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Five Tips for Cleaning Your House after a Flood

Sept. 7, 2017 at midnight

Hurricane Harvey's wake of catastrophic destruction reminds us in no uncertain terms that natural disasters can destroy so much so quickly. It’s absolutely critical to be as prepared as you possibly can be. While the most important thing to do is making sure you and your loved ones are safe, you’ll nonetheless need an action plan to clean up and salvage your home and belongings once the storm has passed. With large-scale flooding, tackling the issues as soon as it's safe can save many of your valuables, as well as time and money down the line.

Here are a few tips that can help you clean up after a flood or extensive water damage:

Think about short and long-term safety. Everyone knows water and electricity don’t mix. By rapidly disabling the electrical supply, you make sure that no one gets electrocuted. Additionally, the faster you cut the power, the more likely you are to save any electrical appliances. The flood may also have swept in chemicals and other contaminants. Every surface and item must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. By using a bleach solution, you can sterilize dishes, cutlery, and other kitchen surfaces, as well as tile and linoleum.

Get everything as dry as you can (even if you are waiting for professionals). By concentrating on airing out and drying your home quickly, you can prevent as much mold growth as possible. Mold can start to accumulate in as little as 48 hours. Open windows and doors, keep fans running, and dry every possible surface. Also, you can use a wet/dry vac, as long as you ensure the cord is kept well away from water.

Decide what can be cleaned and repaired: Surfaces such as floors and walls can often be saved. With flooded paneled walls, paneling can be removed, cleaned and dried, and reinstalled in most instances. If you have drywall, you’ll want to open and air out the walls, even if they appear undamaged, to prevent interior mold growth. If cleanup begins quickly, elements of flooring can be saved. Make sure to allow the subflooring to dry uncovered, as it can bend and buckle if left unattended. With wood flooring, you’ll want to clean and dry sections separately to ensure that they are completely dried and undamaged. Then, after the wood has dried, examine to see if you can keep some or all of the flooring. You may be able just to repair and renew damaged sections. If you are installing new flooring, make sure you check the subfloor for warping before installation.

Know what can’t be saved—like most carpets. While they can be cleaned, they may still hold some residual contaminants or shrink. Carpet pads are usually spongy and cannot be effectively dried or cleaned and should be replaced. Soaked mattresses and upholstered furniture should also be discarded, as there is no way to guarantee that they are thoroughly cleaned.

Dispose of damaged items properly: Water-logged TVs, toxic liquids (such as paint and stains), and other kinds of appliances simply cannot be thrown out with the trash. Cities have designated sites for dangerous items; check your local listings for drop-off locations. Moreover, many non-dangerous items can be recycled, alleviating congestion at the local landfill. Consult your cities waste management website or private disposal companies for more information.


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