Tips: Flood Cleanup

After a hurricane has passed, failure to remove contaminated materials can cause health risks. If there is flooding along with a hurricane, water must be removed as quickly as possible. Renters and homeowners should assume that anything touched by floodwater is contaminated and will have to be disinfected or thrown away. Mud left by floodwater may contain chemicals from sources as varied as your garden chemicals to the oven cleaner you stored in the kitchen. It is important to clean and disinfect everything touched by floodwaters as quickly as possible.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers the following tips for house cleaning after flooding.

Don't let floodwater sit for long. Use a mop, squeegee, or wet/dry vacuum cleaner to remove standing water. Remove as much mud as possible. Plan to disinfect the basement soon. Once you've checked the water system for leaks, hose down the inside of the house and its contents. It's best to use an attachment that sprays soap to wash and rinse the walls, floors, furniture, sockets, electrical boxes and other major items to remove mud and silt.

Clean all walls, hard-surface floors and other household surfaces with soap and water and disinfect them with a solution of one cup of bleach to five gallons of water. Pay particular attention to areas that come in contact with food, or where small children play. After cleaning a room or item, go over it again with disinfectant to kill germs and odors left by floodwaters.

Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup. Always wash your hands with soap and clean water after working in the area.

Use caution when using household cleaners, disinfectants and bleach, always follow directions. Be sure to read the labels and be aware of any caution or danger warnings. Never mix household bleach with other cleaning agents.

Use a two-bucket method when cleaning. Put cleaning solution in one bucket and rinse water in the other. Replace rinse water frequently.

Flood victims should separate flood damaged chemical wastes and dispose of them separately from other waste materials. Improper disposal may further threaten the quality of drinking water supplies. Products that should be set aside from other storm debris for proper disposal include waxes and polishes, caustic cleaners, fertilizers, oils, pesticides and aerosols.

Remove and discard contaminated household goods such as wall coverings, rugs, cloth and drywall that can't be disinfected. When in doubt, throw it out.

Remove mildew with household mildew cleaner; a mixture of five tablespoons washing soda or tri-sodium phosphate to a gallon of water or 1/4 cup of laundry bleach to a gallon of water.

Empty standing water out of birdbaths, tires, flowerpots and other containers.

General debris management

Disposal of debris is a major concern following any natural disaster. No matter what state you live in, the type of debris you will encounter after a disaster will be much the same: damaged buildings, downed trees, building materials, and household and other types of hazardous waste.

What varies is the way in which each state disposes of the debris. Some states have particular issues that limit the areas in which debris can be stored. For more information, contact FEMA, your state agency or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A Web page of the Centers for Disease Control -- -- offers additional tips to safely clean up a flood-damaged home.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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