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Cleaning Flood-Damaged Carpets and Rugs

Ann Braaten; Assistant Professor; Apparel, Design and Hospitality Management

When to Discard, Clean or Call a Professional

When faced with flood-damaged carpeting and rugs, your options will depend on the source of flooding. If floodwater consisted of clean basement seepage or lawn runoff into a sub-basement, drying and cleaning is an easy decision. But if sewage-contaminated floodwater has covered your carpeting, you should discard it for health safety reasons. You can assume the water and the carpet contain infectious organisms. Washable throw rugs usually can be saved with proper cleaning.

General Rules

Wall-to-wall carpeting, most large area rugs and any rug with foam backing should be discarded if flooded with contaminated water. Except for valuable rugs, the time and expense of professional cleaning generally is not worth the effort or the health risk.

If you are determined to salvage carpeting soaked with contaminated water, consult a professional cleaning company that services carpets at its own cleaning and drying facilities. A steam-cleaning (hot-water extraction) method is preferable.

A wall-to-wall carpet soaked by clean rainwater can be salvaged. Have it professionally cleaned or clean it using the directions below.

Washable throw rugs usually can be cleaned adequately in a washing machine.

Cleaning Rain-soaked Carpets

If the carpet has been soaked for more than 24 hours, replace it. If the carpet has been wet for less than 24 hours, you may clean it or have professional cleaners come in to address the need. Check with your insurance company to be sure you respond in a manner that will be covered.

Cleaning basement carpeting indoors is not a good idea in summer because you are adding even more moisture to an already wet area. If the carpeting is installed with tack strips, you may be able to remove it, have it cleaned and reinstalled. Padding is nearly impossible to clean, so it should be replaced.

If you can't remove the carpeting, dry it as quickly as possible to minimize mold growth. If possible, use a wet/dry vacuum system and circulate the air with an air conditioner, fans and open windows to inhibit mold growth. A dehumidifier can help remove moisture from the air, but keep windows closed when using a dehumidifier.

When the carpet is thoroughly dry, vacuum the area. Shampoo and repeat the drying process. Keep in mind that most modern carpeting is made of nylon and should not be treated with bleach. When dry, vacuum again.

Reduce a musty smell with the following process:

  1. Sprinkle baking soda over the carpet, working it in with a broom or sponge mop.
  2. Leave the baking soda treatment on overnight.
  3. Vacuum the baking soda out. Vacuum twice, moving back and forth in a different direction the second time.

Reviewed and revised April 2009 by Ann W. Braaten, Ph.D., Department of Apparel, Design and Hospitality Management, College of Human Development and Education, North Dakota State University.

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