Flooded basement cleanup procedure (C) Daniel FriedmanHow to Clean up a Flooded Building or Wet Basement
Flood Damage Repair Guide FEMA/ARC expanded Step 6

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Flooded building cleanup procedures: how to clean up a building that has been soaked by flooding, hurricane, fire extinguishment or other damage - step 6 - disaster recovery for buildings.

If your building has been wet, soaked, or flooded, this article explains how to set priorities of action, safety, and then clean up & remove the mud, debris, and water damaged materials from the building. we provide special information about avoiding or minimizing mold damage.

Adapted and expanded from Repairing your Flooded Home, American Red Cross & FEMA & from additional expert sources.[1] NOTICE: neither the ARC nor FEMA have yet approved the additions & expansions we have made to the original document.

Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.

Step 6: How to Clean Up a Flooded Building or a Wet Basement

Flood damaged debris tossed outside during cleanup (C) Daniel Friedman 2013Cleanup and Repair after a building flood — Who does what?

Jobs an owner can usually handle

[Click to enlarge any image]

Jobs that usually require services of a professional

How to Protect the Building from Freeze or Frost Damage after a Flood, Storm, or other Disaster

If your house will be unheated for a few days, and the temperature will fall below freezing, you should winterize your water pipes so they will not freeze and break. A plumber can blow out the pipes to make sure they are empty.

For a complete guide to protecting a building from freeze damage see these articles

Or you can take the following simplified [FEMA-ARC] steps to protect your water and sewer system from damage due to freezing temperatures:

  1. Shut off the main water valve. (It is usually found at the water meter.)
  2. Turn on all the faucets in the house, both the hot and the cold taps. Leave them on and let them run.
  3. Turn off the hot water heater. Open the faucet at the bottom of the water heater to drain it. You may want to connect a hose to the faucet so you can control where the water goes. Be careful; the water may be very hot.
  4. Flush the toilets to empty their water tanks and use a sponge or rag to be sure that the toilet tanks are completely empty.
  5. Wait for the lowest faucet on the house to stop running. (This will usually be a faucet in the basement.) Then check all faucets and toilets. If they have stopped running or are empty, your water system should be drained.
  6. Pour some propyleneglycol based antifreeze in all sink, tub, and floor drains and in the toilet bowls. (This type of antifreeze is available through recreational vehicle and mobile home dealers. Do not use regular automotive antifreeze.) These drains have traps that keep water in them.
  7. Turning Water Back On: You can turn the main valve back on after the building is heated. Do this before you start your repairs and inspect the building completely for leaks. That way, if there is a broken pipe, a water leak won’t cause much damage.

Watch out: be sure to inspect both water supply piping (look and listen for leaks, look for drips, wet spots from leaks in concealed piping) and drain piping, as both systems may have been damaged by the earthquake, flood, hurricane or other event. This means running water for at least five minutes into each drain and inspecting each fixture trap and drain for leakage.

For detailed help in how to restore a building's water systems to service, see these articles

Flood Damaged Building or Flooded Basement Cleaning Supplies Checklist

The Red Cross will often distribute cleanup kits after a disaster. These contain many useful items such as a broom, mop, bucket, and cleaning supplies.

In most cases, household cleaning products will doe the job if you use them correctly. Check the label on the products to see how much to use. Some products shouldn’t be used on certain materials; the label will tell you that. Apply cleaner and give it time to work before you mop or sponge it up. Follow directions and all safety precautions on the container.

This list of wet building cleanup supplies focuses on cleaning and restoring space to a usable condition; it does not include additional supplies you need to safely enter and work in a flooded building, such as lighting, personal protective clothing, etc.

Clean Up Procedures for a Flooded Building or a Wet Basement

The walls, floors, closets, shelves, contents — every flooded part of your house — should be thoroughly washed and disinfected. Some projects, such as washing clothes, may have to wait until all the utilities are restored. Others may be best done by professionals. This section offers suggestions on the best way to clean flooded items.

Cleaning tips

Tackle one room at a time. A two bucket approach is most efficient: use one bucket for rinse water and the other for the cleaner. Rinse out your sponge, mop, or cleaning cloth in the rinse bucket. Wring it as dry as possible and keep it rolled up tight as you put it in the cleaner bucket. Let it unroll to absorb the cleaner. Using two buckets keeps most of the dirty rinse water out of your cleaning solution. Replace the rinse water frequently.

After cleaning a room or item, go over it again with a disinfectant to kill the germs and smell left by the floodwaters. You may also need to get rid of mildew, an unwelcome companion to moisture that shows as fuzzy splotches.

