If you live in an area where major storms, heavy rains, and flood events are a reality, it’s essential to know how to clean up afterwards. Unfortunately, there are very few resources that tell you exactly where to start. One thing is true: Cleaning up after a major storm is daunting, especially when there is severe flooding and water damage involved. It’s important to note that storm cleanup is different from regular everyday cleaning, or even heavy-duty cleaning for that matter. When cleaning up after a major storm, there are often health concerns, hazards, and other serious issues that require protective gear, safety measures, and specialty tools and products that aren’t required in regular cleaning.
The steps and tips below will help you start the cleanup effort and prevent mold and mildew after a flood.
Step 1: Removing Water & Debris
When floodwater from a hurricane or major tropical storm recedes, removing water and drying everything out in a flood-damaged home as quickly as possible may seem like an impossible task, but with the right equipment it can be accomplished. In addition to using utility pumps for water removal, wet/dry vacuums and carpet and upholstery cleaners can be used to extract water from hard surfaces (like concrete and sub-flooring) and soft surfaces (like carpet and upholstery). However, do not use machines if there is more than ½ inch of standing water as this is a potential safety hazard. A good, sturdy wet mop and bucket can be used for spot cleaning and water removal.
Be sure to inspect your home thoroughly after a major storm. If the roof of yourhome was damaged in the storm, it’s possible that water seeped into your attic. Look out for darkly colored trusses or rafters as a sign that water has leaked in. In addition, if you notice new water stains on your walls or ceiling, double-check the attic for any leaks.
As well as inspecting your home and removing any standing water, it’s important to remove debris and mud, as well as any soaked porous or absorbent material, such as paper products, rugs, heavily soiled furniture, soaked ceiling tiles, and even water-damaged drywall.
Important Safety Tip: Do not enter a flooded space unless you are absolutely sure the electricity is turned off.
Step 2: Eliminating Mold & Mildew
Even after standing water has been removed from your home, dampness will persist. Not-so-fun fact: The microorganisms that turn into mold colonies are always present in the air around us, so mold growth will start quickly in the right (i.e. damp) conditions, which poses serious health risks and can make cleanup an absolute nightmare. According to the CDC, mold begins to grow 24-48 hours after a flood event, so removing water and any lingering moisture as soon as possible from a water-damaged building is imperative. Once the water is gone, using dehumidifiers, exhaust fans, and portable air-conditioning units can help reduce humidity and lingering moisture. Do not use outdoor or ground-mounted central air units, which can be contaminated with silt after a flood. It’s also a good idea to open up the building to increase ventilation if it’s less humid outside.
If mold is growing in your home, you may be able to smell it before you see it. Mold may grow in hidden areas, like under carpet, behind drywall, or under wallpaper. To remove mold from hard surfaces, clean thoroughly with a scrub brush and rinse with water. Then, spray our mold-busting formula, Vital Oxide, from a distance of 12 inches until visibly wet, and allow to air dry. Vital Oxide can be sprayed directly on both hard and soft surfaces, or dispersed in entire rooms with a fogging device, to eliminate mold and mildew on a molecular level. Be sure to dry the area thoroughly. Remember, moisture is mold’s best friend.
Important Safety Tip: When entering and cleaning a space where there is flood damage and mold, it is essential to wear respirator masks, rubber or insulated footwear, heavy-duty work gloves, and safety goggles. Those who suffer from respiratory issues or a weakened immune system should avoid entering the space entirely. If the mold problem is severe, it’s a good idea to seek the help of a professional who is trained in mold cleanup. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to severe flood damage or major mold issues.
Step 3: Salvaging & Cleaning Waterlogged Laundry
Laundry that is heavily soiled by floodwater requires special handling and care. Before washing any items in your washing machine at home, it’s important to make sure that your water supply is clean and uncontaminated, and that your washing machine is safe to use. If either is compromised, take your soiled laundry to a laundromat or dry cleaner.
Start the cleaning process by choosing items for laundering. Take the heavily soiled and muddy items outside and pre-rinse using a hose or rinse them off in a utility sink if outdoor space is not available to you. Next, allow the items to dry outside (ideally in the sun) to prevent mold and mildew from developing, then shake out any dirt or mud that remains.
When washing floodwater contaminated items in a washing machine, it may take multiple wash cycles to fully remove soil and other contaminants. For clothes, towels, sheets, and other heavily soiled laundry, use the hottest water setting that is safe for the fabric type. To disinfect and remove discoloration, stains and lingering odor, use Vital Oxide (½ cup to 1 cup depending on the size of the load) in addition to your regular laundry detergent. Vital Oxide kills 99.999% of bacteria and is also a powerhouse odor eliminator and stain remover. Unlike bleach, Vital Oxide will not discolor fabric. In between washing loads, it’s a good idea to disinfect your washing machine with Vital Oxide by spraying it directly into the interior of the washer and allowing it to dry. Items such as delicates, wedding gowns, and vintage items that cannot be placed in a washer should be taken to a dry cleaner for proper cleaning.
Once your items have been thoroughly washed and disinfected, you can place them in a dryer. Do not place items in a dryer before they have been thoroughly washed, as the heat will set stains into the fabric.
Important Safety Tip: To ensure the safe handling of floodwater-soaked laundry, always wear gloves, respirator masks, and safety goggles. In addition, the CDC recommends disposing of any textiles that have been exposed to sewage spills or groundwater runoff, as well as things like blankets, towels, pillows, soft toys, or clothing that have been soaked in floodwater for an extended period of time.
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