Cleaning Your Flooded or Water-Damaged Home
This checklist provides basic information. For details, get the publication "Repairing Your Flooded Home" from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site or contact your county office of the NDSU Extension Service.
- Turn off electricity. Stand
on a dry spot or on a dry wooden block or plastic crate. Use a wooden
stick or plastic pipe to pull the fuse box handle to off. Pull out
the main fuses, and unscrew each circuit fuse. On a breaker box, use the
stick to switch off the main breaker switch and each circuit breaker.
If you have to step in water to get to your electric box, call an
electrician or your power company. Even if the power company has
turned off electricity to your area, make sure your house's power is
disconnected so it won't come back on without warning.
- Turn off gas.
If you suspect a leak or smell gas, leave your home immediately. Leave
the door open. If the gas meter is outside, turn off the gas by using
pliers or a wrench to turn the valve a quarter turn so the valve is
perpendicular to the pipe.
- Make sure water is
safe. Listen for announcements about the local water supply.
Private water wells need to be tested and disinfected after
floodwaters recede. Water that might be contaminated should be boiled
at least 10 minutes.
- Make sure food is safe.
Frozen or refrigerated foods warmed above 40 degrees for more than
two hours may not be safe to eat. This includes meats, milk products,
eggs, casseroles and other foods. Discard anything that is moldy or
has an unusual odor or look. Partially thawed frozen foods that still
have ice crystals can be safely refrozen. Most once-frozen foods that
have thawed can be cooked and eaten immediately if they haven't been
above 40 degrees more than two hours. These foods can be refrozen
- Stay healthy.
Wash hands with soap and water often. Get a tetanus booster before
working in floodwater. Disinfect dishes, appliances and other
materials that may have been contaminated by floodwater.
- Take care of yourself and your family. Accept support from family, friends and others. Talk about your feelings to release tension. Discuss the situation with children honestly and openly. Get proper nutrition and rest. Pace yourself, and take one step at a time. Don't be afraid to get help.
- Get organized. Set
priorities. Remove contaminated mud first. Next scrub with detergent,
then wash with a disinfectant. Thoroughly clean and dry your house
before trying to live in it and before making permanent repairs.
- Remove water from the
basement slowly. If your basement is full or nearly full of
water, pump out just 2 or 3 feet of water each day. If you drain the
basement too quickly, the pressure outside the walls will be greater
than the pressure inside the walls. That may make the walls and floor
crack and collapse.
- Remove contaminated
mud. Shovel out as much mud as possible, then use a garden
sprayer or hose to wash away mud from hard surfaces. Start cleaning
walls at the bottom or where damage is worst. Remember to hose out
heating ducts, disconnecting the furnace first.
- Clean and disinfect.
Scrub surfaces with hot water and a heavy-duty cleaner. Then
disinfect with a solution of 1/4 cup chlorine bleach per gallon of water
or a product that is labeled as a disinfectant to kill germs. Laundry
bleaches should not be used on materials that will be damaged or
might fade. Sanitize dishes, cooking utensils and food preparation
areas before using them. Thoroughly disinfect areas where small
children play. Don't mix cleaning products. A combination of chemicals
can give off toxic fumes.
- Dry ceilings and walls.
Flood-soaked wallboard should be removed and thrown away. Plaster and
paneling can often be saved, but air must be circulated in the wall
cavities to dry the studs and sills. The three kinds of insulation
must be treated differently. Styrofoam might only need to be hosed
off. Fiberglass batts should be thrown out if muddy but may be reused
if dried thoroughly. Loose or blown-in cellulose should be replaced
since it holds water for a long time and can lose its antifungal and
fire retardant abilities.
- Prevent mildew growth. Take furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing outside to dry as soon as possible. Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to remove moisture or open at least two windows to ventilate with outdoor air. Use fans to circulate air in the house. If mold and mildew have already developed, brush off items outdoors to prevent scattering spores in the house. Vacuum floors, ceilings and walls to remove mildew, then wash with disinfectant. Wear a two-strap protective mask to prevent breathing mold spores.
Cleaning Carpet and Floors
- Clean and dry carpets and
rugs as quickly as possible. If sewage-contaminated floodwater
covered your carpeting, discard it for health safety reasons. Also
discard if the carpet was under water for 24 hours or more. To clean,
drape carpets and rugs outdoors and hose them down. Work a
disinfecting carpet cleaner into soiled spots with a broom. To
discourage mildew and odors, rinse with a solution of 2 tablespoons
bleach to 1 gallon water, but don't use this solution on wool or nylon
carpets. Dry the carpet and floor thoroughly before replacing the
carpet. Padding is nearly impossible to clean so should be replaced.
If the carpet can't be removed, dry it as quickly as possible using a
wet/dry vacuum and dehumidifier. Use a fan to circulate air above the
carpet, and if possible, lift the carpet and ventilate with fans
- Remove hardwood floor boards to prevent buckling. Remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling caused by swelling. Clean and dry wood before attempting repairs. With wood subflooring, the floor covering (vinyl, linoleum, carpet) must be removed so the subflooring can dry thoroughly which may take several months. Open windows and doors to expose the boards to as much air as possible.
Practice safety during initial electrical cleanup.
Electric motors must be reconditioned or replaced. To clean surfaces,
use a heavy-duty cleaner and hot water, then a bleach solution.
Refrigerators, freezers and ovens with foam insulation and sealed
components may have little water damage, but since they hold food,
they should be cleaned and disinfected.
Get a cost estimate from a professional for repairing televisions,
radios, computers and similar equipment to decide if the device is
- Clean-up Equipment: When using sprayers, wet vacs, vacuum cleaners and other cleaning equipment, use an extension cord with a ground fault circuit interrupter or install a GFCI in the electrical circuits in damp environments.
Hire a professional to replace or recondition electrical wiring and equipment.
North Dakota State Electrical Board policy states:
- All breaker panel boards, breakers, fuses, disconnect switches, controllers, receptacles, switches, light fixtures and electric heaters that have been submerged must be replaced.
- All electrical equipment, switchgear, motor control centers, boilers and boiler controls, electric motors, transformers and other similar equipment such as appliances, water heaters, dishwashers and oven ranges that have been submerged need to be reconditioned by the original manufacturer or its approved representative, or replaced.
- Electrical wiring may require replacement depending on the type of wire or cable and what application it was listed for.
- Splices and termination must be checked to make sure they comply with the National Electrical Code.
- The electrical system needs to be certified by a licensed N.D. electrical contractor or inspector to assure that the electrical system will be safe to energize.
Cleaning Valuable Items
- Wash mud off before items dry, if possible. Photographs, books and important papers can be frozen and cleaned later. Wash the mud off. Store the articles in plastic bags and put them in a frost-free freezer to protect from mildew and further damage until you have time to thaw and clean them.
- Call your insurance agent.
If your insurance covers the damage, your agent will tell you when an
adjuster will contact you.
- List damage and take photos or videotape as you clean. You'll need complete records for insurance claims, applications for disaster assistance and income tax deductions.