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Cleaning up after a flood

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What you need to know

Think safety first when cleaning up after a flood.

  • Shut off gas and electricity.
  • Wear protective gear.
  • Remove standing water and all soaked materials. Shovel out mud. Remove wall interior surfaces and insulation.
  • Scrubs walls and floors and then disinfect with bleach solution. Dry thoroughly before rebuilding.

Cleaning up from a flood can seem like a daunting task. It's important to prepare and plan for how you're going to deal with the damage. Use the following guidelines to get your home back to livable standards as soon as possible.

Safety first

The first priority is your safety. Although your first impulse may be to start cleaning, you need to protect yourself from potential hazards. The water may have contained sewage or other contaminants and the structure may not be safe. Remember that buildings may not be habitable during the cleaning process.

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Flooded basement.

Insurance claims

Before you start cleaning:

  • Take photos or video. For insurance claims (and tax deductions), it's necessary to take photos or video before you start cleaning. 
  • Keep records of all expenses.
  • Check with your insurance company for other requirements needed to make your claim.

Flooded books and papers may be frozen until you have time to work with them. Place waxed paper between layers and place items inside plastic bags before freezing.

Cleaning and disinfecting products

When you start cleaning, you should have two goals: to clean and to disinfect household items.

  • Household cleaners help remove dirt after a flood.
  • Disinfectants help stop the growth of disease causing microorganisms carried in flood water.

Powdered or liquid cleaners are more practical and much less expensive than aerosol products. Since large areas will probably need to be cleaned, buy cleaners and disinfectants in the largest size available to reduce their costs. All products are not suitable for all uses. Before using any product, refer to the label for specific directions.

Cleaning hard surfaces such as walls, woodwork, linoleum floors and tile:

  • Household ammonia and trisodium phosphate work well.
  • Liquid household cleaners such as Top Job, Ajax, Spic-n-Span and others, remove mud, silt and greasy deposits.

Cleaning carpets and furniture:

  • Chlorine bleach disinfectants, used in diluted form, may be used to rinse carpets and furniture.

Cleaning textiles:

  • All purpose detergents such as Tide, Wisk, and Cheer, work well on moderately or more heavily soiled washable textiles.
  • Use a diluted solution of chlorine bleach (10 parts water to 1 part bleach) to disinfect textiles that are safe for chlorine.
  • Use Lysol or pine oil disinfectants such as Pine Sol to disinfect all other washable textiles.
  • If items made of wool or silk are damaged, confer with a professional dry cleaner.

Never mix chlorine bleach with ammonia. The fumes are toxic.

Steps for clean-up

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When can I remodel?

It may take several months to clean and do the necessary reparations. Because the humidity is very elevated, it is best to wait at least 6 months after a flood before doing remodeling.

More health information

Minnesota Department of Health provides information on disasters and emergencies. They can also be reached at 1-800-789-9050.

Diane Corrin and Dick Stone, former Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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