Cleaning up after flood damage

a house and a van with a flood
January 13, 2017 Flood Damage


So, you’ve survived the trauma of a flood. The immediate danger has been dealt with, and you have completed the immediate (1st stage) clean-up process.  You are now left with the damage to your home and contents, and the time consuming task of cleaning out your entire property and trying to salvage what you can – and disinfecting everything inside!

Call your insurance company before you do anything, and tell them what you want to do – keep a record of all damage done, for insurance purposes, throughout the entire clean-up process. Take photos of as much as you can.

Electricity:  The electrical system needs to be turned off. It must be repaired and inspected by an electrician before being turned back on.  Wiring must be completely dried out – even where it can’t be seen – as electrical systems which have been under water may be filled with mud.

Drying:  Dry out affected areas. Use fans and dehumidifiers to speed up the drying. If it has stopped raining, open windows so air can circulate to speed up the drying process.

Personal Hygiene:  Always practise basic hygiene throughout the clean-up period and especially before handling or eating food.  Wash hands thoroughly in soap and water, or use hand sanitiser, after handling any flood affected items.  Always wear gloves when cleaning up.  Treat all cuts and abrasions immediately with antiseptic and cover. Seek immediate medical attention if wounds become red or swollen.

Disinfect:  Scrub all surfaces and equipment affected by flood waters, with hot water and a heavy duty cleaner, then disinfect by wiping or spraying everything with a chlorine bleach solution, or a product labelled as a disinfectant.  Always wear gloves and protective clothing – and don’t touch your face or eyes while using disinfectants.  After disinfecting, let the area dry thoroughly.  (For a 10 litre bucket of disinfectant, add water and 25-50mls (1/4 cup) of chlorine bleach (household bleach)).

Warning: Be careful of fumes.  Carefully read the safety instructions on labels. Do not mix bleach with other household chemical products, especially ammonia or toilet bowl cleaner – the chemical reaction can create a poisonous gas. Do not use bleach on aluminium or linoleum.

Mould and mildew:  If surfaces/items are not completely dried, mould or mildew may develop. This can be removed with household bleach – but the strength of the product may ruin some household items. If mould has already developed, brush off items outdoors to prevent spores being spread in the house. Vacuum floors, ceilings and walls to remove mildew, then wash with disinfectant.  Always wear a mask when dealing with heavy mould.

Floors:  Wooden floors should be dried gradually, as sudden drying can cause cracking or splitting.  Remove floor boards (every meter or so) to reduce buckling caused by swelling.  Clean and dry before attempting any repairs.

  • Vinyl flooring and tiles may need to be removed to allow the floor beneath to dry.
  • Carpets need to be cleaned and dried as quickly as possible.  If carpets were under water for 24 hours or more, or have been covered by sewage-contaminated floodwater, discard them.  Hang carpets and rugs outdoors and hose them down, then rub a disinfecting carpet cleaner into soiled spots with a broom.  Rinse with a disinfectant carpet cleaning solution.

Walls: Clean walls from the bottom up, or where the worst damage occurred.  Plaster or wallboard might need to be replaced – these might not be able to be cleaned.  If the plaster has been removed, wash the studs and sills, and disinfect them.

Windows:  If you taped your windows before the storm, clean the tape off as soon as possible, or the sun will bake the adhesive into the glass.  If glass cleaners aren’t effective, try using tar remover, acetone, nail polish remover, or a razor blade.

Appliances:  Washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners will be needed to help clean your home and contents.  The appliances themselves will need to be cleaned, disinfected and serviced before they can be safely used, otherwise they could be seriously damaged, or cause electrical shocks.  Electronics, TVs and radios, and other electrical appliances, should preferably be professionally cleaned.

  • Metal appliances affected by floodwaters should be grounded (or earthed) to prevent electrical shock.
  • Only use water declared safe for drinking to clean and disinfect dishwashers, washing machines and dryers.
  • Refrigerators and freezers should be cleaned and disinfected, and checked by a professional – or replaced.  If you are told an expensive appliance needs replacing, get it in writing and discuss it with your insurance assessor before paying for another one.

Warning: A licensed electrician should check power supply and electrical appliances before they are plugged in, to eliminate the risk of electrocution.

In the kitchen:  Thoroughly clean all hard surfaced floors, walls, benches, surfaces and sinks, and kitchen equipment, with hot soapy water and then disinfect.  Empty the refrigerators, freezers and all cupboards.

  • Discard any porous items. Soft plastic, wood and rubber, will have most likely absorbed floodwater.  Also, throw out dishes with deep cracks – they can’t be sufficiently disinfected.  Wash the remaining dishes in hot detergent solution, using a brush if necessary, to remove dirt.  Rinse in clean hot water.  After washing and rinsing, disinfect items. Immerse glass, china and enamelware for 10 minutes in a disinfecting solution of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach per 2 litres of hot water.  Air-dry all dishes – do not use a towel.
  • If using the dishwasher, clean and disinfect it first – with water suitable for drinking.  Then use a hot setting to wash everything, and do not use an energy saving setting until all dishes have been thoroughly cleaned.
  • Disinfect silverware, metal utensils, and pots and pans by boiling in water for 10 minutes.  Don’t use chlorine bleach on these items as bleach reacts with many metals, causing them to darken.  Clean cupboards and benchtops with hot soapy water and rinse with a chlorine bleach solution before storing dishes.

