Cleaning Up after a Flood

Flood cleanup is never fun - especially after you start tallying up the damages to your home and personal belongings. Even just an inch of water can cost you new carpet, wallboard, appliances, and furniture. If you are cleaning up after a more devastating storm with deeper flood water, then you may be replacing items such as duct, heating and air conditioning systems, roofing, septic tanks, utilities, and even your homes' foundation.

It may sound extreme when we say a flood can destroy your home's foundation but it is actually very common even in moderate floods. It happens when your basement is completely or nearly full of water. When you drain the basement too quickly the pressure outside the walls will be greater than the inside of the walls. That pressure can make your basement walls crack or even collapse. Instead, slowly pump out just two or three feet of water each day. You may want to call a professional to pump the water out and fix your basement's drainage and waterproofing system.

If your basement is flooded...
Don't rush to pump it out!
FEMA facts
Pressure from ground water can cause the floor to crack and the walls to collapse.

FEMA Basement Flooding | FEMA Basement Flooding Fact Sheet
Document Flood Cleanup

But before you start any major flood cleanup call your insurance company. If your insurance covers the damage, you will work with an adjuster to estimate to the costs of repairs. Make sure you list the damage and take photos or videotape as you clean. You will need complete records for insurance claims, applications for disaster assistance, and income tax deductions.

Protect Yourself

Flood water not only destroys nearly everything in its path but also it is often full of infectious organisms such as E. Coli, Salmonella, and Shigella; Hepatitis A Virus; and agents of typhoid, paratyphoid and tetanus. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, muscle aches and fever. Most cases are causes by ingesting contaminated food or water.

Tetanus, however, is an infectious disease that affects the nervous system. Tetanus can be acquired from contaminated soil or water entering your body through broken areas of the skin such as cuts or abrasions. Symptoms may appear weeks after exposure and may begin with a headache but later develop into difficulty swallowing or opening your jaw.

Stagnant flood water also brings mosquitoes and the diseases they carry such as encephalitis and the West Nile Virus. Wear long sleeved shirts and pants and inspect-repellant to avoid mosquito bites. Protect yourself from the infectious diseases in flood waters by washing your hands with soap and water that has been disinfected or boiled. To disinfect water, use a half cup of liquid household bleach to each gallon of water and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. That is what the Department of Health recommends especially if you are dealing with sewage-contaminated floodwaters.

Clean and Disinfect EVERYTHING

Now that you know the hazards of the flood water itself, you understand how important it is to disinfect anything the flood water touches. Even the mud can be contaminated with the infectious diseases we talked about earlier. Shovel as much mud out as possible and then use a garden sprayer or hose to wash mud from hard surfaces. Scrub surfaces with hot water and a heavy duty cleaner then disinfect to kill the germs. After you disinfect then rinse in clean water.

Basement Flooding A flooded basement can be a laborious and time consuming cleanup effort
Flood Cleanup In the Kitchen

Immerse glass, porcelain, china, plastic and enamel dinnerware for 10 minutes in the bleach solution. Disinfect silverware, metal utensils and pots and pans in boiling water for 10 minutes. In this case, don't use chlorine bleach because it reacts with many metals and causes them to darken.

Salvaging the Furniture and other Household Items

Take furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing outside to dry as soon as possible to avoid harboring mold and mildew. Upholstered furniture can be cleaned but only by a professional. Wood veneered furniture is usually not worth the cost and effort to repair but solid wood furniture can usually be restored unless the damage is too severe.

Mattresses, toys and stuffed animals contaminated with floodwater should be thrown away. But your photos and important papers you would think are gone for good can be saved if you freeze them. Wash the mud off and store the articles in plastic bags and put them in a frost-free freezer to protect them from mildew or other additional damage. When you have time, thaw the photos or documents and you can either clean them yourself or take them to a professional.

Saving the Flooring: Carpet, Vinyl and Wood

If you have wood subflooring, the vinyl, tile floor and carpeting must be removed so the subfloor can completely dry. The problem is: it may take months for the wooden subfloor to dry thoroughly. Open windows and doors to expose the boards to as much air as possible.

You can save your carpet and rugs if you get them cleaned and dried quickly. If that icky sewage-contaminated floodwater saturated the rugs it is just better to throw them out then to try to salvage them. To clean, drape carpets and rugs outdoors and hose them down. Work in the disinfecting carpet cleaner with a broom and rinse with your bleach/water solution. Completely dry the carpet and the subfloor before replacing the carpet. Plan to replace the underlay padding because it is nearly impossible to clean.

Dry out wooden floors gradually. If you try to dry the floors too quickly you could end up with a warped, cracked or split floor. Some restoration companies accelerate drying time by forcing air through the fluted underside of hardwood floorboards. You may also want to remove the floorboards or a board every few feet to reduce the risk of buckling caused by swelling.

Basement Flooding Even a completely finished basement is not immune to the dangers of flooding
Ceilings and Walls

Wallboard acts like a sponge when it's wet so you are going to have to remove wallboard, plaster and paneling to at least the flood level. If it was only soaked by clean rainwater you may want to consider cutting a 4- to 12-inch-high section from the bottom and top of walls. This creates a chimney effect of air flow for faster drying. This will help dry out the studs and sills.

The three kinds of insulation must be treated differently. Styrofoam might only need to be hosed off. While fiberglass batt should be thrown away if muddy but may be reused if it is clean and dried thoroughly. Loose or blown-in cellulose should be replaced whether muddy or not. Cellulose holds water for a long time and can lose its antifungal and fire retardant abilities.

Ceilings and Walls

Shut off the electrical system. It must be repaired and inspected by an electrician before it can be turned back on. Wiring must be completely dried out- even behind the walls. Switches, convenience outlets, light outlets, entrance panel, and junction boxes that have been underwater may be filled with mud.

Do not run electronics or appliances before they are properly cleaned. All metallic appliances that have been flooded should be properly grounded to prevent electrical shock. Mud and dirt in a grounded outlet or adapter may prevent the grounded system from working and you could be electrocuted. Professionally clean electronics, TVs and radios, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners.

As you can see from this article, or you may have already experienced it for yourself, there is little untouched when floodwaters enter your home. For more information on flood cleanup and healthy protocol visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Emergency Preparedness and Response website at

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