updated May 25, 2004

Recent Severe Storms Have Resulted in Flood-Damaged Homes Cleaning Flood-Damaged Homes

Caution! BEFORE DOING ANYTHING... Does the outside inspection show the structure is safe to enter the building?

  • Check for structural damage to see if it is safe to enter the building. Consult a structural engineer or architect or someone with expertise in building structures such as a building inspector if you are not sure. Consider safety first.

  • Watch for electrical shorts and live wires. Electrical safety is most important in floods. Make sure that electrical service is DISCONNECTED and CANNOT be turned on before entering any structure.

  • Turn off any outside gas lines at the tank or meter, and let the building air out to remove gas fumes prior to entering.

Steps Toward Clean up

See that everyone is out of danger of new flood crests, falling buildings, fire or other hazards.

Contact your insurance agent immediately. Give your name, address and a phone number where you can be reached.

Take pictures of the damage before beginning clean up.

Keep accurate records. List all clean-up and repair bills, flood-related living expenses and actual losses, such as furniture, appliances, clothing, etc.

An adjuster will assess damage to house and other items.

If you have a question or problem with your insurance carrier, contact your representative first and the company. The Nebraska Department of Insurance can be contacted if necessary: 1-877-564-7323

Information & Referrals

Contact local, state and federal offices for help and answers to specific clean-up questions.

Your University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension office can help with educational questions about cleanup and restoration, food and water questions, etc.

Electrical Systems

Be sure utilities are disconnected before entering the building for the first time.

Disconnect main switch and all circuits. If the main switch is located in the basement, ask a professional utility representative or electrician to assist after all flood water is pumped out BEFORE attempting any work in the house.

Ask a professional electrician to remove covers and clean all outlets and fuse or multi-breaker boxes. He or she will normally dry contacts and spray with cleaner/lubricant.

Have an electrician check for ground faults and other unsafe conditions and equipment before reconnecting systems. Equipment and wiring that appears to be safe soon after flooding may fail prematurely and cause a fire or shock hazard. Replacement is often the best option. Circuit breakers that have been submerged should be replaced.

Protection When Cleaning:

Wash exposed skin parts (hands, feet, etc.) frequently. Wear protective clothing, hard sole shoes, rubber gloves, goggles, and a quality mask with an HEPA filter (N-95 or better) for extra protection against contamination and particles. Special filter masks are needed to protect against vapors.

Keep children out of the area and away from cleaning products and contamination and the debris.

Floor Coverings:

The general recommendation is to toss fibrous or porous materials as they are hard to completely clean. Hard surfaces can usually be cleaned.

Carpets and Rugs:

Recommendations for carpets and rugs depend, to some extent, on the TYPE of water damage. AClean@ water (regular plumbing leaks, rain through an open window, etc.) may be easier to deal with. AGray@ and Ablack@ (sewage, flood water, run off from animal or pet areas, pesticide, oil etc.) water damaged carpets need special attention and procedures and generally should be thrown away along with the pads. Carpet that has been under flood water should be discarded or steam-cleaned. If they must be cleaned, contact a professional carpet cleaner skilled in flood-damaged carpets. Carpet with a foam backing should be thrown away.

If you must save the Aclean@ water damaged carpets, pull up the water-logged carpets and dry outside on a clean, flat surface, such as a concrete driveway covered with old sheets. If the carpet is placed face down, stains will wick to the back instead of to the face yarns. Pads should be tossed.

Hose the carpet off and, if badly soiled, add detergent. Work detergent into carpet with broom and rinse well. Remove as much water as possible quickly using fans or water- extraction equipment. Take care to avoid electrical shock.

To discourage mold, bacteria, etc. and odors, you might decide to rinse with a solution of chlorine bleach - 2 Tablespoons to 2 cup per gallon of water - follow label directions. HOWEVER, bleach may damage some carpets and carpet color. If the carpet is wool, do NOT add bleach.

Wear protective gloves, goggles and work in well ventilated area. NEVER mix bleach with ammonia or ammonia containing cleaners.

Dry carpet and floor THOROUGHLY before the carpet is replaced. If carpet is put down damp or the wooden floor contains moisture, it may mildew and mold.

Remember to discard all padding.

The carpet and backing may shrink and need re-stretching and professional installation.


