2 hour waits. Try Motorino instead.

Katz's is a must. Also go next door to il laboratorio del gelato.

Five Napkin is not unique. Go to Shake Shack. Better burger and superb shakes.

Add to the list Mission Chinese. They'll be a wait, but it's will be 50% shorter than however long they tell you it will be.

Sep 23, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Cost Of Eating Out In Manhattan!

1) Putting aside the high-end restaurants where part of your bill is going towards paying for the large staff that helps ensure an optimal customer experience, you're paying for high quality food that the restaurant cooks with. To use fish as an example, these restaurants are not using farm raised fish sold in the freezer section of the supermarket, but freshly caught wild fish. At the really expensive places they're serving fish that was caught 24 hours ago halfway around the world -- you're paying for the shipping expense.

2) Every city, no matter it's size (well, maybe 50k is the threshold) has its share of expensive restaurants. New York has more of them because it's the largest city in the United States as well as the top tourist destination.

3) There are plenty of reasonably priced places in New York.

4) Restaurants with double digit burgers are likely using high quality meat, grinding it themselves, with their own custom blend beef cuts. While I'm sure there is some NYC markup in there, you still cannot compare it to the ground beef being sold in your supermarket.

Sep 23, 2012
von_levi in Not About Food

Mission Chinese - Put down the Kool Aid

Well, MCF is very clear about the fact that it is not Chinese, but American Chinese, or "Americanized Oriental Food" as they describe it on their website. Same could be said of P.F. Chang.

Sep 19, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Mission Chinese - Put down the Kool Aid

As I see it, there are two issues here:

1) Is it good or bad food -- on a basic level, is everything properly cooked, does it taste good, etc.; and

2) Is it unique -- are they doing something that's actually notable -- plenty of places can manage to cook food well.

1) The general consensus seems to be yes. While there have been some complaints about it being too salty (first time I went the pastrami was a bit salty), but Renguin is the first person I've heard to have had such a downright negative view of the food. I think his experience was an outlier (and he/she could have ordered better) .

2) I think some people have overblown how unique it is. They took the classic Americanized chinese food menu that hasn't been changed since the 1950s, and updated it -- dishes are supposed to be recognizable. For example, they've turned Beef with Broccoli into Broccoli Beef Brisket with Smoked Oyster Sauce. Kung Pao Pastrami is pretty much your standard meet with stir fried vegetables, except that they use pastrami. And instead of having vegetable/chicken/shrimp/beef fried rice, they do it with mackerel. I do think the changes are enough to qualify it as unique (relative to Americanized Chinese Food) -- and they do have what seem to be original creations, like the poached tofu in soy milk -- but they're certainly not trying to reinvent Chinese food.

Sep 18, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Mission Chinese - Put down the Kool Aid

As is the tofu poached in soy milk (I've never seen it on a menu before).

Sep 17, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Classic Restaurants in Manhattan

In that case, Katz's is the place to go.

Sep 16, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Chinese on Christmas Day, during 5-hour JFK Layover

Agree with others about staying in Queens.

Without any traffic it will take you 30 minutes to get in/out of Manhattan -- at minimum you're going to lose at least an hour to the commute.

Sep 16, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Tomatoes for saucing and canning - price?

You can do a lot better. I was at the Greenmarket on Broadway up at Columbia today; someone was selling "damaged" tomatoes for $1/lb. And a lot of people had vine ripe tomatoes for $2/lb.

Checkout the one closest to you:

Sep 16, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Current thoughts on Boulud restaurants?

The baked Alaska deserves a shout out. It's also a huge portion -- enough for 4 or 5 people to split.

Aug 14, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Current thoughts on Boulud restaurants?

Bar Boulud: I go here for brunch before maintenee operas at the Met. In the price range I think it's best restaurant in the immediate Lincoln Center area (note: I said *in the price range*), fairly priced, excellent service.

Epicerie Boulud: Some things here are extremely pricy, others are quite reasonable, like their salads (easily among the best salads to go); good coffee; best yogurt parfait. When I worked at Lincoln Center I spent way too much money there.

DBGB: I hear tons of negative comments here, but last time I went (November 2011) I just didn't see it. First, service was really great. I changed my party size from three to four 30 minutes before the reservation and then four to five when I got to the restaurant. It was a packed night but they never hesitated to make it work without any kind of comment -- that's more than I can say about a lot of other restaurants. Food was by no means outstanding or unique, but there was nothing wrong with it and I liked the eclectic menu. They also have a pretty decent bar. I think it's a good place for a medium sized group with unadventurous eaters.

Aug 13, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Red Farm or Mission Chinese?

How was it?

Aug 10, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Does anyone know any cool restaurants for teenagers in NYC?

When you say "cool," do you have some specific criteria in mind?

When I was that age I thought that pizza was the greatest thing ever. I imagine that's still true.

You could do Motorino for dinner, then walk over to Big Gay Ice Cream or a slightly longer walk to il laboratorio del gelato for dessert.

The East Village and Lower East Side are pretty colorful, so I'm sure the kids will have fun just walking around.

Aug 09, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan

Happy hour in the West Village.... with mom?

About a month ago I took my parents to Cafe Cluny -- it's kinda the perfect parent place (mine refuse to go to any place where you have to wait).

It has a bar with pretty good cocktails and several large windows. My parents faced them during dinner and had a good time people watching.

The 14th St 1/2/3 stop is also very close.

Aug 08, 2012
von_levi in Manhattan