Unsmoke Founder Cliff “The Z-man” Zlotnik – Fire Restoration

Air Date: 9-5-2014| Episode: 338

At the Healthy Building Professional Summit the Z-man provided a superb presentation titled “An Indoor Environmental Professionals Guide to Fire Damage Restoration”…

Full Description: 

At the Healthy Building Professional Summit the Z-man provided a superb presentation titled “An Indoor Environmental Professionals Guide to Fire Damage Restoration”. He opened a lot of people’s eyes and reminded us that he was a pioneer in the fire restoration world. After reviewing our archives we realized he had never been interviewed on this issue and so here we are.

Mr. Zlotnik is a 40 year veteran of the cleaning and restoration industry and President Emeritus of Microban Systems. Cliff is often times referred to as the Godfather of the disaster restoration industry and was a pioneer in development of cleaning products, equipment and techniques for the industry. He has been awarded numerous industry awards and served as an officer and member of the Board of Directors for many industry associations. He is also Co-host of IAQ Radio and a partner in IAQ Training Institute, LLC. He is known for thinking outside of the box and not being afraid to shake things up and challenge the status quo.

Cliff also founded the Unsmoke line of fire restoration products and pioneered many of the fire restoration techniques used to this day. He has always had a passion for fire related issues and feels that fire restoration doesn’t get enough respect.


Z-Man’s Blog:

Second Fiddle


In the early 1970s when I started in the field of disaster restoration fire damage restoration was primary.


Now days with the explosive growth of water damage services, driven by heightened awareness of mold, fire damage skills have become of secondary importance.

smoke cloudFire restoration is usually much, much more labor intensive than water damage restoration. As such, water damage restoration is much more profitable than fire restoration due in large part to equipment rental. From my perspective due to computer estimating programs, prescriptive industry standards and 3rd party administrators, contractor selection is price driven and creativity and skill in restoration is no longer the differentiator it once was.

Nuggets from today’s episode:

  • While there are strict financial limits on mold remediation, fire restoration is an insured peril and there is often sufficient insurance proceeds available to pay for the losses

Three definitions:

  • Fire is an exothermic process, that releases heat and light.
  • Smoke is a visible suspension of carbon and other particles in the air emitted by a burning source.
  • Soot is a black carbonaceous substance produced during incomplete combustion. Soot is hazardous due to particle size and tars, acids and resins.
  • Restorers, adjusters and IEPs need to follow the path of the fire while surveying property and preparing their “damage appraisals” (Z-Man speak for estimates).
  • There are 3 primary types of fires: natural, synthetic and protein; each with unique odor and residue characteristics.
  • When wood is burnt to char its surface area dramatically increases due to porosity.
  • Smoldering fires produce residues that are more odorous and difficult to remove. Smoldering fires build pressure slowly and commonly push residue into interstitial spaces (wall and ceiling cavities).
  • A common misnomer. “Chem sponges” don’t contain chemicals, they are dense rubber sponges trimmed to reveal porous interior. The pore structure of the sponge and friction is what removes soil. Chem sponges may be recycled and reused either by laundering and fan drying or by slicing off soiled areas with a band saw.


  • Chem sponges only remove dry loose residue, not greasy/smudgy soil. Lamb’s wool dusters generally are superior to “chem sponges” for soot/ dry particulate removal.
  • Smoke odor is a complex odor which normally requires multiple odor control techniques and procedures.
  • Corrosion control: neutralize acid with dilute aqueous ammonia solution. Seal out moisture and humidity by coating vulnerable materials with oil, Vaseline petroleum jelly, WD40, etc.

Today’s Music:

“Fire In The House” by the Smithton Outpouring, YouTube
Z-man signing off