Layers of submerged plywood subfloors may separate.

Sections that separate must be replaced to keep floor covering from warping and possible buckling.

When floor coverings are removed, allow subflooring to dry thoroughly (it may take several months). Check for moisture and warping before installing new flooring. A moisture meter can help determine the moisture content of wood.

Wood Floors:

Carefully remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling caused by swelling. Consult a carpenter about removal techniques for tongue-and-groove boards.

Clean and dry floor thoroughly (may take several weeks or months) before replacing boards and attempting repairs.

Moisture meters with prongs are available through some hardware and plumbing businesses, or through a major plumbing or heating and cooling wholesaler. Check the yellow pages. Moisture meters help measure the moisture levels in materials such as wood and other porous materials.

Tile and Sheet-vinyl Floors:

If the submerged subfloor is wood, the floor covering probably should be removed so subflooring can be replaced. If the floor has not been soaked, loose tiles may be recemented after floor is thoroughly dry.

If the subflooring is concrete, removing the floor covering will hasten drying of slab. Removal may not be necessary if it would ruin an otherwise unharmed material.

If water has seeped under loose sections of sheet flooring, remove the entire sheet.

Contact a reputable dealer to find out what mechanical tools or solvent and technique will loosen the adhesive with the least damage to the floor. Ease of removal depends on the type of material and adhesive. Hire a professional to do the job as it can be dangerous. IF you must do the job, Use CAUTION when working with solvents - follow the label directions. Wear protective clothing and the appropriate mask that will handle the particular solvents involved. Regular particle filters are not effective against vapors. Good ventilation and safety strategies are ESSENTIAL.


Hard-surfaced furniture may be able to be cleaned. Most porous upholstered furniture and mattresses should be discarded. If the item is a valuable piece or family heirloom, consider having it professionally cleaned and then restored by a qualified furniture refinisher or upholsterer.

Furniture may be solid wood, wood laminate, veneered, bamboo, steel, plastic resin, etc. and each reacts differently to water and cleaners. Always test cleaning procedures first on valuable pieces. For example, veneers, plywood and laminates may loosen, warp and buckle.

If you can't hire a professional and decide to do it yourself, take furniture outdoors to clean. Wear protective clothing and a quality mask (N95 or better). Hose or brush off mud. All parts (drawers, doors, etc.) should be removed. Remove or cut a hole in the back to push out stuck drawers and doors if necessary.

Use a cleaner safe for the material. Detergent and water can be used on many materials. Dry slowly out of direct sunlight (hot sunlight will warp furniture). It may take several weeks to several months to dry.

Cleaning Hard-surfaced Materials

As flood waters recede, use detergent and water to clean hard surfaced walls and woodwork thoroughly. A new 3-gallon garden sprayer works well (one with no pesticide residual). If you choose to use a disinfectant, 3/4 to 1 cup of household chlorine bleach per gallon of water can be used as a disinfectant on some materials. USE as directed and do not mix with ammonia or products containing ammonia. Always work in a well-ventilated area.

Scrub with a brush to help remove small quantities of mud and silt (larger quantities of mud and debris may need shovels and scraper tools). Rinse with clean water. Dry very thoroughly. If utilities are on, use heater, multiple fans, dehumidifier, or air conditioner to speed drying.

Household Appliances

Submerged appliances and equipment should be tested, cleaned and dried by professional repair persons before starting the items.

With electricity or fuel turned off, unplug and open as much as possible of the appliance to rinse or wipe clean and let dry.

Most appliances can be tilted slightly to drain and aid quick drying. Three days to a week or longer may be necessary for drying.

An appliance repair persons should check the items again before reconnecting. Most electrical appliances can be saved; however, check with your appliance and equipment professionals and insurance company first.

Flood-Damaged Walls

Remove water from above-ground structures as rapidly as possible. For a basement or wall below grade, soil and water pressure from the outside could cause buckling of the wall if the water is removed too quickly.

Remove interior surfaces of insulated walls to a point well above the top water height. Wicking allows moisture to travel further than the water line.

Remove and discard wet insulation.

Treat the interior wall studs and plates with a detergent and water solution. You may want to follow that with a disinfectant to prevent growth of decay-causing organisms and especially if gray and black water contaminated the surfaces.

