Clean Living Masthead New



Flooding Clean-Up Tips

What to Do When Water Has Been Everywhere

child playing in the rainFrom torrential downpours to broken pipes to leaky roofs, when water invades your home, the damage can be swift and brutal. Mold growth and food contamination are two major concerns. Your very first step should be to pick up the phone and call your insurance agent and report the water damage. Best-case scenario is to do this within 24 hours. Your insurance broker should be able to recommend a contractor with experience in repairs and mold removal. Your house and furnishings are less likely to grow mold if they are dried within 48 hours, so prompt attention is imperative.

Severe water damage definitely requires the help of outside specialists. And some difficult decisions may have to be made as to which items can be salvaged and cleaned and which ones will need to be discarded. Floodwater may carry silt, raw sewage, oil or chemical wastes that can cause a whole range of bacterial, viral and/or parasitic diseases. 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. Consider all water unsafe until you have checked with your local health department. This includes water used for drinking, cooking and cleaning.

Food Stuffs
Throw away fresh foods and pantry-type foods that have come in direct contact with the water. This includes unopened foods in glass containers, such as mayonnaise and salad dressing, 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.

Kitchen Surfaces
Kitchen counters, pantry shelves, refrigerators, stoves, dishes and glassware that have come 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.

Wet textiles are the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew, warns Nancy Bock, Vice President of Consumer Education at the American Cleaning Institute® (ACI). As soon as the floodwaters recede or the leak is stopped and the water has been removed, the next priority is to clean clothes and other water-soaked fabrics. 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 have come in contact with sewage, 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. You can identify these products by the EPA registration number that is displayed on the label. This number assures that the product has met EPA requirements for disinfectants. Follow label directions to get disinfection.

For more information about washing, download the tip sheet, "Tips on Cleaning Flood-Soiled Fabrics" developed by ACI.