How to Clean Up After a Flood: Best Practices to Prevent Water Damage

how to clean up after a flood

From floods to major natural disasters, a flooded home can cost you time, stress, and a whole lot of money.

If you live in a flood-prone area or one with frequent hurricanes, knowing how to clean up after a flood is crucial.

Read on to discover the best practices for flood cleanup as well as ways you can prevent damage to your property in the future.

Keep Safety at the Forefront

After a storm is over or the floodwater subsides, you’ll probably be anxious to get back inside your home or business. Before you check on the damage, make sure you’re following a few basic safety protocols to prevent injuries.

First, make sure that all utilities are completely turned off including the electricity, gas, and water. The risk of electric shock is extremely high when people venture into flooded streets and homes.

Always wear the property safety gear including protective glasses, rubber waders, and gloves. This gear will keep you from getting injured by falling objects, hidden items that can cut you, and exposure to dirty water.

Before you check on your property, make sure you have a fully stocked first aid kit with you. It’s a great way to be prepared in the event of minor cuts or bruises. You should also wash your hands frequently with antibacterial soap and clean water to keep germs from spreading.

Always check the structural integrity of the property after a flood to make sure it’s safe to enter. Look closely at the foundation and be aware of any signs of cracking or settling. You should also examine all doors, windows, and floors for cracks or for anything that has come loose.

It’s a good idea to call a professional electrician to come and take a closer look at the electrical system. If you have a well, it’s recommended that you treat it with disinfectant before using the water in the home. Well-water can become contaminated after a flood or natural disaster.

Making an Insurance Claim

Before you start to perform any major cleaning, you should contact your insurance company immediately to file a claim. Take clear photos and videos of everything including damaged personal belongings. These photos can provide proof of damage if your insurance company asks for it later.

Call your insurance company and ask them about any other requirements needed to make a flood-related claim. Rules can vary depending on your provider as well as your location.

It’s important to note that insurance has different types of coverage depending on the type of flood. For example, if your water heater burst and caused damage, that’s a different claim than if you were dealing with flooding as a result of a natural disaster.

Most insurance companies will send an adjuster to your property as soon as possible to assess the damage. They will give you an estimate for repairs as well as the cost to replace your damaged personal belongings.

If you have soaking wet paperwork, photos, and books, you can freeze them until you need them. Place wax paper between the layers of the paper, and then store them in plastic bags before you place them in the freezer.

Once you have a claim number and a scheduled appointment to meet with an adjuster, you can begin to start cleaning the property. Knowing how to clean up after a flood is important to ensure your health and safety.

How to Clean Up After a Flood: Disinfecting

Mold and mildew can start to spread quickly after a flood, so it’s important to make sure you clean and disinfect as much as possible. Most basic household cleaners can be used to remove dirt, and disinfectants will stop the spread of disease-causing microorganisms that tend to live in floodwaters.

Purchase powder or liquid cleaners like bleach, which is much less expensive and more practical than an aerosol product. Try to buy cleaners in the largest sizes available since you’ll need to cover a large area.

Always read the labels and follow instructions carefully based on manufacturer recommendations. When using products like bleach or ammonia, make sure you do so in a well-ventilated area.

Ammonia and trisodium phosphate are highly effective cleaners for walls, linoleum floors, tile, and most woodwork. You can find many household cleaners at any home improvement store or major retailers. Powdered cleaners with abrasives are ideal for removing mud, silt, and grease from surfaces.

Most fabrics like upholstered furniture and carpet will likely be removed and replaced after a flood. If you need to rinse these items, use diluted chlorine bleach. Laundry detergents can be used for most textiles like clothing, bedding, and curtains.

When diluting bleach, use a mixture of 10 parts water to one part bleach. Delicate items made of wool or silk may need to be professionally dry cleaned.

More Cleaning Tips

As you go through your property, wipe down every surface using some form of disinfectant. Throw items away that are damaged beyond repair as long as you’ve documented them for insurance purposes.

Soaked linens, carpet, and other textiles might not be able to get clean enough for use. Area rugs should be dry cleaned if you plan on keeping them.

Always use rubber protective cleaning gloves and wash your hands frequently with mild soap and clean water. Never mix ammonia and bleach together as this can create extremely dangerous and toxic fumes. When using any cleaning product, open the windows and turn on fans to get proper airflow and ventilation.

Keep pets and children out of the flooded property until you get the all-clear. Wear rubber boots or protective shoes so you don’t step on sharp objects or broken glass during the cleanup process.

