How to Clean Up Flood Damage Safely
Flooding of your home can come from either inside problems:
- Burst pipes
- Sewage backups caused by broken drainage tiles or tree roots
- Sump pump failures
Or external sources:
- Leaking foundation
- Heavy rain conditions with inadequate drainage
- Overflowing sewers, creeks, or rivers
Whatever the source, home flooding can generate many challenges for your home, belongings, and family. Being prepared with knowledge on how to effectively and safely clean up flood damage can make a significant difference in how you cope with and recover from such disasters. Taking the proper steps can help you reduce health risks and even limit the extent of property damage.
Taking Safety Precautions for Flood Damage Cleanup
Water that streams across streets and into your home from flooded rivers and roadways often contains harmful oils, bacteria, and all sorts of contaminants – including untreated sewage. The Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) sets standards for quality and procedures throughout the restoration and cleaning industry. These standards include health and safety guidelines to be considered when undertaking a flood cleanup effort.
First – Drying Out
Taking appropriate precautions when recovering from flood damage can limit your exposure to safety and health hazards.
- When entering any flooded property, including your home – use extreme caution. Structures can be weakened significantly when saturated with water, including flooring and wall supports. Power is an additional consideration. Make sure all electrical power is off in the facility to avoid shock hazards. Check that any fuel sources such as natural gas or propane are shut off. In some areas, animals or reptiles may be hiding or seeking drier environments in your home. Be careful when moving furniture or belongings to avoid potential harm from such undesirable elements.
- Expose potential pockets of moisture. Remove affected materials such as base molding, saturated wall panels, and insulation. This should be done for all materials from 10-15 inches above the waterline and below.
- Dispose of all items that could be contaminated that cannot be thoroughly cleaned. Items that fit into this category include bedding – mattresses, pillows, and box springs – drywall, carpet and padding, and generally most porous materials that have been subjected to floodwaters.
- Some possessions such as clothing and other fabrics can usually be salvaged. Clean them thoroughly with machine washing that includes hot-water soaking for a period of 10 minutes, using detergent to remove stains and contaminants.
- Even flooring materials such as hardwood, vinyl flooring, and laminates should be removed to allow drying, cleaning, and sanitizing of underlayment or subfloor materials. Removal of these coverings allows for effective drying and the prevention of harmful molds.
- Dry and ventilate! One of the most important goals in the cleanup of flood damage is the prevention of mold growth. Drywall, particleboard, and paper-based materials are perfect hosts for mold, especially in warm temperatures. Use fans and open windows to keep air moving and facilitate drying.
Safely Cleaning Up from Flood Damage
homeowners may find that post-flood cleaning is more effectively and safely done by professionals.
- Use protection. Ensure safety from hazardous airborne particles by wearing respirators that you can obtain from paint supply or home improvement stores. You should also use rubber gloves and wear protective clothing and eye protection when cleaning flood-damaged areas. Keep work areas well ventilated with fans and open windows to improve drying and minimize potential mold growth.
- Clean thoroughly. This cannot be emphasized enough. Even structural components such as wall studs, floor joists, and internal wall cavities that have been exposed to flood water must be aggressively cleaned with detergents intended for this purpose. Pressure washing these materials is the most effective method for successful results. Once cleaned, treat the affected areas with a liberal amount of disinfectant.
- Treat all surfaces with a disinfectant, even after cleaning.
- Don’t be too anxious to begin reconstruction. Even though the natural temptation is to get your home back to normal, you don’t want to cover up areas that are not totally dry and disinfected properly. You can purchase meters to measure the moisture content of dried areas. Don’t rebuild until you’re certain the content is below at least 16 percent. Restoration professionals are your best resource to ensure your home is prepared to proceed with the rebuilding phase. Starting this phase too early can result in additional structural damage including dry rot.
What to Do First
Important steps for you to take as a homeowner and family before your recovery begins:
- Make sure no one enters the home until you’re certain it’s safe – no serious structural damage or sagging floors
- If the damage appears severe, do not enter until an inspector or other authority has verified that it’s safe to do so
- Call your insurance company – they will often refer you to a certified, qualified restoration service
- Get the water out – if you can, remove any standing water such as draining the basement
- Get ventilation moving – even before restoration services arrive, if you’re certain the home is safe to enter, open windows to start airflow
- Open doors to all rooms and closets to further facilitate drying, including kitchen cabinets and drawers
- Remove soaked rugs to eliminate them as a moisture source
Should You Hire a Professional?
Because your home is likely your most expensive investment, you want to be cautious with it. If drying, rebuilding, or cleaning isn’t done correctly, then there could be continuous damage and even health hazards. A certified and qualified team that has the proper equipment can make the restoration process go much smoother and more successful for various reasons:
- Training – professionals are experienced and well trained in all aspects of recovery – removal, drying, disinfecting, and rebuilding
- Certification – restoration pros have passed industry tests and know best practices and safety procedures
- Equipment – getting the job done properly requires specialized equipment including pressure washers, cleaners, industrial fans, moisture meters, and much more
- Scammers – sadly, scam artists prey on homeowners who have been impacted by tragedy, taking advantage of your emotions and your desire to get the cleanup done as quickly as possible. IICRC-certified firms or technicians are held to a code of ethics and carry liability insurance. Engaging an IICRC firm assures that your restoration contractor adheres to industry standards and utilizes only fully trained technicians.