Cleaning up after a flood
Flood water has the potential to cause adverse health effects if it is not dealt with immediately and properly. There is risk of exposure to contaminants like bacteria in the flood water, as well as potential exposure to electrical hazards, and the potential for mould growth.
After a flood, it is important to restore your home as soon as possible to protect your health and to prevent further damage to your house and belongings. Whether you do the work yourself or hire a contractor, the information below will help you organize the clean-up.
Immediate action is important. Your house and furnishings are less likely to grow mould if they are dried within 48 hours.
Before you begin
- Contact your insurance agent immediately and register with your municipality—your municipality may have resources that you can access, such as future financial assistance.
- Put your own safety first. DO NOT attempt to shut off the electricity if any water is present in the area of your breaker box or fuse panel. Contact your local utility provider for help.
- If no water is present in the area of the breaker box, shut the power off to the flooded area of your home.
- Record details of the damage, with photos or video if possible.
Set up a step-by-step action plan to:
- Remove all water, mud, and other debris.
- Dispose of contaminated household goods that cannot be easily cleaned and disinfected.
- Clean and disinfect salvageable items.
- Dry out your house and salvageable possessions as quickly as possible.
Be prepared to make difficult decisions about what to keep and what to throw out. Household items that have been contaminated by sewage, or that have been wet for a long time, should be discarded according to local regulations.
Assemble equipment and supplies:
- gloves, masks (N95 respirators) and other protective gear
- pails, mops, squeegees and plastic garbage bags
- unscented detergent
- large containers for wet bedding and clothing, and lines to hang them to dry
- you may also need to rent extension cords, submersible pumps, wet/dry shop vacuums and dehumidifiers or heaters
Store valuable papers that have been damaged in an operating freezer until you have time to work on them.
- Remove standing water with pumps or pails, then with a wet/dry shop vacuum.
- Remove all soaked and dirty materials and debris, including wet insulation and drywall, residual mud and soil, furniture, appliances, clothing and bedding.
- Hose down any dirt sticking to walls and furnishings, then rinse several times, removing the remaining water with a wet/dry shop vacuum. Rinse, then clean all floors as quickly as possible. Flooring that has been deeply penetrated by flood water or sewage should be discarded.
- Work from the top down. Break out all ceilings and walls that have been soaked or have absorbed water. Remove materials at least 500 mm (20 inches) above the high-water line. Removing only the lower part of the wall applies if action is taken immediately after the flood or wetting event. Gypsum board walls that have been exposed to high humidity or standing water for a prolonged period of time should be removed entirely and thrown out. Ceiling tiles and panelling should be treated like drywall.
- Wash and wipe/scrub down all affected or flooded surfaces with unscented detergent and water. Rinse and repeat the process as needed. Concrete surfaces can be cleaned with a solution of TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) in water (one ½ cup TSP to one gallon of warm water). When using TSP, which is highly corrosive, wear gloves and eye protection.
- Bleach is NOT recommended. The presence of organic materials, the pH (acidity/alkalinity) of the water, the surface material and contact time affect the effectiveness of bleach for disinfection. Since these factors are not controlled in a flooding situation, bleach cannot be relied on for disinfection. Bleach fumes are harmful, but in addition, overusing bleach results in increased releases of chlorinated effluents, which can be harmful to the environment.
- Surfaces that are dry or have not been directly affected by flood water should be vacuumed with a HEPA vacuum cleaner. Further cleaning of concrete surfaces can be done with TSP. Washable surfaces can be washed with unscented detergent and water. Surface mould on wood can be removed with a vacuum-sander. Do not sand without simultaneous vacuuming. Wood that looks mouldy after sanding may need to be replaced.
- After cleaning the surfaces, ventilate or dehumidify the house until it is completely dry. Rapid drying is important to prevent mould growth. When the weather permits (low humidity and moderate temperature), open doors and windows and speed up the drying process with fans. If the weather is not suitable and drying is not happening fast enough, use dehumidifying equipment, consider renting extra units as necessary.
- To determine if the outdoor air can help dry the air inside, place a hygrometer (a tool that measures moisture in the atmosphere) in the area to be dried. Let it stabilize, then open a window and monitor the relative humidity (RH). If the RH reading goes down, that means the air is dry enough to assist the drying process. If the RH goes up, close the window.
- Carpets must be dried within 2 days. Sewage-soaked carpets must be discarded. Homeowners cannot effectively dry large areas of soaked carpets themselves and should call in a qualified professional.
- Ensure that all interior wall cavities and structure are completely dry (which could take weeks) before closing cavities.
What to keep or discard
- Discard and replace all insulation materials and all less-expensive articles that have been soaked, including particleboard furniture, mattresses, box springs, stuffed toys, pillows, paper and books.
- Separate valuable papers. Ask a lawyer whether you should save the papers themselves or just the information on them.
- The frames of good quality wood furniture can sometimes be salvaged, but must be cleaned and dried by ventilation, away from direct sunlight or heat. Consult a furniture restoration specialist. Coverings, paddings and cushions should be thrown out.
- Scrape heavy dirt from washable clothes, rinse and wash several times with detergent and dry quickly.
Before moving back in
- Do not use flooded appliances, electrical outlets, switch boxes or fuse/breaker panels until they have been checked by your local utility service provider.
- Consult an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) contractor regarding the furnace blower motor, switches and controls, insulation and filters if these have been exposed to flood water. Inspect all flooded forced air heating ducts and return-duct pans and have them cleaned out or replaced. Seek advice from your local utility service provider about a water heater that has been wet. Refrigerators and freezers may need to be replaced.
- Flush floor drains and sump pits with detergent and water and scrub them to remove greasy dirt and grime. Clean footing drains outside the foundation if necessary.
- Ensure your water is safe and your sewage system is operational. If you are on municipal services, check with your local municipality if the sewers are operational and the water potable. If you are on private services (well and septic), have your water tested before you use it.
- Septic systems may be damaged by flooding and must be safely sanitized and cleaned-up.
This item was last modified on June 24, 2015