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Flood-soaked Bedding Needs Sanitation

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

When you are faced with a decision about whether to clean flood-soaked bedding, consider the source of floodwater. If the water was from clean basement seepage, cleaning and sanitation is in order. If the floodwater was contaminated with sewage or fuel oil, discarding the bedding is best if it was heavily soiled because the bedding will continue to be a source of microbial growth.

General Guidelines

For all bedding: Hang it out to air and dry thoroughly, then brush it to remove excess dirt and soil. Wear a dust mask and protective gloves to keep yourself healthy.

Bedding may be cleaned in a commercial laundry, using the large front-loading machine. Do not overload a washer or dryer. Large or heavy loads need space to move freely in the washer and dryer. Use a full water level, a heavy-duty detergent and as hot a water temperature as appropriate for the bedding's fibers. These efforts keep the soil from redepositing into the fabric.

Here are tips for reclaiming flood-soaked bedding, all with emphasis on thorough sanitation because floodwaters are filthy and germ-laden:

Blankets: Put wool blankets through a dry-cleaning process. Shrinkage and thorough cleaning make wool blankets difficult to wash. For blankets that are washable (rayon, acrylic, cotton), put them through two complete washing cycles. Air-dry or use an automatic dryer at appropriate temperature settings for the fabric.

Sheets and pillowcases: Put through two complete washing cycles. Bleach using diluted liquid chlorine bleach to help kill germs. Dry in an automatic dryer at the highest setting that is appropriate for the fabric.

Quilts and comforters: Wash or dry-clean depending on the fiber content of the bedding. Usually, washing cotton quilts is best. Wash repeatedly until you are satisfied with the outcome. Don't place a quilt or comforter in an automatic dryer until it is cleaned satisfactorily. Dry it in an automatic dryer at the highest setting that is appropriate for the fabric.

Pillows: Pillows, while washable, usually should be discarded if soaked with contaminated floodwater. Their porous nature tends to trap microbes and be a continuous source of contamination.

Mattresses: Regular mattresses should be discarded. Foam rubber and urethane-foam mattresses are mildew-proof and odorless. They can be machine-washed; however, most experts recommend discarding that type of mattress.

Reconditioning of other types of mattresses is too difficult to do at home. Check with a nearby commercial renovating company to see if a good inner-spring mattress is worth reclaiming. Check the cost of renovation against the replacement cost. As a general rule, inexpensive mattresses are not worth the expense of reclaiming and should be discarded.

Upholstered box springs may not be worth the cost of new covering and padding materials. Decide if you can replace this padding yourself if the wooden frame is not too warped. If re-covering and repadding need to be done professionally, consider the cost.

Floodwater damage to wire bedsprings can be handled at home. After the springs have been cleaned thoroughly, leave them out in the sun and air to dry until the odors are gone. Rub the clean, dry metal with a cloth moistened with paraffin oil. After that has dried completely, coat the metal with a suitable paint. Look for a paint that prevents rust.

The same treatment method will work for other metal furniture that may rust as a result of floodwater or dampness in storage buildings.

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. Source: Iowa State University Extension Service

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