Water, food:  Only tap water which has been declared safe for drinking, should be used for drinking and preparing food.  Please refer to the Food Safety Fact Sheet for food information.

Mattresses:  Flood affected mattresses should be thrown out as they are difficult to treat.

  • Foam rubber mattresses may be thoroughly washed with a garden hose, a detergent solution squeezed through them, and then allowed to dry.  Other types of mattresses or furniture such as lounge chairs are difficult to recondition, but could be air dried in the sun and sprayed thoroughly with a disinfectant solution.  Or seek advice from a commercial renovating company.

Furniture:  Remove the backs of furniture to let the air circulate; don’t try to force open swollen wooden doors and drawers – you’ll probably be able to open them when dry.  Solid wood furniture can usually be cleaned and restored, unless severely damaged.  Apply wood alcohol or turpentine with a cotton ball to remove white mildew spots on wood.  Cream wood restorers with lanolin will help restore good wooden furniture parts.  After thorough cleaning, disinfect all parts of wood furniture.

  • Wood veneer often separates and warps, and is not worth the cost and effort to repair.
  • Upholstered furniture should only be cleaned by a professional, as it will have soaked up contaminants from floodwaters. Unless antique or especially valuable, upholstered furniture should probably be discarded. (Get a cost estimate from a professional to see if furniture is worth saving.)

Clothes and linen:  Clothing, linen and blankets should be washed in hot water (if instructions allow) or dry cleaned.

  • Before washing items, shake out dried mud or dirt and hose off all muddy items, to prevent clogging the washing machine.
  • Before you wash clothes, run the washing machine through one full cycle, using hot water and a disinfectant or sanitiser. Check the labels on clothes and linen, and wash them in detergent and warm water if possible.
  • Adding chlorine bleach to the wash cycle will remove most mildew and will sanitise the clothing, but bleach fades and damages some fabrics. You can use other sanitisers, such as pine oil cleaners, for bleach sensitive fabrics.
  • If the label says “Dry Clean Only”, shake out loose dirt and take the item to a professional cleaner.
  • Leather items are usually worth the cost of professional cleaning.  To clean leather yourself, wash the mud off and dry the leather slowly away from heat or sunlight.

Children’s Toys:  Stuffed animals, soft toys or moulded plastic toys with holes may have to be thrown away if contaminated by floodwaters. Solid toys can be washed thoroughly and then disinfected.

Valuable papers and books:  Books and important papers should be dried carefully and slowly, and can be frozen and cleaned later. Wash the mud off and store them in plastic bags and put them in a frost-free freezer to protect from mildew and further damage, until you have time to thaw and clean them – or take them to a professional.

  • Generally you should use a professional restorer for valuable papers such as books, photographs and stamp collections.
  • Another alternative to preserving is to place items in a sealed container, such as a plastic bag, with moth crystals.
  • Dry papers as soon as they are thawed or unsealed (a blow dryer will do).  Place blotting paper between pages of books to help with drying.  Don’t try to force paper products apart; continue drying them until they come apart easily.
  • Photocopy valuable papers and records soon because substances in the water may make them deteriorate.
  • After papers and books are completely dry, they may still have a musty smell. If so, place them in a cool, dry place for a couple of days.
  • If the musty smell still remains, put the books or papers in an open box and put that inside a larger, closed container with an open box of baking soda, to absorb odours. Don’t let the baking soda touch the books, and check the box daily for mould.

Photographs:  Don’t let photographs dry out – as they dry, they will stick together and be impossible to separate. Try to get to flood-damaged photographs within two days to prevent mould.

  • If you can’t work on them straight away, carefully stack the wet photographs between sheets of wax paper and seal them in a ziplock plastic bag.  If possible, freeze the photographs to slow any damage.  This way photos can be defrosted, separated and air-dried later when you have time to do it properly.
  • Place wet (or frozen) photographs in a tub of cold, clear water and separate any that are stuck together. Don’t allow water from the tap to run directly on the photos, as this may cause further damage.
  • Dislodge any dirt by gently moving the tub of water; then lay the images face up on kitchen towel. Never wipe the wet emulsion of a photograph.

Disks and tapes:  If a computer disk or tape has valuable information, rinse it in clear water and put it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Later, you can take it to a professional drying centre and have the data transferred to a good disk or tape.

To dispose of damaged items, the best/easiest way is to hire a skip bin.  You might be tempted to place everything in the skip bin, as you’ve been through enough and aren’t up to dealing with any further sorting, etc.  However, please talk to your skip bin provider about what you have on hand, and they will advise you as to what you can place in the skip bin.

At Newcastle Skips we offer prompt delivery and pickup of your skip bins. We follow through with an efficient service 6 days a week.  Our skip bins come in multiple sizes, from 2 to 30cubic metres, for small or large jobs.  We have an eco-friendly philosophy and commitment to recycling, and offer professional, friendly service.

Complete your details on our Home Page for your free quote, or ring us on 0405 490 000.  You can also email us at

We look forward to serving you with superior skip bins for hire in Newcastle.

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