5-Step Procedure to Prevent Mold or Pathogen Cross Contamination During Building Contents Cleanup

[Addition by DF]

Design your cleaning procedure to assure that you do not inadvertently spread mold or pathogens from a flooded or damaged building or its contents onto other items that were comparatively clean.

Watch out for cross contamination. We [DF] inspected and tested a moldy basement cleanup procedure conducted by a professional cleaning service contracted by the National Park Service at an NPS site. Our field tests discovered significant levels of mold contamination on the wiped "cleaned" hard-surfaced contents that were being brought out of the "cleaned" basement. A closer inspection and tests of the process discovered that the cleaners were using the same damp rags and bucket of cleaner to wipe both very dirty and moldy items and others that were practically clean. The result was a uniform spread of contamination on the surface of every item being brought out of the building.

An effective solution to the flood damage cross contamination problem was the use of a series or cascade of three cleaning stations:

  1. Most-soiled items were cleaned at a first cleaning table in the building basement.
  2. Items from step 1 above that had been visibly quite soiled were brought outside to a Step 2 cleaning work table or cleaning station for a second inspection and wiping using fresh buckets of cleaning solution; items
  3. Items from step 1 above that had appeared nearly clean and/or were hard-surfaced and easy to clean along with items that had passed through step 2 were brought to a Step 3 cleaning table for inspection and wiping using fresh buckets of cleaning solution; items.
  4. All cleaned items were moved to a clean temporary storage location - a rented trailer or a separate nearby building - where they could be stored clean and dry until the wet basement and flooded building could be completely cleaned and dried.
  5. When the building was clean and dry the cleaned, salvaged contents could be safely returned.

Note: to speed the wet basements contents salvage procedure as well as to reduce cleaning costs, certain valuable papers, books or other items that could not be completely cleaned by wiping or laundering but that owners want to retain can be safely kept by drying the items completely and storing them in a tightly sealed plastic container to await further treatment.

Best Cleaning Procedure for Ceilings, Walls, Floors in a Wet Basement or Flooded Building

Start cleaning a wall at the bottom or where the worst damage was. If you did not have to remove the wallboard or plaster, you may find it the wallboard or plaster won’t come clean and you will want to replace it rather than clean it. If you have removed the wallboard or plaster, wash the studs and sills and disinfect them.

Watch out: in our experience [DF] when a building has been wet enough to allow water to enter even just the very bottom of a wall cavity, there is a high risk of harmful and costly mold contamination of both the interior wall cavity surfaces as well as wall insulation. Some materials (plaster, mineral wool or cellulose insulation) resist mold growth a bit more than others (drywall, fiberglass insulation, exposed wood surfaces).

Really? Small-hole Water Extraction Methods

Watch out: do not rely on "water extraction services" offered by some cleaning and restoration services. Promises that a dehumidifier can "suck" water out of flooded walls, floor or ceiling cavities have not been supported in any of thousands of building inspections that we have conducted.

Similar "band-aid" attempts at wall cavity dry-out by cutting small holes in wall bottoms or in bottoms and tops to "blow" air through the cavity to dry it out have also failed. When we returned to inspect buildings "dried" by these approaches we virtually always have found significant mold contamination in the building cavity.

Watch out: do not rely on ozone generators to "disinfect" a building after flooding, mold contamination, or similar hazards. See OZONE MOLD / ODOR TREATMENT WARNINGS for details.

Watch out: it is a false economy to leave too much drywall, wall, floor or ceiling coverings in place, "taking a chance" that those cavities were not wet and do not harbor a mold problem. The risk is that later, after you have cleaned and restored the building you have to perform demoltion all over again to find and remove mold or pathogens from building cavities.

Cleaning Procedure for Windows in a Wet Basement or Flooded Building

If you taped your windows before the storm, clean the tape off as soon as possible. The sun will bake the adhesive into the glass. If glass cleaners don’t remove the adhesive, try tar remover, acetone, nail polish remover, or a razor blade. And next time, don’t bother taping the windows. You don’t get much protection for all that effort.

Cleaning Procedure for Furniture in a Wet Basement or Flooded Building

Don’t try to force open swollen wooden doors and drawers. Take off the back of the piece of furniture to let the air circulate. You will probably be able to open the drawers after they dry.

Solid wood furniture can usually be repaired and cleaned, but wood veneer often separates and warps. Wood alcohol or turpentine applied with a cotton ball may remove white mildew spots on wood. Cream wood restorers with lanolin will help restore good wooden furniture parts.

Upholstered furniture soaks up contaminants from floodwaters and should be cleaned only by a professional. This is also true of carpets and bedding. Unless the piece is an antique or especially valuable, upholstered furniture soaked by floodwaters should probably be thrown out. Get a cost estimate from a professional to see if furniture is worth saving.

