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Salvage Flood-damaged Textiles

You may be able to salvage flood-damaged textiles such as clothing and quilts.

“Because textiles vary, you should examine each piece to determine whether it can be saved and how it should be cleaned,” says [insert name and title] of [insert county name].

But before you start examining floodwater-soaked items, protect yourself. Wear plastic gloves and cover your arms and legs with a long-sleeved shirt and pants. If the textiles are dusty or smelly, use a dust mask or respirator.

Place fabric or something solid under wet textiles to support them so they don’t tear or stretch when they’re moved.

Unsalvageable textiles include items with visible discoloration or shrinkage that may not be reversible and those heavily contaminated with sewage, fuel oil or toxic chemicals or have fiberglass insulation embedded in them. Discard all textiles that can’t be cleaned and dried thoroughly.

Salvageable textiles can be cleaned, sanitized and dried.

However, simply drying flood-damaged textiles is not good enough because the water may have been contaminated with sewage. You’ll need to use disinfectants such as bleach if you are cleaning items that were in contaminated water.

Sort salvageable items by whether they can be washed or dry-cleaned and machine-washed or hand-washed, and then by color and the washing temperature their care label recommends.

Before washing items, make sure the water supply is safe to use and the washing machine has been cleaned and sanitized. To sanitize the washing machine, run a cycle with hot water, detergent and chlorine bleach. Then clean the textile items using the following steps:

  • Rewet damp textiles with flowing, clean water to remove mud and debris. Do this outside with a garden hose if possible.
  • If the textiles are dry, shake, brush or scrape them to remove dried mud and dirt, then rinse them with flowing, clean water.
  • Prewash machine-washable items. To avoid setting stains, prewash the items in cool water using a heavy-duty detergent with a small wash load and a full water level. To remove protein stains such as sewage, add an enzyme presoak product to the prewash cycle. Rinse the items and put them through the spin cycle. Don't dry items in the dryer until after machine-washing them.
  • Wash the textiles in the hottest water that is safe for the fabric. Use a heavy-duty detergent, small wash load and a full water level. If you suspect the items were contaminated with sewage, use a disinfectant such as chlorine bleach if it is safe for the fabrics. Use a pine-oil disinfectant or phenolic disinfectant such as Lysol for other fabrics.
  • Repeat the washing procedure until you are satisfied the textiles are clean. Do not dry the items until they are clean because drying in a dryer can set stains, making them impossible to remove.
  • Dry the items using a regular setting if it’s safe for the fabric. If a dryer will cause excessive shrinking, hang these items to dry in the sun. However, the dryer’s heat helps kill germs.
  • Ironing also helps kill germs on fabrics made from cotton, linen, rayon and ramie fibers and blends with these fibers. Steam pressing helps kill germs in items that are dried away from the sun.

Here is how to salvaging hand-washable textiles:

  • Prerinse the items with cool water to remove mud and debris.
  • Prewash the items using appropriate detergents and safe disinfectants.
  • Wash the items by hand using the appropriate detergent and water temperature.
  •  Support the items when they are wet.
  • Dry the items flat in the sun.
  • Ironing or steam press them to help kill germs that remain on the fabric.

To salvaging dry-cleanable textiles:

  • Take the textiles outside and brush off any wet or muddy items.
  • Don't rinse the textiles because water can harm them.
  • Allow the textiles to dry in the sun to prevent mold growth.
  • When the items are dry, take them to the dry cleaner. The dry-cleaning chemicals and steaming help reduce the level of contamination in the textiles.

For more information, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood or www.extension.org/Floods.

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