We have seen devastating flooding in Texas and now through the south and east coast.
When homes flood, the water can wreak havoc on the structure of your home, your personal belongings, and your health. After a flood, cleaning up is a long and hard process, but if it is begun immediately many family treasures can be saved.
As with every disaster, whether it be hurricanes, floods, fire, earthquakes, or tornadoes, your first response should be to call your insurance agent and begin taking lots and lots of pictures. If you wait for your agent to show up it may be too late to save some of your most valued possessions. So begin, but never before taking lots of pictures. Take photos constantly during the process. Document everything.
As you begin, take precautions to protect yourself and all those who may be helping. Be sure everyone wears gloves, boots, goggles and masks. Masks become increasingly important as days pass and mold grows. Items which are wet quickly develop potentially deadly molds and fungus. You should have N95 medical masks in your Five Day kits. Use them. They will protect against bacteria and other small spores that an ordinary mask for a home improvement center will not. Cloth masks will not protect you from dangerous spores.
One of the greatest health risks following a flooding emergency comes from standing water. Standing water is not only a breeding ground for microorganisms but also mosquitoes. Bacteria, viruses, and mold grow quickly on wet and damp items. These can become airborne and inhaled, putting everyone at risk for lung diseases and complications for those with asthma and other respiratory ailments.
Now that you are properly clothed and ready to work you can begin:
If mold and mildew have already developed, brush off items outdoors to prevent scattering spores in the house.
Shovel out as much mud as possible, then use a garden hose to wash away any remaining. Be sure to have someone assigned to sweep the water out of the house as you do this.
Clean and disinfect every surface. Scrub surfaces using a heavy-duty disinfecting cleaner. The key here is to scrub making sure you get the cleaner into the small crevices. Be sure the product you use is designed to kill germs. If you do not have access to a commercial product use a bleach mixture. Combine 1/4 cup bleach with 1 gallon of cool water. For smaller jobs or if you have a smaller bucket use1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 quart of cool water. It is vital that you thoroughly dry all surfaces after they have been treated. Use small fan and open all the doors and windows to circulate air.
To clean glass, porcelain, china, plastic dinnerware and enamelware soak for 10 minutes in a disinfecting solution. Air-dry dishes. Do not towel dry. These items are safe to place outside to dry.
Disinfect silverware, metal utensils, pots and pans, and all other metal items by boiling in water for 10 minutes. Bleach should not be used because it reacts with many metals and causes them to darken. Again, air dry.
Cupboards and counters need to be cleaned and rinsed with a disinfecting solution before placing anything back in the cupboards. Again it is very important that the walls, doors and shelves all be completely dry. This may take a few days depending on weather conditions.
Take furniture, bedding and clothing outside to dry as soon as possible. When possible, place furniture in a shaded area to help prevent warping of the wood and fading of fabrics. If you cannot start right away to wash clothing and bedding, hang it on a clothes line or in trees to dry. Better yet, see if friends outside the flood zone would take over washing and drying these items as a service project for you. Some who cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, may be able to help in this way. Since the ground will undoubtedly be damp, do not lay items on the ground to dry.
Mattresses should be thrown away. Unfortunately there is no safe way to disinfect a mattress. Do not take any chances.
Upholstered furniture is also very difficult to properly disinfect. Have them cleaned by someone specializing in this type of clean up.
Wood veneer furniture will usually not survive a flood well. Unless an item has great sentimental value it is probably not worth trying to restore. Solid wood furniture, however, can usually be restored if it is dried out slowly and immediately.
Soft toys, stuffed animals and pillows should also be thrown away.
Vacuum floors, ceilings and walls to remove mildew, then wash with disinfectant. Always wear an N95 mask when doing this.
Sheetrock acts like a sponge when wet. Remove all wallboard, plaster and paneling that is wet. If soaked by contaminated floodwater, it can be a permanent health hazard.
Plaster and paneling can often be saved, but air must be circulated in the wall cavities to dry the studs and sills which may have soaked up water. For this reason all wet or damp insulation should be removed even if the sheet rock is not wet.
There are many types of insulation. The three types are Styrofoam, fiberglass batts and cellulose. Styrofoam may only need to be hosed off but all the sheet rock may need to be removed to accomplish that. Fiberglass batts should be thrown out if muddy and mold has begun to form. They may be reused if dried thoroughly but if in doubt throw it out. Loose or blown cellulose should be replaced since it holds water for a long time.
