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Cleaning Flooded Floors and Woodwork

After wood floors have been covered with wet mud and dirt, they need to be cleaned, flattened and possibly replaced.

Cleaning. Before the house dries out, scrub all woodwork with a stiff but nonabrasive brush, plenty of water and a non-sudsing detergent to remove mud and silt from corners, cracks and crevices.

Floodwater may accumulate in partitions and exterior walls. Drain these areas as quickly as possible of insulation and structural materials. Remove the baseboard and drill holes between studs a few inches above the floor. After the insulation and frames have dried, replace the baseboard.

Use your regular cleaning product for a final, thorough floor washing. If refinishing is necessary, wait until moisture has dried from wood framing, between walls and floors, and backs of trim. This may take several months. Consult an experienced professional for refinishing, or follow instructions on standard brands of finishes and varnishes for household use.

Flattening. Wood floors probably will be buckled, but if it's not too late, remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling caused by swelling. Leave them alone to dry. Dry wood as fast as possible without aggravating shrinkage or deformation. Open windows and door wide enough to give good ventilation on dry, non-humid days. Maintain a temperature of 50 degrees to 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in the house.

Sections of subfloors that separate must be replaced to avoid buckling. When floor coverings are removed, allow subfloors to dry thoroughly, even though it may take several months.

In vinyl floors with wood subflooring, the floor covering should be removed so the subflooring can be replaced. With concrete floors, removal isn't necessary except to hasten drying of the slab.

Loose tiles may be replaced individually if the floor hasn't been soaked. If water has seeped under sheet flooring, remove the entire sheet.

After the house is dry, there are several possibilities for renovating the floors. Some of the buckled flooring may be pounded into place with nails. Some humps may be removed by planing or sanding. Heavily planed floors may never be used uncovered, but a smoothed old floor can serve as a base for a resilient hard-surface floor covering.

Mold is a common problem with wet wood. Badly molded wood must be replaced. Clean moldy floors, woodwork and other wooden parts by scrubbing with a mild alkali, such as washing soda or tri-sodium phosphate, using four to six tablespoons for each gallon of water. Rinse well with clear water after scrubbing with alkali and allow the wood to dry thoroughly. Then apply a mold-resistant finish.

To remove mold stains or mold from unpainted wood surfaces, wash with warm soapy water. If stains remain, add one-half tablespoon of tri-sodium phosphate or four tablespoons of borax to each gallon of warm soapy water. Dry by rubbing with an absorbent cloth.

If mold has grown into the wood under paint or varnish, the finish must be removed. Scrub the wood with an abrasive cleaner, then wash with a solution containing four to six tablespoons of tri-sodium phosphate and one cup of household chlorine bleach for each gallon of water. Sand the wood and bleach any remaining spots. Several applications of household bleach may be needed. Then wash the surface with a weak ammonia solution—two tablespoons of ammonia per quart of water. Finally, rinse the wood well with clear water. Let wood dry thoroughly and apply a wood preservative before repainting or refinishing.

Source: Lois Warme, Iowa State University Extension art and design specialist

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