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Hurricane Aftermath: Clean up and get back to normal

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How to Clean Up After a Flood

The hurricane has passed and now the clean-up has begun.  Your property may have sustained wind, rain, and flood damage.  What items do you keep, salvage, or throw away?  What do you need to do when restoring your property and getting your life back on track?

1. Document the Damage

Make sure to photograph or videotape your property before starting to clean.  Keep track of your activities and follow the guidance of your insurance company and local government authorities.


2. Wear The Proper Gear

The most common injury when cleaning after a flood is cuts to the feet.  Be sure to wear proper protective equipment, including boots or work shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, rubber or work gloves, rubber boots, proper eye protection (safety glasses or goggles), and possibly a hard hat until the situation has stabilized. (Please also read my previous blog, What to do after the hurricane goes through, for first steps when you return to your property.)


3. Tackle Standing Water Indoors

You may be greeted by standing or receding water on your property.  Standing water is a perfect breeding ground for many microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and molds.  This can cause disease or trigger allergic reactions in many individuals.   Problems with infectious diseases can also occur if the floodwaters contain or have been contaminated with sewage. Follow the procedures as recommended by your local authorities when dealing with these conditions.

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Adequate drainage outside, adjacent to, and especially under your home is essential.  Standing water under a home can cause high humidity levels inside and cause floors to warp and buckle. The longer the building materials stand in contact with water, the more structural damage can potentially occur.


Draining the basement too quickly can cause basement walls to collapse due to pressure from water-saturated soil on the outside.  Pump the water level down two to three feet at a time and monitor the process daily.  If the water level goes back up, it is too early to try to drain the basement.

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4. Look For Standing Water Outdoors

Drain or remove additional sources of standing water including barrels, old tires, cans, and ditches. Check that your gutters are clean and can drain. Check the municipal drains and ditches near your property to make sure that they can carry storm water away from your home. 


Lawns usually survive being underwater for up to four days.  Hose salt water off the lawn and shrubs. You may have to replace the lawn if there was mud thicker than one inch deep, erosion, or chemicals in the floodwaters.


As the water recedes, promptly remove garbage, spoiled food, and damaged items from your property to avoid a “dumping ground.” Use heavy duty garbage bags to remove water-laden trash. Use a pressure washer to remove mud from surfaces, windows, and exterior surfaces.

5. Prevent Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes carry many diseases and stagnant water is an ideal breeding condition.   If you cannot get rid of standing water, use a commercial product that kills mosquito larvae but does not harm other animals such as repellents, traps, or dunks.




6. Address Structural Concerns

Inspect foundations for cracks and other damage.  Concrete blocks and brick piers should be checked for stability. The mortar joints should also be checked.  Clean out weep holes in exterior walls.


Plan to remove all damaged or wet drywall. If wall board or plaster will not clean, throw it out and replace it.  Baseboards and tack strips must be removed. Damp insulation will mildew so make sure to have it removed.  


Check the ceiling drywall for swelling by pressing upward.  If nail heads appear, re-nail them. You may need to replace the drywall If there is more serious damage. Remove the carpet and pad.  Vinyl that curls up at the edges and is damaged should be thrown away. Wood flooring may buckle and should be removed.


7. Check Home Systems

Bring fresh water to your home and follow the guidelines given by your local health department for boiling water until advised otherwise.  Private wells should be pumped until the water is clear.  Have the water tested if necessary.  Do not drink or clean food preparation surfaces with water that has not been declared safe.


Submerged furnaces or electrical appliances may be fire hazards.


Flooded heating and air conditioning ducts will have mud: clean them to avoid blowing foul dusty air full of potential health hazards.   It may be necessary to have them cleaned by a professional.  Your air filter will need to be changed more frequently since the system will be circulating more air particulates.


Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Look for electrical system damage.  Watch for stripped or damaged wire insulation.  Be sure all appliances are properly grounded.  Test outlets.


Some electrical appliances such as TV sets and radios may have an unexpected danger of shock since certain internal parts store electricity even when the appliance is unplugged.   (Refer to the warning label on the back of the appliance.).  They may need professional cleaning if they are worth saving.


The motors or heating elements of the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, and vacuum cleaner can usually be cleaned.  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional clean the appliances.   Clean and disinfect dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers only with water that has been declared safe for drinking.  Make sure the sewer line is working before starting a dishwasher or washing machine; run for one full cycle with hot water and a disinfectant or sanitizer. 


Refrigerators and freezers may have foam insulation and sealed components that suffered little water damage. Their contents may have spoiled so properly clean and disinfect before storing fresh food.  Remove spoiled food from your property as soon as possible.

The drying process for motors and parts can be accelerated by using a blow dryer with a moisture displacement spray (such as electronics parts cleaners or WD-40 lubricating and penetrating oil).  The sprays can also stop rust and corrosion until the appliance can be disassembled and cleaned but the spray is FLAMMABLE.  Contacts and electrical switches can be cleaned with a moisture displacement spray or an aerosol contact cleaner.  Read and follow label instructions and precautions.


Moving parts such as motors and pulleys will need oil or grease.

8. Cleaning Up & Drying Out


Drying everything in a home after a flood is imperative: excess moisture in the home poses an indoor air quality concern.  Use a wet/dry vac to help remove moisture from working surfaces.   Long-term high levels of humidity can foster growth of dust mites, which are a major trigger of allergic reactions and asthma.

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Maintain your heating and air conditioning system.  Perform regular maintenance and make sure your drain lines are clear. Condensation may be a sign that your system is not dehumidifying adequately.  Consult a repair professional.  Consider using a portable dehumidifier for additional support.



Mold may grow fast in humid air: when itstarts to grow, kill it immediately.   Ventilate kitchens and bathrooms with a fan.  Crack open windows.   Since mold likes dark and damp areas, open the blinds and expose all of your rooms to sunlight periodically.  Contact a mold specialist if necessary.


Food that has been in operational refrigerators and freezers will need to be inspected before consuming.   When in doubt: throw it out.


Cleaners remove dirt, mud, silt, and greasy deposits.  Disinfectants stop the growth of disease causing germs.  Follow all directions and all safety precautions when using these products.


Chlorine bleach alert: NEVER mix any product with a chlorine based product.  Chlorine bleach mixed with ammonia will make toxic fumes.


Clothing and linens that have exposed to the elements should be first hosed off to remove mud and then washed with a detergent that has added sanitizers.  Items labeled as “dry clean only” should be professionally cleaned.


Start cleaning a wall at the bottom or where the damage was the worst.  If you have removed the wallboard or plaster, wash the studs and sills and disinfect them.


Frequently change out sponges, mops, and cloths when cleaning.  Use sturdy buckets.  Replace rinse water often. 



Best wishes and stay safe. 


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*This material has been adapted from a clinic that was produced in partnership with The Home Depot and the American Red Cross.

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Posted 2011-08-30T20:44:32+0000  by Eileen_HD_ATL Eileen_HD_ATL