When your house floods, the water can wreak havoc on the structure
of the house, your personal belongings, and the health of the inside
environment. Flood waters contain many contaminants and lots of mud.
High dollar items can get ruined all at once, even with just an inch
of water, for example: carpeting, wallboard, appliances, and furniture.
A more severe storm or deeper flood may add damage to even more expensive
systems, like: ducts, the heater and air conditioner, roofing, private
sewage and well systems, utilities, and the foundation.
After a flood, cleaning up is a long and hard process. Here is a list
of common techniques for sanitizing and cleaning flooded items:
- First things first: call your insurance agent. If your insurance
covers the damage, your agent will tell you when an adjuster will
contact you. List damage and take photos or videotape as you clean.
You'll need complete records for insurance claims, applications for
disaster assistance and income tax deductions.
- Contaminated mud-
Shovel out as much mud as possible, then use a garden sprayer or hose
to wash away mud from hard surfaces.
- Clean and disinfect every surface. Scrub surfaces
with hot water and a heavy-duty cleaner. Then disinfect with a solution
of 1/4 cup chlorine bleach per gallon of water or a product that is
labeled as a disinfectant to kill germs.
- In the kitchen-
- Immerse glass, porcelain, china, plastic dinnerware and enamelware
for 10 minutes in a disinfecting solution of 2 tablespoons of
chlorine bleach per gallon of hot water. Air-dry dishes. Do not
use a towel.
- Disinfect silverware, metal utensils, and pots and pans by boiling
in water for 10 minutes. Chlorine bleach should not be used in
this case because it reacts with many metals and causes them to
- Cupboards and counters need to be cleaned and rinsed with a
chlorine bleach solution before storing dishes.
- Furniture and household items-
- Take furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing outside to dry as
soon as possible. Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to remove
moisture or open at least two windows to ventilate with outdoor
air. Use fans to circulate air in the house. If mold and mildew
have already developed, brush off items outdoors to prevent scattering
spores in the house. Vacuum floors, ceilings and walls to remove
mildew, then wash with disinfectant. Wear a two-strap protective
mask to prevent breathing mold spores.
- Mattresses should be thrown away.
- Upholstered furniture soaks up contaminants from floodwaters
and should be cleaned only by a professional.
- Wood veneered furniture is usually not worth the cost and effort
Solid wood furniture can usually be restored, unless damage is
- Toys and stuffed animals may have to be thrown away if they've
been contaminated by floodwaters.
- Photographs, books and important papers can be frozen and cleaned
later. They should be dried carefully and slowly. Wash the mud
off and store the articles in plastic bags and put them in a frost-free
freezer to protect from mildew and further damage until you have
time to thaw and clean them or take them to a professional.
- Ceilings and walls-
- Wallboard acts like a sponge when wet. Remove wallboard, plaster
and paneling to at least the flood level. If soaked by contaminated
floodwater, it can be a permanent health hazard and should be
removed. If most of the wallboard was soaked by clean rainwater,
consider cutting a 4- to 12-inch-high section from the bottom
and top of walls. This creates a "chimney effect" of
air movement for faster drying. A reciprocating saw with a metal
cutting blade works well, but use only the tip of the blade and
watch out for pipes, ductwork and wiring.
- Plaster and paneling can often be saved, but air must be circulated
in the wall cavities to dry the studs and sills.
- The three kinds of insulation must be treated differently. Styrofoam
might only need to be hosed off. Fiberglass batts should be thrown
out if muddy but may be reused if dried thoroughly. Loose or blown-in
cellulose should be replaced since it holds water for a long time
and can lose its antifungal and fire retardant abilities.
- Electrical system-
The system must be shut off and repaired and inspected by an electrician
before it can be turned back on. Wiring must be completely dried out-
even behind walls. Switches, convenience outlets, light outlets, entrance
panel, and junction boxes that have been under water may be filled
- Heating and cooling systems and ducts-
Will need inspection and cleaning. Flood-soaked insulation should
Appliances will get stains, odors, silt deposits, and gritty deposits
and need to be serviced, cleaned and sanitized. Running equipment
before it is properly cleaned could seriously damage it and/or shock
you. Professional cleaning is recommended for electronics, TVs and
radios, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners.
The hard exterior can be hand cleaned. All metallic appliances that
have been flooded should be properly grounded to prevent electric
shock. Mud or dirt in a grounded outlet or adapter may prevent the
grounding system from working, and you could be electrocuted.
- Pump out the basement-
If your basement is full or nearly full of water, pump out just 2
or 3 feet of water each day. If you drain the basement too quickly,
the pressure outside the walls will be greater than the pressure inside
the walls. That may make the walls and floor crack and collapse.
With wood subflooring, the floor covering (vinyl, linoleum, carpet)
must be removed so the subflooring can dry thoroughly which may take
several months. Open windows and doors to expose the boards to as
much air as possible.
Clean and dry carpets and rugs as quickly as possible. If sewage-contaminated
floodwater covered your carpeting, discard it for health safety
reasons. Also discard if the carpet was under water for 24 hours
or more. To clean, drape carpets and rugs outdoors and hose them
down. Work a disinfecting carpet cleaner into soiled spots with
a broom. To discourage mildew and odors, rinse with a solution
of 2 tablespoons bleach to 1 gallon water, but don't use this
solution on wool or nylon carpets. Dry the carpet and floor thoroughly
before replacing the carpet. Padding is nearly impossible to clean
so should be replaced. If the carpet can't be removed, dry it
as quickly as possible using a wet/dry vacuum and dehumidifier.
Use a fan to circulate air above the carpet, and if possible,
lift the carpet and ventilate with fans underneath.
- Vinyl flooring and floor tile may need to be
removed to allow drying of subfloor.
- Wood floors-
Wooden floors should be dried gradually. Sudden drying could cause
cracking or splitting. Some restoration companies can accelerate
drying time by forcing air through the fluted underside of hardwood
floorboards. Remove hardwood floor boards to prevent buckling.
Remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling caused by swelling.
Clean and dry wood before attempting repairs.
- Roof damage and leaks-
- Defective flashing- Flashing is the sheet metal
used in waterproofing roof valleys, hips and the angle between
a chimney and a roof. Wet spots near a chimney or outside wall
may mean the leak is caused by defective flashing, narrow flashing
or loose mortar joints. Look for corroded, loose or displaced
flashing on sloping roof valleys and at junctions of dormers and
- Clogged downspouts or eaves- Check for choked
downspouts. Accumulated water or snow on the roof above the flashing
may cause a leak. Ice accumulations on eaves sometimes form ridges,
which cause melting snow to back up under the shingles.
- Cracks and deterioration- Roofing (especially
wood or composition shingles) usually deteriorates first on southern
exposures. Check southern slopes for cracking or deterioration.
- Holes- Missing shingles or holes in the roofing
may be causing wet spots. To find holes, check for a drip trail
or spot of light coming through in the attic. Stick a nail, straw
or wire through the hole to mark the spot on the outside.
- Private sewage systems-
Flooding of a private sewage system can be a hazardous situation for
homeowners. It may lead to a back-up of sewage in the home, contaminated
drinking water and lack of sanitation until the system is fixed. When
flooding or saturated soil conditions persist, a private sewage system
cannot function properly. Soil treatment systems for wastewater rely
on aerobic (with oxygen) regions to reduce the amounts of chemicals
and living organisms (viruses, bacteria and protozoa). When the soil
is saturated or flooded, those hazardous materials can enter the groundwater
and your drinking water supply.