When a fire breaks out and a fire extinguisher is used to put it out, there will be a mess to clean up afterward. The type of extinguisher determines how difficult the cleanup will be. According to the Department of Environmental Health and Safety at the University of Colorado at Boulder, multipurpose fire extinguishers contain the dry chemicals ammonium sulfate or ammonium phosphate, irritants that are not safe for the environment, and are not easy to clean up.
Air-pressurized water fire extinguishers are easy to clean up with water, a mop, and a rag. These fire extinguishers are rated as class A, and are effective against ordinary combustibles such as paper and fabrics. According to the website Fire Extinguisher: 101, never use this type of extinguisher for a grease or electrical fire. Water cleanup does not work well for multipurpose fire extinguisher powder. The water activates the powder into a corrosive paste that is even more difficult to clean up.
For multipurpose ABC fire extinguishers that use dry chemicals to extinguish fires, wait until the site cools down before attempting a cleanup. To prevent spewing the extinguishing powder into the air of an indoor room, use a HEPA filter vacuum to clean up the powdery mess and the air, according to the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, University of Colorado at Boulder. For outdoor areas, use a wet/dry vac to clean up fire extinguisher powders.
Once all the fire extinguishing powder is cleaned up, give the surfaces a good neutralizing wash to remove any remaining residue. According to Coxontool.com, a solution of vinegar and water will clean up residues that contain bicarbonates. For residues that contain silicates, use alcohol.
The time to clean up fire extinguisher powder is immediately. Do not leave the powdery dry chemicals on the items in your home, because they are corrosive and may damage your belongings. Wear protective clothing, work in a well-ventilated space, and ask for help if the job is too big to handle in a timely manner.
It is good to know that some fire extinguishers do not leave residues to clean up. Halon or carbon dioxide fire extinguishers use pressured gas to put out electrical fires, and are designed to not leave a residue on delicate equipment. Be aware, though, that the pressurized carbon dioxide extinguisher may spit out pieces of dry ice. According to the website DryIceInfo, always handle dry ice with protective gloves to avoid getting burned.