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Taking a Closer Look at Contents Processing

By James Tole

Now that the development of the IICRC Contents Processing Technician (CPT) certification course is under development, it seems a good time to take a closer look at this often misunderstood aspect of our cleaning and restoration industry. A Contents division most successfully operates as a separate division within a company, as the diversity of skills and required depth, and breadth of knowledge, as well as the overall operation of the division differs from others.

Divisional success must begin with a group of technicians that focus on their own industry. To be successful in Contents, staff with an interest in perpetual learning and constant education should be selected. With the diversity of material types and lack of industry standards, education and certification to date, there is little wonder why cleaning is considered a low level skill in our industry. But is it? We charge our staff to enter a home with a variety of material types, levels of exposure and porosity, often armed with one bottle of degreaser and a single process of ‘spray and wipe’ cleaning. It is my belief that we are beginning to see a change in perspective in the depth and breadth of ‘cleaning science.’

In training Contents staff, there are four main categories of required knowledge:

  1. What chemicals/detergents/tools do we have available to us and how do they work? 
  2. What are the processes available to us (wet or dry) that will allow us to be more successful?
  3. What is the material we are attempting to clean and does it have any unique sensitivities, such as coatings, shines, porosity, etc. that may help or hinder our selection for chemical and process?
  4. Just because I can clean this item, should I? A good technician must be able to consider their own skill level. The need to process every article yourself, in-house, is not a failure, but employing specialty contractors such as art conservators, carpet cleaners or taxidermists is part of processing Contents properly.

If you are asked to clean a specific or sentimental item such as a prized wall hanging that requires a mild detergent, a technician’s top-of-the-mind detergent would be dish soap. Consider whether dish soap is a mild or aggressive detergent? It can degrease baked on food and clean an oily frying pan in moments. It is without a doubt an aggressive ‘degreasing’ type of detergent. Windex is considered one of the best and well-formulated window cleaners in any industry, yet it fails routinely in our industry.  Is it a failure of the detergent or a failure in the process of how we use the detergent on a dirty window? The failure to recognize a surface prior to cleaning such as non-vinylized wallpaper could quickly result in an error with replacement costs in the tens of thousands of dollars. That sentimental wall hanging might be something you feel confident in cleaning, however, due to time constraints or staff availability, sending it out for specialized processing might be the more appropriate process. The cleaning of any surface or content should be looked at as a puzzle, requiring an entire process and understanding before it is deposited in a sink of detergent.

The IICRC has been successful over the past few decades at advancing our industry through education and training. The process is gaining momentum now for the Contents Processing industry. Successful cleaning is only possible after successful onsite evaluation and categorization of items into those that are potentially salvageable, and those that are considered a total loss. The ability to accomplish this task requires the knowledge of how to finish-clean the article. This circular process of cleaning knowledge, evaluation using that knowledge, followed by the actual cleaning, is the skilled trade in the profession of cleaning Contents.


James Tole has been in the cleaning and restoration industry for 29 years, and served as an IICRC instructor for 20 years. He is also a Contents Instructor for Fireline Training Centers. You can reach him at 800-827-3857. 

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