Flood Victim


Hi all,
I just picked up an American Tall Clock-probably New England-with a Maple and Pine case. It is a victim of "Sandy". The water damage is minor.The rub is that the neighbors fuel tank-#2 diesel-was spilled and now the clock has a terrible odor of fuel oil.
I think that the Maple because of its density will clean fairly easily,however,the back(pine) has acted like a sponge and I was wondering if anyone has encountered this problem before.And if so how did you deal with it?
My initial plan is to remove the back and bottom(ya,its still intact,da-n) and wash with laquer thinner or a like solvent and then possibly try to sun bleach it to encourage the residual oil to migrate elsewhere.
Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated.
Tom, Heat and talcum powder or baby powder will draw out some oils but this sounds like a bit much. Shellac the inside which is what they do in houses with fire damage for odor. I bought a nice walnut semi high chest which was used in a machine shop to store metal stuff. It was completely coated with machine oil. Gluing might be a concern. The odor was a concern. I found some old lady perfumes in another piece I bought so I coated the drawer insides after shellacking and the oil odor is masked by the old lady perfume. Oh! By the way! I do have a nice semi high chest that was actually used by an 80 year old female machinist if you are interest.
Tom, what Jeff is talking about is a dry poultice. You can also make a wet poultice by mixing the powder with a solvent for what you are trying to remove. The idea is that the solvent soaks into the wood thins the material you are trying to remove and as it dries the powder draws it out. You must leave a wet poultice on until it is totally dry for it to work and some times do it several times. For the powder you can use talc, whiting, clay or diatomaceous earth. For fuel oil I would use methylene chloride for the solvent. I have used this method for removing stains with mixed results, before jumping in with both feet test in a spot that will not show, I've never mixed fuel oil and methylene chloride. Methylene chloride will dissolve the finish it is paint stripper that is not jelled.
Hi Jeff and millcrek,
Thanks for the replys.
Today I had my shop heater reinstalled-runs on kero. I asked the serviceman if he knew of any product that might do the trick. He told me that they use a dry product that he described as sort of a white powder that leaves a cherry smell and "soaks up" spilled fuel and neutralizes the smell.
Perhaps the same product mentioned above? While the use of methylene cloride has some appeal I would be concerned that in the event I was not able to pull enough of the fuel and mc from the wood. And that a subsequent over finish of shelaq on the inside might experience the same issues that result with a stripped piece not being adequately neutralized and during very humid conditions the finish sometimes softens and gets gummy.
Another solution is to wipe the surface with MEK  (methyl ethyl ketone)  This solvent is highly toxic and as it will

remove the oil stains in the wood it will easily remove the oils from your skin, so be sure to use rubber gloves. This can

be purchased from a finishing supply company such as Sherwin Williams.  I have been a professional

finisher/woodworker for more than 40 years, and have found this to be a successful solution to this type of problem

Good luck!

Tom, if you find out were to get the powder your fuel dealer told you about post it I would like to know what it is and where to get it.
Thanks Tom
PS I'm tom to.
We have a chest that was used to store all sorts of chemicals and oils. We baked it in the sun every day for about a week during a hot dry summer, that got rid of about 90 percent of the smell. Then we followed a tip we found online. We put a pound of coffee grounds tied in an old pillow case in it. After about a month the chest smelled like coffee. It took about 6 months to lose the coffee smell (the chest was kept closed most of that time).  It's been in our living room for about 5 years now and has no odor, coffee or chemicals.

I don't remember the details but the web site had the chemistry that explained there is some chemical in coffee that neutralizes odors.

But this was only for the smell. The rings from the cans etc. are still on the bottom.
Hi Tom
Sorry for the late response,but at times, my schedule and travel doesn't allow much free time. 
  I had a similar problem with furniture from the Katrina flood. Because of the amount of pieces and limited resources, I packed the stuff in floor dry to ship it back to my shop. It worked pretty well.
The main reason for my response is to let you know what we found on the wood. The furniture sat in water about a week. As I worked on the stuff, a chemist friend  took some samples for his lab dishes and was surprised at all the germs and chemicals he found. He said a sliver or cut from the wood could be a life altering event. I now think twice before working on flood damaged stuff.  Be safe, do good work.  Randy
R Bohn said:
Hi Tom
......................He said a sliver or cut from the wood could be a life altering event. I now think twice before working on flood damaged stuff. ......................................  Randy

Thanks for the heads-up,this certainly adds a twist that I had not considered.I now wonder if a bath of MEK and then a wash down with alcohol or some kind of disinfectant might have a neutralizing effect ?Or perhaps a bath?  Another concern would be for the long term, would it be reasonably safe  even with taking these steps?
Certainly does give one pause.
My guess would be there are likely a fair number of virus species in there, too, so no antibiotic is a kill-all guarantee.

To everyone,
Thankyou for your input,it has been at the very least quite eye-opening. I think that I shall rediscuss with the customer a plan of action based on information from here(MB).
Currently-after much thought-I think that my approach is going to be to remove the back.Sadly this will not be easy as the back is cross-nailed to the sides of the case. But in the intrest of health and safety I would feel more comfortable discarding the back and finding another case and utilizing that back.
I am also considering that when the back is removed and the inside is fully exposed to (using suitable protection) steam clean the areas inside the case as a preliminary step and then using MEK and some form of disinfectant as discussed earlier.Finally (after all is dry)to spray-better coverage-a couple of very light coats of shelaq to essentially seal the inside surfaces that were exposed to the flood waters. This seems to be the most efficient and economical approach.
My reasoning behind replacing the back is because originally it was rough planed and it never had any finish both sides have been exposed to flood waters. As it is or appears to be native Pine it is also very porous and the prospect of removing most all of the potentially harmful elements does not seem doable given the manner in which it is attached to the case.And the prospect of finding another back,roughly same age and species,is pretty good. In fact I recently viewed a hoard of tall clocks-some with pretty rough cases.
Again thanks to all who contributed,as the bottom line(for me) is to provide the best service to the customer.
I will post updates as they occur.
If the wood has not yet been treated with a general purpose mildewcide, it could be a good idea to do so before any other treatments. Home Depot and Lowes have decent brands in spray bottles and by the gallon. After a good wet down and letting the solution sink in and dry, I'ld seal the entire piece in plastic along with gallon pails of Damprid, also available at the same stores. You might have to change out the pails as they fill with water.

Speaking as a retired librarian who has dealt with water damage and chemical spills on books, I'ld rather destroy the stuff or have a professional lab handle the cleanup then do it myself. Many of the spores can live through all sorts of chemical treatments. Often the only way to knock them out is freezing and even then some might survive.

I realize the people want to keep it but it most likely needs a thorough cleansing of mold and mildew spores, not to mention possible who knows what came out of the drains and sewers.

Happy thoughts, huh?
So true,the more that I discuss this project the less and less inclined I am about trying to save the entire case.
Currently under discussion with the customer,incidently who is a nurse,and fully understands the potential hazards involved,is to convert the case to a Wag-on-wall configuration. I am aware that there will still be concerns but most of the wood that will be involved was not flooded and those portions that were, were I believe as a result of the "storm surge".It does eliminate those portions that were in standing water for any length of time.
Time will tell-pun intended-VBG