Cleaning a Building after Ashfall


Avoid cleanup until ash has stopped falling. However, in some situations, immediate action may be required to prevent damage or loss of function to the building. Use extreme caution as falls from roofs/structures are a major cause of casualties during ash falls.

Buildings & Households

It is important to try and keep ash from entering buildings as much as possible.

The severity of ash intrusion depends on the integrity of windows and entrances, the air intake features, and the care exercised to control the transport of ash into a building or home via shoes and clothing. Remobilised ash or additional ashfall events are possible after the initial ashfall and clean-up phase, so ensuring buildings are properly sealed is imperative.

BE SAFE DURING BUILDING CLEAN UP!

Roof top cleaning requires careful considerations.

Roof tops are dangerous places after ashfalls. They may be slippery when covered in ash or at risk of collapse if at the limit of their load capacity. Be extremely careful when working on a roof, even on roofs with low to moderate pitch, and especially when covered with slippery material.

Use personal protective measures when removing ash from roofs. Use a strong ladder, safety harness, filter facemask, gloves, and eye goggles.

For safety and prevention of unnecessary damage to roof material and surfaces during cleanup:
  • Use planking, mats, plywood sheets, and pliable footwear to prevent slippage and damage from impact and abrasion.
  • When using shovels, rakes, or other tools, be careful of the underlying roof surface.
  • Be careful when using water, the full force of water from fire hoses can easily break lap shingles or tear lap roofing material.

Ash Removal from the Inside of Buildings and Households

In general surfaces should be vacuumed to remove as much ash as possible from carpets, furniture, office equipment, appliances, and other items. Portable vacuum systems equipped with high-efficiency particulate filtering systems are recommended whenever possible. Care should also be taken to avoid further contamination during the emptying, cleaning, and maintenance of vacuum equipment.

Suggestions for removal from buildings from U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1980:
  • Cleaning by blowing with compressed air or dry sweeping should be minimized.
  • A dustless method of cleaning such as washing with water and an effective detergent/wetting agent is recommended. Damp rag techniques should be used whenever possible to remove the substance from small surface areas or flooring. On those areas where damp rag techniques cannot be implemented (for example, carpets) vacuum cleaning methods should be applied.
  • After vacuuming, carpets and upholstery may be cleaned with a detergent shampoo. Avoid excess rubbing action because the sharp ash particles may cut textile fibers.
  • Glass, porcelain enamel and acrylic surfaces may be scratched if wiped too vigorously. Use a detergent soaked cloth or sponge and dab rather than wipe.
  • High-shine wood finishes will be dulled by the fine grit. Vacuum surfaces and then blot with a cloth treated to pick up ash. A tack cloth used by furniture refinishers should work well.
  • Floor sweepers with side brushes should not be used to clear aisles and floors because they may re-entrain dust particles into the air.
  • Ash-coated fabrics should be rinsed under running water and then washed carefully.
  • Soiled clothing will require extra detergent. Wash small loads of clothing, using plenty of water so the clothes will have room to move freely in the water. Do not mix heavily soiled clothes with garments that are lightly soiled.
  • Be sure clothes are free of ash before putting them in an automatic dryer Ash may scratch the inner surface of the dryer.
  • For several months after an ashfall, filters may need replacing often. Air conditioner and furnace filters need careful attention. Clean refrigerator air intakes. Clean any surface that may blow air and recirculate the ash. Stove fans and vents should be cleaned thoroughly.
  • At businesses, individual employees should be responsible for clean-up of his/her own work area to minimize exposure potential during a work shift. This should be accomplished at the beginning of each work shift. Damp rag or vacuum techniques should be used during this operation.


See Also:
Clean up & Disposal > Remobilisation & Coping With Long-Term Ash