Cleaning Procedures for Appliances Cook stove, Radio Refrigerator, TV, Washing Machine etc. in a Wet or Flooded Building

There’s an unexpected danger of shock with some electrical appliances such as TV sets and radios. Certain internal parts store electricity even when the appliance is unplugged. Check the back for a warning label. Appliances with such labels will need professional cleaning. But first, get a cost estimate to see if they are worth saving.

You’ll need appliances such as the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, and vacuum cleaner to help clean your home and contents. The motors or heating elements can usually be cleaned. If you can’t wait for a professional cleaning job, unplug, disassemble, and hose off the appliances thoroughly (with hot water, if possible). Then clean and disinfect them, but do not use detergents.

Clean and disinfect dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers only with water that has been declared safe for drinking. Make sure the sewer line is working before starting a dishwasher or washing machine.

You can speed up the drying process for motors and parts by using a blow dryer using a moisture displacement spray. Moisture displacement sprays, such as electronics parts cleaners or WD-40 lubricating and penetrating oil, are available at hardware or automotive parts stores. The sprays can also stop rust and corrosion until the appliance can be disassembled and cleaned. One word of caution: the spray is flammable. Read and follow label instructions and precautions.

If you are having trouble getting an electric motor to run, first see ELECTRIC MOTOR OVERLOAD RESET SWITCH and then see ELECTRIC MOTOR DIAGNOSTIC GUIDE.

Moving parts such as motors and pulleys will need oil or grease. Contacts and electrical switches can be cleaned with a moisture displacement spray or an aerosol contact cleaner available at electronics or auto parts stores. Allow a motor to run for 30 minutes with no load before you use it. For example, run the vacuum cleaner without connecting the belt.

Watch for stripped or damaged wire insulation. Be sure all appliances are properly grounded. This is most important if there was damage to the wiring from the flood or during cleaning. Appliances that must be grounded have a round third prong on their plugs. Review the information on your electrical system in Step 5.

Watch out: Refrigerators and freezers are more complicated. They may have foam insulation and sealed components that suffered little water damage. But those appliances hold food and may be built with insulation that picks up both mold contamination and sewage pathogens if the appliance was flooded; so they should be disposed of if their insulation cannot be easily replaced.

Best Cleaners to Use for Cleaning Flooded Buildings or Wet Basements or Building Contents

1st choice: Non-sudsing household cleaners

2nd choice: Laundry soap or detergent

Best Disinfectants to Use for Cleaning Flooded Buildings or Wet Basements or Building Contents

1st choice: Commercial disinfectants or sanitizers, such as the quaternary, phenolic, or pine oil based ones. (Check labels for the contents).

2nd choice: 1/4 cup (2 ounces) of laundry bleach for 1 gallon of water.

Also see


Mildew Removers to Use for Cleaning Flooded Buildings or Wet Basements or Building Contents

Technical note: mildew is a small subset of molds that grows only on living plants. If you see or smell what people may call "mildew" in buildings, it's not mildew, it's other molds, potentially more harmful. Details are at

1st choice: Commercial mildew removers or mildewcides

2nd choice: Washing soda or tri-sodium phosphate (available at grocery or paint stores). Use 5 tablespoons per gallon of water.

3rd choice: 1/4 cup (2 ounces) of laundry bleach for 1 gallon of water. See below on using bleach.

How to Use Bleach for cleaning Flooded Buildings or Wet Basements

Liquid chlorine bleach, such as Clorox or Purex bleach, can do a variety of flood clean up jobs. Make sure that 5.25% sodium hypochlorite is the only active ingredient. Bleach that has a scent added to improve its smell is available. Scented bleach is fine for cleanup jobs, but don’t use it to treat drinking water. Don’t use dry bleach or any bleach that does not contain chlorine.

Be careful of fumes and wear rubber gloves. Read the safety instructions on the label. 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 aluminum or linoleum.

Watch out: proper cleanup of mold mean removing the mold, not "killing it with bleach" which can leave harmful particles still in place. See MOLD CLEANUP with BLEACH and also MOLD KILLING GUIDE,

Appliances that have been flooded should be cleaned, disinfected, and checked by a professional, or replaced. If your repair person says an expensive appliance should be replaced, get the opinion in writing and discuss it with your insurance adjuster before you spend money for another one.

Procedure for Cleaning & Disinfecting Clothing and Linens From a Flooded Building or Wet Basement

Even if your washing machine did not get wet, do not use it until you know that the water is safe enough to drink and that your sewer line works. (Perhaps a friend or relative has a washing machine you can use until yours is clean and working.)