Prepping the Property for Cleanup

After everything is disinfected and all wet or soaked items are removed, you can begin removing any leftover standing water. Use buckets or pumps to remove water and then vacuum the excess with a wet/dry vac.

Anything that is soaked or contaminated should be placed in a plastic garbage bag, sealed, and taken outside. Depending on your location, regulations may require that they have a tag added to indicate they’re contaminated with standing water or sewer water.

If there is mud and silt throughout the property, shovel as much out as possible when it dries. For garages and sheds, use a garden hose to rinse excess mud, silt, and debris away.

Removing dirt, soaked items, and standing water will make it easier for a professional water damage restoration company to do their job. It’s also easier for you if you plan to do most of the cleaning yourself.

Cleaning Walls

Most homes have drywall inside which can act like a sponge as it soaks up water from the floor. You may be able to salvage some walls or trim and molding if you clean everything up as quickly as possible.

If mud and water get into the wall cavities, remove all insulation and let the inside of the walls air out. Any walls or finishes from the high water line as well as water that has absorbed upward must be removed and thrown out. In some cases, the absorption can reach up to a foot or more over the high water line.

A good rule of thumb when deciding if you need to remove some of the walls is if it feels or looks wet, it’s best to discard it. Any insulation that gets wet must be removed from the property and discarded or else it could become contaminated.

Plaster walls must be dried quickly in order to save them and to prevent the decay of any wood framing in and around the walls. All insulation or completely soaked parts of the wall must be taken out immediately.

Clean and disinfect any remaining trim and walls. Start at the bottom and work your way up using chlorine bleach.

You can use a moisture meter to help you locate wet walls and trim. When in doubt, discard any materials you are not completely sure about. You may be able to find a moisture meter at hardware stores or through a home inspector. 

Cleaning Floors and Woodwork

Scrub your floors using a stiff brush within 48 hours after the flood to prevent mildew. Use hot water and an ammonia-free detergent along with a disinfecting product to clean hard surface floors.

Make sure you remove any leftover silt and mud from all corners, cracks, and crevices on the floors and around trim. You can scrub mildew-stained floors using an alkali solution, or mix borax with water to get the floors clean. To disinfect, rinse the floors and all surfaces using a mixture of one-half cup bleach to one gallon of clean water.

You may be able to save wood trim and woodwork if it’s made of solid wood. Scrub the woodwork using the same items you used for the floors (alkali solution or a borax and water mixture).

Disinfect the wood with a chlorine bleach and water mixture and dry it off using a clean microfiber cloth. Remove any paint or varnish with paint remover, and rinse the woodwork with clear water, making sure everything dries thoroughly.

Dry Everything to Prevent Further Damage

All materials in your property should be dried with heat and air within the first 24 to 48 hours whenever possible. When you dry things quickly and remove contaminated items, it can help prevent the potential for mold growth and biological contamination.

Ensure that there is constant circulation and continual flow of heated air over any wet surfaces. This can reduce drying times by a significant amount. Heat speeds up the drying process, and humidifiers will also help improve dry times.

The type of materials used to build your home can have an effect on the total drying time after a flood. It may also depend on the air circulation and any moisture content in the air. If you live in a humid area, drying times can increase.

Remember to be patient and know that total drying time could take a few weeks or even a few months. Floors and walls can take a very long time to become completely dry from the inside out.

Continue to monitor your home and all surfaces, and treat items for mildew on a regular basis. You might be excited to start remodeling your home or business after a flood. Remember that it is best to wait at least six months or more after a flood before you do any kind of remodeling.

With the right process and a reputable water damage restoration service, your home or business can recover after a flood. Continual monitoring for mold growth and mildew will help to protect your property from further damage as time goes on. Make sure you have the right level of flood coverage under your insurance policy so it helps cover most of the costs to restore your home.

Staying Dry After a Flood

With the right processes in place, you’ll know how to clean up after a flood the safe, correct way. Make sure you remove all soaked items and take photos or videos of anything that is damaged for insurance purposes.

Disinfect and clean every surface and make sure you discard anything that is soaked or affected by mold. Patience, hard work, and time can ensure that your home is dry and safe to live in once again.

For more about water removal and restoration and to find a certified restoration specialist, visit our website and contact us today to schedule an appointment.


Picture of Mike Warchowszki

Mike Warchowszki

Mike has been saving homes and businesses from water damage throughout Maryland, DC & Virginia for over 12+ years

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