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Can you give me information on cleaning after a flood?

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The recent series of storms that walloped southwestern Utah caused flash floods and impacted many communities in the area, especially St. George. Because of the saturated ground and above-normal snow packs in some areas of the region, other parts of the state could be deluged with floods over the next few months.

If you think you could have flooding in your area this spring, do as much as you can now to reduce the chances of it entering your home. It is important make sure water coming off hills, roads, etc., be directed away from the house, especially window wells or doorways to the basement. This can be done with landscaping. Also repair any openings in the foundation where water might enter through cracks.

Unfortunately, attempts at prevention don’t stop everything, and if you do receive flooding in your home this spring, consider these tips for cleanup.

  • Get organized. Set priorities. Remove contaminated mud first. Next scrub with detergent, then wash with a disinfectant. Thoroughly clean and dry your house before trying to live in it and before making permanent repairs.

  • Remove water from the basement slowly. If your basement is full or nearly full of water, pump only 2 or 3 feet of water each day. If you drain the basement too quickly, the pressure outside the walls can be greater than the pressure inside the walls. That may make the walls and floor crack and collapse.

  • Remove contaminated mud. Shovel out as much mud as possible, then use a garden sprayer or hose to wash mud from hard surfaces. Start cleaning walls at the bottom or where damage is worst. Remember to hose out heating ducts, disconnecting the furnace first. Make sure all gas and electrical lines are turned off before cleaning around water.

  • Clean and disinfect. Scrub surfaces with hot water and a heavy-duty cleaner. Then disinfect with a solution of ¼ cup chlorine bleach per gallon of water or a product that is labeled as a disinfectant to kill germs. Laundry bleaches containing chlorine should not be used on materials that could be damaged or fade. Disinfect dishes, cooking utensils and food preparation areas before using them. Thoroughly disinfect areas where small children play. Don't mix cleaning products. A combination of chemicals can give off toxic fumes. Be sure to read labels on all cleaning materials.

  • Dry ceilings and walls. Flood-soaked wallboard should be removed and thrown away. Plaster and paneling can often be saved, but air must be circulated in the wall cavities to dry wood framing materials. There are three general types of materials used for insulation in the walls, and each must be treated differently. Polystyrene sheets might need only to be hosed off. Fiberglass batts should be thrown out if muddy, but may be reused if dried thoroughly. Loose or blown-in cellulose should be replaced since it holds water for a long time, supports mold growth and can lose its antifungal and fire retardant abilities.

  • Prevent mildew growth. Take furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing outside to dry as soon as possible. Use a fan or dehumidifier to remove moisture, or open at least two windows for ventilation. Also use fans inside to circulate air in the house. If mold and mildew have already developed, use chlorine and water to retard mold growth. Mold has a musty odor, and if you can smell it, it is growing on wet surfaces. Dry things as quickly as possible. Vacuum floors, ceilings and walls to remove mildew, then wash with disinfectant or chlorine bleach. It is important to work in a well-ventilated room and wear a two-strap protective mask to prevent breathing mold spores.

  • Clean and dry carpets and rugs as quickly as possible. If sewage-contaminated floodwater covered the carpeting, discard it for health safety reasons. Also discard if the carpet was under water for 24 hours or more. To clean carpets and rugs, drape them over a clothesline outdoors and hose them off. Work a disinfecting carpet cleaner into soiled spots with a broom. To discourage mildew and odors, rinse with a solution of 2 tablespoons bleach to 1 gallon water, but realize that bleach and disinfectants may discolor the carpet. If the carpet is flooded, it is important to get it off the floor. Dry the floor as quickly as possible using a wet/dry vacuum, fans and dehumidifier. Be sure the carpet and floor are dried thoroughly before replacing carpet. Padding is nearly impossible to clean, so it should be replaced.

  • Remove hardwood floor boards to prevent buckling. Remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling caused by swelling. Clean and dry wood before attempting repairs. If you have wood subflooring, remove the floor covering (vinyl, linoleum, carpet) so the subflooring can dry thoroughly. It may take several months for all the boards and subflooring to dry. Open windows and doors to expose the boards to as much air as possible.

  • Motors on electronic appliances must be reconditioned or replaced. To clean surfaces, use a heavy-duty cleaner and hot water, then a bleach solution. Refrigerators, freezers and ovens with foam insulation and sealed components may have little water damage, but should be cleaned and disinfected since they hold food. If walls are not sealed, insulation needs to removed, cleaned, and if necessary, replaced.

  • Get a cost estimate from a professional for repairing televisions, radios, computers and similar equipment to determine if they are worth repairing

  • When using sprayers, wet vacs, vacuum cleaners and other cleaning equipment, use an extension cord with a ground fault circuit interrupter or install a GFCI in the electrical circuits in damp environments. Be careful to avoid electrocution.

  • Hire a professional to replace or recondition electrical wiring and equipment.

  • Wash mud off valuable items before they dry. Photographs, books and important papers can be frozen and cleaned later. Store articles in plastic bags and place them in a frost-free freezer to protect from mildew and further damage until you have time to thaw and clean them.

  • Call your insurance agent. If your insurance covers the damage, your agent will tell you when an adjuster will contact you.

  • List damage and take photos or videotape as you clean. You'll need complete records for insurance claims, applications for disaster assistance and income tax deductions.

Posted on 25 Mar 2005

Leona Hawks
Extension Housing Specialist

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