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Flood Clean Up: How To Deal With Water Damage

flood clean up

Flood Clean Up

Houses can be flooded in a number of ways. The thing we usually think of is Spring snow melting or a heavy rain during a Summer season where we have rivers, streams, and lakes coming over the banks and flooding homes.

Another fairly common way that homes get flooded is a plumbing break which either involve the break of a pipe or a mechanical failure of a washing machine, dishwasher or refrigerator with water or ice-maker.

What To Do Before Walking Into The House

Walk around the house before reentry to make sure the house is reasonably structurally sound.

As you walk around the house look at the foundation and lines on the house just to see that the house hasn’t suffered any major structural damage before you go inside.

You will also need to make sure that the gas is shut-off at the meter and the electricity has been turned off by the power company.

The difficulty with the electricity is that a lot of homeowners look to see if the disc is turning as an indication that the power is on but that is not an indication that the power is on that’s just an indication of whether you’re actually using power or not.

So as safety measure call the electric company and confirm that the power has been cut off.

When Should You Begin Cleaning?

When cleaning up after any type of flooding the first consideration always has to be for safety.

Adding injury or loss of life to an already unfortunate situation is only going to overshadow the damage that has already been done by the flood.

If these are tasks that you don’t feel capable of taking care of yourself then it’s important to contact the utility company or a professional contractor to come and take care of these things safely for you.

How Can Homeowners Avoid Problems And Protect Themselves

The first thing you need to do is get the proper protective equipment for yourself and this would include the following:

  • Safety Googles
  • Heavy Rubber Gloves (protect your hands and forearms)
  • N95 mask to protect yourself from all the dust and dirt.
  • Rubber Boots
  • Other Protective Clothing

After all the dirt has been removed, it’s important to come in with clear water and rinse everything down.

If you can get the studs and joists dry rather quickly rot will not continue.

The whole idea with houses that have been flooded is to strip out all the things that have been damaged, particularly the items that hold water like rugs on the floor and insulation in the walls.

Get the material out so that you can get it dry.

The sooner you can get it dry the less mold, mildew and rot you’ll have. You’ll also have fewer odors and other problems as well.

Dry Out Your Home Completely

It’s very important to dry out your home during the first 24 to 48 hours after the flood has occurred.

The drying procedure is crucial because moist environments are where the dangerous microorganisms thrive.

It’s important to open up the windows and doors and bring in the fans. Try to move as much air through the house as possible.

If there are any closed spaces in the house bring in fans and dehumidifiers to move air through those spaces to help remove the moisture out of the air and try to get the house dry again.

The drying process should be continued until all materials are completely dry not just to your touch. This process could take days, weeks or even longer sometimes.

Aim for humidity levels in the 35-55% range.

Getting the proper humidity is important to monitor because, as stated earlier, microorganisms thrive in environments that are moist.

When you’re home has been dried properly and thoroughly there won’t be a musty smell lurking in the house.

Thoroughly Clean All Surfaces

At this point, you also are going to start your cleaning process. It’s important to remember not to mix ammonia-based products with chlorine bleach.

Mixing these two products together can produce a potentially deadly chlorine gas which is very poisonous and should be avoided.

Use quaternary disinfectants, phenolic disinfectants, bleach, mildew removers and pine-oil based products when cleaning.

Every flooded part of the house needs to be thoroughly cleaned, washed and disinfected this would include the floors, walls, studs, shelves and any other contents.

Another thing to remember for your safety is to never work alone especially if you’re going to be in an enclosed area like a basement where there may be fumes because you might be overcome with fumes and no one will be there to help you.

Difference Between Disinfectants and Sanitizers

When you use some products in a laundry circumstance they may not be disinfecting.

Products that you think will disinfect because you know them to be a disinfectant on hard surfaces may not work in a laundry setting.

The only way you can be sure that you’re getting a disinfectant that will work in a laundry circumstance is if the product is carrying an EPA registration number and there are directions on the container that indicates that it is a disinfectant in a laundry circumstance.

Chlorine bleach is a disinfectant.

Being a disinfectant means that the product kills all harmful bacteria but there are a lot of other laundry products that sanitize and remove some of the bacteria but will not kill all of it.

Carpets and Drapes

Carpet is always a tough problem and when you walk into a flooded home there usually isn’t a piece that hasn’t been totally saturated with floodwater.

It is possible to clean up some carpets but flooded basements with ground water is very different because you have all the raw sewage and other debris that’s in the floodwater.

For the most part in a flooded home where the carpet has been flooded with ground water, the carpet should be discarded and there should be no attempt to salvage it.

With drapes, you almost have to play it by ear because they will pick up odors that are in the room or in the space.

Most of the time you can either send the drapes to be dry cleaned or if they are machine washable fabrics you can wash them in the washing machine.