Wet wallpaper should be removed. Washable wallpaper should be cleaned with a mild soap or detergent. As with all cleaning you should begin at the ceiling and work down to the floor.
The electrical system must be shut off , repaired and inspected by an electrician before it can be turned back on. Wiring must be completely dried out. All switches and outlets that have been exposed to water may contain mud and debris. They should be carefully inspected. Remember to turn off the electricity at the main breaker before trying to clean any electrical wires or outlets (actually, the electrical main should have been shut off prior to anyone entering a flooded structure).
Appliances may hold muddy deposits and need to be cleaned and serviced. Running equipment before it is properly cleaned could permanently damage the appliance. Appliances should be cleaned by a professional. Determine the cost to have them cleaned and the cost to replace. In some cases it is just better and even cheaper to throw them away. Never attempt to use an appliance that has not been cleaned as it may cause an electrical shock or even electrocution.
If your basement is full or nearly full of water, pump out just 2 or 3 feet of water each day. Draining the basement too quickly can cause the walls to collapse if the pressure changes too rapidly.
Wooden sub flooring should be exposed as soon as possible. Drying them completely may take several weeks. Windows and doors should be left open and fans should be used to help the drying process.
Remove, clean and dry carpets and rugs as quickly as possible. If the carpet was under water more than a day, or if the water was contaminated, it should be thrown away. Carpets should be cleaned with a disinfectant appropriate for carpet cleaning. Follow all directions and dry completely. Carpet padding should be thrown away.
To restore wood floors, remove rugs and other floor coverings to allow the floor to dry more quickly. Mop up any remaining water. Wooden floors should be dried gradually as drying too quickly may cause cracking or splitting. Do not attempt to straighten warped or buckled wood floors until they have dried completely. Removing hardwood floor boards every few feet will help prevent buckling of the floor. Once the floor is completely dry and cleaned, the boards can be replaced. Hardwood floors can be refinished, manufactured wood floors cannot.
Ceramic tile or terrazzo laid on a wood sub-floor will need to be removed, cleaned and reinstalled when the sub flooring is dry. If your tile is old and cannot be matched, it may not be worth the time or effort to try to save the tiles, unless you have a smaller room that needs new flooring for which the tile can be used. It is inevitable that some of the tiles will break as you try to remove them. Clean tile can be reinstalled after the sub flooring is dry.
If sheet vinyl has bulged, carefully remove the entire sheet to allow the sub-flooring to dry completely.
It is very important to remember that older linoleum contains asbestos and needs to be professionally removed. Asbestos was used until the early 1980s. When in doubt, have a professional check it out.
Check your roof for damage and leaks. You don't want a rain storm to do further damage,
especially if your flooding was caused by a hurricane. It is important to clear all gutters and down spouts.
Flooding of a septic or private sewage system can be hazardous. Have your septic system checked before using your drains or bathroom. If you are on a private community system, check with the person in charge of maintaining the system before using your water or flushing a toilet.
Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent. Run them through a wash cycle twice. If there is one available, a laundromat is a good place to do this as you will have many loads to clean and they will be large. Wash all the clothing you wore while cleaning up in the same way. They should be considered contaminated. Do not wash contaminated and uncontaminated clothing in the same load.
Photographs, books and important papers can often be salvaged. They should be gently rinsed off in a bucket of clean water. Carefully separate papers and photos, and rinse. Never use running water to clean photos and papers. Never rub the surface, simply swish the item through the water. Do not rub to dry them.
Place cleaned items on absorbent paper or towels to dry. Never use printed paper towels, use plain white paper towels only. Never use newspaper, as the inks will ruin damaged photos or papers. Change the towels or paper every few hours to aid in drying. Do not dry items in the sun. Place a fan nearby to aid in drying. You can also dry items by using a clothes line and clothes pins but this may damage corners.
If you cannot dry items immediately, clean them and stack a few together. Place them in a resealable bag and place them in the freezer. When you have the ability remove a few, lay them out and dry them. They should be dried carefully and slowly.
Cleaning up is never a pleasant experience. For those who live near the victims of flooding, do as the Good Shepherd would do, and lend a hand. Offer to take home photos and lay them out in your home. Offer to wash clothing. Take cleaning supplies, gloves, N95 mask, garbage bags, portable tables for drying and sorting, portable shelter, and even lawn chairs to those working. A clean place to sit down is always appreciated. If you are able, lend a hand with the physical work.