Provide ventilation by opening windows and doors when the outside humidity levels are lower than indoors. Use multiple fans and dehumidifiers.

Leave the walls open for at least four weeks or more ( it may be up to 3 months)or until they have thoroughly dried. Test the wood and other materials with a moisture meter if possible. When walls are closed over interior wall materials that contain higher moisture levels, mold can result in the interior walls.

Select replacement materials that will withstand future floods. Replacing wall materials horizontally, such as drywall, allows easier removal should flooding occur again. Delay permanent repairs until buildings are thoroughly dry (may be several weeks to months).

Control mildew and mold in the weeks and months that follow flooding or any moisture problem. Mold can start to grow within 12 to 24 hours when moisture levels are above 50% to 60 % relative humidity. Don't give it a chance to start growing. Keep the humidity levels low - between 35% to 50%

Mold and Mildew Prevention

If an air conditioner is available, use it to remove moisture. Use dehumidifiers.

In homes that are not air-conditioned, open as many windows when the outside humidity levels are lower than the inside levels. Use fans and dehumidifiers to circulate air. Run bathroom and kitchen vent fans IF they are vented to the outside - NOT into the attic.

Turn on electric lights in closets, and leave doors open for ventilation and to assist drying.

Let lights stay on as long as dampness or high humidity is present to help dry and prevent mildew growth.

Remember that some molds can begin to grow in about 48 hours. Preventing the start of mold growth is essential and monitoring for possible growth or regrowth over the next months to a year. Dormant spores can start to grow if they have sufficient moisture, usually more than 50% to 60% relative humidity levels, and a source of food such as organic matter and cellulose (dirt, paper, wood, etc.)

Keep mold under control through prevention - stop moisture leaks as they happen and clean up water and moisture damaged as quickly as possible when SAFE to do.

Removing Mold From Household Articles

Know how to deal safely with mold. Obtain educational materials on mold control and clean up before any cleanup to avoid recurring mold growth and potential health related problems from mold cleanup.

Follow recommended procedures for mold prevention and cleanup. All molds should be treated with respect.

The extent, the occupants' sensitivity, type of materials, costs and ability as well as other factors should be considered. It is best to have professionals remove mold contaminated materials and clean up.

If you must clean up items with mold yourself, use a quality HEPA filter mask (N - 95 or better), gloves, goggles, and protective clothing. (Particle filters however, do not protect against vapors and endotoxins given off by some molds. )

Brush off and clean mold and mildew growth outdoors if at all possible to prevent scattering of spores in the house. If items must be cleaned indoors, seal off the area from the remainder of the home if possible and close off vents that might circulate the spores. Create a negative pressure in the room so that spores do not spread to other rooms. Open a window and use a fan to exhaust air to the outside through the room window if possible.

Items to be removed and destroyed should be covered or wrapped with heavy plastic and sealed with duct tape or placed in plastic bags and removed through the closest window or entrance to avoid scattering spores. Contact adhesive paper can also be used over an area to help contain the spores.

Use a quality vacuum cleaner with an HEPA filter to draw out more of the mold. Discard vacuum bags immediately and throughly clean vacuum after completing the task.

Sponge the area with detergent and water. Rinse well. Wipe with a clean, barely damp cloth. Wipe dry if possible.

If you decide a disinfectant is needed, spray with fungicide or other commercial disinfectant made for the purpose and the material. Remember that fungicides or disinfectants are classified as pesticides when they are used to kill fungus and should be used with care.

Dry the article thoroughly and monitor the item for the next few months for signs of reappearing mold or mildew.

Even dead spores and dormant spores can be a problems for some people.

Resources on-line about mold include, among others:

Other resources available among others include:

Resources available through your Cooperative Extension Office include:

University of Nebraska -Lincoln: http:/ianrpubs.unl.edu. Search the publication categories for topic of interest. For example, under textiles: NF198 Making Choices About Cleaning Flood Damaged Bedding and Household Linens, NF199 Making Choices About Salvaging Flood Damaged or Wet Furniture, NF200 Making Choices About Salvaging Wet or Flood Damaged Carpet

Shirley Niemeyer, Extension Specialist, Housing & Environment, UN-L. Materials based in part on information from the University of Missouri, EDEN (Extension Disaster Education Network) and other government and educational sources. Reviewed by Richard Stow

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