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Flooding Clean-Up Tips

flooded homeIf you or someone you know has been affected by hurricanes and subsequent flooding, the American Cleaning Institute offers tips to help with clean-up efforts.

Floodwater caused by hurricanes may carry silt, raw sewage, oil or chemical wastes that can cause a range of bacterial, viral and/or parasitic diseases. That’s why proper clean-up methods are critical.

Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in your home after a flood is a major undertaking. It is important that it be done right to prevent further damage to the property and help prevent illness. Choosing and using the right cleaning product for the job is critical. Keeping cleaning products in a secure location after a flood and during cleaning is crucial.

There is a difference between cleaning and disinfecting.

  • To clean means to physical remove dirt, germs and debris from a surface by scrubbing, washing and rinsing.
  • To disinfect means to apply a product that kills nearly 100% of of the germs identified on the label.

Important Steps in the Clean-up Process

  • Take photos of your damage before you begin clean up.
  • Wear protective clothing including long-sleeved shirts, long pants, rubber or plastic gloves and waterproof boots or shoes.
  • Take anything that was wet for two days or more outside. These items could have mold growing on them even though you may not see it.
  • Throw out any items that absorb water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected (mattresses, carpeting, stuffed animals, etc.).
  • Remove and discard items made of cloth it you are unable to wash in hot water.
  • Bleach should be used to clean floors, stoves, sinks, certain dishes, countertops. Do not use more than one cup of bleach per gallon of water. Remember to never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaners.
  • Launder your flood-soiled fabrics when it is safe to do so. (water is back on and safe to use, electricity is restored, washing machine has been checked for damage, etc.)


?Wet textiles are the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. As soon as the floodwaters recede and the water has been removed, the next priority is to clean clothes and other water-soaked fabrics. Before you begin, please check with your local health department to ensure water used for cleaning is now safe for use.

Although your first instinct may be to wash these items in very hot water, high water temperatures may set any stains that have developed. Prewash first, using cool water and powdered laundry detergent. These detergents are particularly effective on clay and ground-in dirt. To help remove protein stains, such as sewage, grass or blood, add an enzyme presoak product to the prewash. Other heavy soils, such as oil-based stains including animal fats, body soils, cooking oils, cosmetics and motor oils, should be treated with a prewash stain remover. Wash the items using a powdered laundry detergent and the hottest water that's safe for the fabric. If they came in contact with sewage, it is important to add a disinfectant to the wash. Use liquid household bleach (sodium hypochlorite), following the cleaning product label directions. If chlorine bleach is not suitable for the fabric, or if your water contains a large amount of iron, use a color-safe oxygen bleach. Since color-safe bleach does not disinfect, you will also need to add a disinfectant product to the laundry.

For more detailed information about washing, download the tip sheet, "Tips on Cleaning Flood-Soiled Fabrics"

Kitchen Surfaces

Kitchen counters, pantry shelves, refrigerators, stoves, dishes and glassware that have been in contact with water should be thoroughly washed with warm water and soap, rinsed and then disinfected. To disinfect, use a solution of ¾ cup of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Keep the surfaces wet for two minutes, then rinse with clean water. Wood and plastic items, including cutting boards, utensils and food storage containers, that have been in contact with contaminated water should be discarded because they may harbor bacteria, which makes them difficult to clean and disinfect.

Food Stuffs

Throw away any foods that have come in direct contact with the water. This includes unopened foods in glass containers and canned foods. Food in glass containers may look safe, but there is currently no lid in use that will keep out water if the container has come in contact with floodwaters. Canned-goods containers may develop rust. Paper labels on both glass and can containers can be magnets for bacteria and other contaminants in floodwaters. Also dispose of containers with cork-lined or waxed cardboard tops, pop-tops, peel-off tops or paraffin seals; food in cardboard boxes; flexible containers, including cloth, paper, foil and cellophane; canned goods; staples stored in canisters; and any unopened containers.

Lastly, it is important to check with local authorities to determine how to dispose of household items that have been contaminated by sewage or that have been wet for an extended period of time. Some localities may have regulations and specific procedures for bagging, tagging and disposing of contaminated items. The Environmental Protection Agency has helpful information on clean-up after floods as does the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.


CDC - Clean Up