You have to remember that even if the drapes didn’t get wet in the flood as they stay in the room over the time it takes to get the insurance adjuster and before clean up actually starts mildew and other contaminants will start affecting the drapes.

It’s very important that everything is dry before you take it to the dry cleaners because they cannot put wet products into their machines without totally disrupting the humidity level.

So get them completely dried out before taking them for the dry-cleaning process.

Dry cleaning is effective for sanitizing and cleaning.

If the drapes are flood-soaked and already down on the floor they’re probably already ruined even if it a dry cleanable product.

Safety Of Water Supply After The Flood

On public water systems if the water pressure has remained on during the flood the water will be safe because the system has been pressurized during the whole flood period.

If you’re on a private well you cannot assume the water system is safe. If the well itself was flooded it is not going to be safe until that well is cleaned up.

The well will have contaminants from the floodwater which include bacteria from septic systems, untreated wastewater and livestock waste. Essentially, it’s just like raw sewage.

Public wells that get flooded have the same problem. In a public situation, the public water supply is taking care of it for you. They don’t put that well online if it’s not producing safe water.

The well is taken offline, they work to clean it up and then they’ll work to bring it back online when they have it safe.

Keepsakes and Children’s Toys

It can be very challenging to discard water-damaged items, especially when there is a lot of sentimental value associated with them.

You may come back into your flooded home to find an old favorite upholstered chair with nice cherry wood arms and the first question that comes to mind –  is it salvageable?

In most cases you’re going to want to just get rid of it because items that have been water-soaked could be harmful to your health.

On the other hand, If it’s a keepsake and a very well-made piece of furniture it might be worth it to try and salvage it.

With an upholstered piece of furniture, you need to quickly get it into a dry space and if it’s not raining sit it outdoors.

Never leave an item made of wood sitting in the sun for too long but for a short period of time that is fine because it will help to dry it out.

It needs to then be stripped of all of the stuffings, upholstery and anything that is a textile type fabric.

After it’s stripped down to the frame, dried out, the rust has been cleaned off any moving parts and the wood has been cleaned up with a wood soap it could then be sent to have it reupholstered and re-cushioned.

Obviously to go through this type of trouble and expense it probably needs to be an item that for some reason or another you really don’t want to part with, otherwise, for upholstered furniture, it’s probably best to just get rid of it.

Children never like to part with their toys and it’s very tempting to want to clean them up.

A lot of toys are made of hard plastic so it depends on what material they are made of whether they will survive the disinfecting process.

Never, never just hose off a toy and let your child have it back unless you are totally sure you have disinfected all the surfaces including the cracks and crevices.

Food Safety After The Flood

If the floodwater has made its way into the cabinets and dishwashers before you start doing any work with food and utensils you really need to clean up the sinks, food contact surface areas and the floors.

You have to remember your sanitizer will not be quite effective as long as there is dirt on the floor.

Clean up the dirt good, otherwise, it will bind the sanitizer and you will not get the kill effect.

With such a sense of loss, one of the things you might be tempted to do is try to save as much food as possible and we would certainly not encourage you to do this.

A lot of the food may be contaminated. The rule of thumb with food safety is “if in doubt throw it out.”

Any food that has come in contact with floodwater just throw it out, don’t attempt to save it.

If you have food an open container even though it didn’t come in contact with the floodwater you have to assume that the floodwater had sewage in it.

Some microbes are carried through the air so anything that is in an open container should be thrown away, even if items were partially opened.

The quality has already deteriorated quite a bit and you don’t want to eat that food.

All dishes and utensils that have come in contact with the floodwater need to be thrown away or disinfected.

Things made of rubber, plastic or wood cannot be sanitized effectively because the microbes hide in small pores in these items. Also, dishes with severe cracks in them, all these items must be thrown away.

Things that can be taken apart must be dissembled before disinfecting them.

Wash in clean, hot water with a detergent and then sanitize them.

To sanitize put them in a solution of 2 tablespoons of liquid chlorine per gallon of water.

Do not dry the dishes with a cloth, let them air dry.

Do not turn on your dishwasher until the water service and sewage system have been restored.

Then run the dishwasher on the high heat setting to clean the flood damaged pots and pans.

However, if the entire dishwasher was completely immersed in floodwater you’re going to have to replace it because the electric controls get water in places that you just can’t properly clean.

The cost of replacing it makes it where it’s improbable to try and clean it.

Test Your House For Mold

symptoms from mold exposure

If you’ve ever had water damage in your home then you need to test the air in your home. MyErmi lets you order your own assessment at home.

However, the best thing you can do (but it costs a little bit more) is to call a local mold inspection company. They will come out, test your air and let you know if you have a problem.

If you’ve had water damage before there’s a good likelihood that you may have a problem.

Test your home before doing anything else because disturbing the mold spores can actually make the situation worse.

diy water damage guide



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