Before you wash clothes in the washing machine, run the machine through one full cycle. Be sure to use hot water and a disinfectant or sanitizer.

Take clothes and linens outdoors and shake out dried mud or dirt before you wash them. Hose off muddy items to remove all dirt before you put them in the washer. That way your drain won’t clog.

Check the labels on clothes and linens, and wash them in detergent and warm water if possible. Adding chlorine bleach to the wash cycle will remove most mildew and will sanitize the clothing, but bleach fades some fabrics and damages other fabrics. You can buy other sanitizers, such as pine oil cleaners, at the grocery store to sanitize fabrics that cannot be bleached.

If the label says “Dry Clean Only,” shake out loose dirt and take the item to a professional cleaner. Furs and leather items are usually worth the cost of professional cleaning. If you want to clean leather yourself, wash the mud off and dry the leather slowly away from heat or sunlight.

How to Clean & Salvage Kitchen Items from a Flooded Building

Throw out soft plastic and porous items that probably absorbed whatever the floodwaters carried in. Floodwaters are contaminated, so you may want to wash dishes by hand in a disinfectant. Air dry the disinfected dishes; do not use a dish towel.

Like the washing machine, the dishwasher should also be used only after you know your water is safe to drink and your sewer line works. Clean and disinfect it first. Then use a hot setting to wash your pots, pans, dishes, and utensils. (If you have an energy saving setting, do not use it.)

Salvage Advice for Food from a Flooded Building

Throw any food out that has been touched by floodwaters. Even food in tin cans should be discarded if the cans got wet during the flood because there is no way to be absolutely certain the food inside is safe. Do not keep food in bottles or jars with bottle caps or screw on lids—they do not keep out floodwaters.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture operates a food safety hot- line. Professional home economists can answer your questions about whether to keep or discard food. Call 1-800-535-4555 between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

How to Clean & Salvage Papers, Photographs, and Books, Computer Discs from a Wet or Flooded Building or Basement

Valuable papers such as books, photographs, and stamp collections can be restored with a great deal of effort. They can be rinsed and frozen (in a frost-free freezer or commercial meat locker) until you have time to work on them. A slightly less effective alternative to preserving an item is to place items in a sealed container, such as a plastic bag, with moth crystals.

Papers should be dried quickly when they are thawed or unsealed (a blow dryer will do). Don’t try to force paper products apart, just keep drying them. Photocopy valuable papers and records soon because substances in the water may make them deteriorate.

Storing Moldy Books & Papers

To speed the salvage procedure as well as to reduce or defer cleaning costs, valuable papers, books or similar items that could not be completely and quickly cleaned simply by wiping but that owners want to retain can be safely kept by drying the items completely and storing them in a tightly sealed plastic container to await further treatment.


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 center and have the data transferred to a good disk or tape. Many companies that specialize in restoring computers and computer records after a disaster are members of the Disaster Recovery Institute. To find a member company near you, you can all the Institute at (314) 846-2007.

Cleaning The Yard After a Flood, Hurricane, or Storm

As you get rid of things from your home, don’t turn your yard into a dump. Food and garbage must be hauled away as soon as possible. Other discarded items should be removed as soon as your insurance adjuster has told you how to make sure their loss is covered. Other things you throw away should be removed as soon as your insurance adjuster says it’s okay.

Mosquitoes can carry many diseases, and a flood can create idea conditions for them to breed.

Drain or remove standing water that can become a breeding ground. Dump water out of barrels, old tires, and cans. Check that your gutters are clean and can drain. Ditches and drains also need to be cleaned so they can carry stormwater away from your home.

If you can’t get rid of standing water, use a commercial product that kills mosquito larvae but does not harm other animals. A slightly less effective method is to apply a thin film of cooking oil on the water. Repeat the application within a few days after a rain has disturbed the film.

How to Salvage the Lawn After Area Flooding

Lawns usually survive being underwater for up to four days. Salt water should be hosed off the lawn and shrubs. Some grasses are not damaged by saltwater flooding. Check with your local nursery, garden store, or Cooperative Extension Service. You may have to replace the lawn if there was mud thicker than one inch deep, erosion, or chemicals in the floodwaters.

You will probably see more detailed instructions on how to clean various contents in your local paper or hear them on the radio or TV. Many Cooperative Extension Service offices have more information, especially on animals, vegetables, landscape plants, and household items. Check your telephone book under the name of your county. For example, if you live in Montgomery County, look under Montgomery County Cooperative Extension Service.


Continue reading at Step 7. Check on Financial Assistance - separate article - Voluntary agencies, businesses, insurance, and government disaster programs can help you through recovery.

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Step 6. FLOOD DAMAGED BUILDING CLEAN-UP at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


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