5 Tips for Cleaning Up After a Flood

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Cleaning up after a flood sweeps through your home is a massive task. Stay safe and remember these tips if you find yourself facing a mess.

After surviving Hurricane Ida’s 150-mile-per-hour winds and historic rainfall, people in Louisiana and Mississippi faced electrical failures as well as food and fuel shortages. The hurricane also pummeled the New York City metro area, causing tornadoes and flash flooding that shut down the world’s largest public transit system.

Renters and owners in different regions faced the same problem: How do you clean up after so much water?

It’s daunting to see signs of flooding in your home, like active water on the floor or water stains up the walls. The clean-up process begins by accepting your landscape has changed and knowing it can be fixed. Start with these tips to help you clean up following a flood from a hurricane or other natural disaster, no matter where you live.

Safety note: After a flood, if standing water remains in your home, turn off the electricity and gas before doing anything else.

Wear Protective Gear

When you’re cleaning up after a flood, always wear personal protective equipment. Usually this means at least a well ventilated mask like an N95 and eye protection without holes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA also recommends long pants, sleeves and gloves to avoid touching mold. Wear rubber boots to help avoid shocks and keep your feet dry. If you have asthma, allergies or other breathing problems, it’s important to discuss your clean-up plans with your doctors.

Remove the Water

After flooding, it’s important to remove as much of the water as possible as quickly as possible while still remaining safe.

You can use a bucket or other container to carry water out. When there’s only a small amount left, a wet/dry shop vacuum cleaner is helpful. Shovel out mud and debris while it’s wet or it will create a crust in your home.

Because a home needs to dry from the inside out, you may also need to tear down wet drywall or plaster. Remove wall coverings like paneling and wallpaper, as well as insulation, up to at least the highest visible water line. All should be removed up to the highest point the water reached, so be sure to check for any signs of rise beyond that line, too.

Toss and Sanitize

If something sat in flood waters and can’t be cleaned, it’s got to go. Flood waters can bring in contaminated sewer water, and items that sat in water for longer than 48 hours can produce mold. This typically means things like books or other soft surfaces that can’t be sanitized.

Contamination is another worry. Put furniture, rugs, carpets or anything that possibly came in contact with sewer water in plastic bags, not just directly in a trash can or on the sidewalk.

Take photos of things before your throw them away, for insurance purposes and your peace of mind.

Clean, sanitize and dry every hard surface using a product that kills germs. A cleaning product will simply remove dirt from surfaces. But a sanitizing product — like a cleaner that contains bleach or bleach diluted with water — will use chemicals to kill bacteria like mold on surfaces that can develop after flooding.

Try to buy cleaner in bulk to avoid slowing the clean-up process. Safety note: Do not mix bleach with other cleaning products.

Avoid sweeping because it can turn up dust. Instead, spray down areas. Then wipe up the dust with a cloth, or use a shop vac.

Use Fans

Flooding can also contaminate the air in your house or apartment, bringing germs, bugs or other pests into your home.

During the clean-up process, run your kitchen and bathroom fans and ventilators to keep the air moving and discourage mold growth. Mount box fans in the windows and set them to blow air out to help extract dirt, dust and mold spores. Depending on your level of flooding, you might need professional cleaning help.

Moisture absorbers like DampRid help draw out the moisture and odors in rooms and smaller areas where air isn’t easily circulated. DampRid moisture absorbers can be placed anywhere around the house. Just keep them away from children and pets.

Get Help (and Keep Your Receipts)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approves tax-free assistance and grants that do not need to be repaid for disaster-related expenses.

When announcing more than $17 million in aid after Hurricane Sally tore through Alabama in 2020, FEMA recommended keeping receipts for reimbursement for disaster-related expenses for at least three years. Reimbursable expenses include professional cleaners and home repairs.

One last thing: When flood damage is more than one DIYer can handle, it’s OK to admit it and ask for help.

Caitlin Cruz
Caitlin Cruz is a freelance writer based in Houston, Texas.