Cleaning Up After Your Home Floods
A flood can be devastating for your home, property, and especially your emotional and mental well-being—but all is not lost. Take the proper steps to minimize lasting damage, maximize your insurance opportunities, and get your home dry, clean, and livable again.
Before anything, educate yourself and members of your household about the following flood safety precautions to ensure no one gets injured:
Shut Off Your Electricity
Stand on a dry spot and use a dry stick to switch off your power. Your electronic devices and appliances can shock you if they haven’t been unplugged.  Do not use them until they have been taken apart, cleaned, and dried.
Avoid Walking or Driving Through a Flood
Drowning is the number one cause of death during floods, as just six inches of moving water is enough to knock you off your feet. Keep in mind, more people drown in their cars than anywhere else, so don’t risk walking or driving through flooded areas.
Avoid Electrical Wires and Power Lines
Electrical current travels through water, making electrocution a major danger in flooded areas. If you see a downed power line or dangerous electrical wires, stay away and report it to local authorities and contact your utility company.
Watch Your Step
Floods can scatter debris such as broken glass, nails, and garbage around your neighborhood and home. Be careful where you step and stay on the lookout for animals that may have been displaced. They make seek shelter in your home and could become aggressive if they feel threatened.
Check for Gas Leaks
Destruction from flooding can cause dangerous gas leaks. Use a flashlight to carefully inspect for damage and turn your gas off is there is any risk of a leak.
How To Drain Your Home After a Flood
If you have a basement or cellar, it’s important to drain your basement slowly after a flood. Rushing it can cause serious damage to the foundation of your home. Once the floodwaters are no longer on top of the ground, use a pump (not gasoline-powered) to reduce the water level to about two or three feet. Mark the water level and check the next day to see if it went up or down. If it went up, it’s not ready to drain. Do not pump until the next day. If it waterline crept down a bit, continue pumping .
How To Clean & Dry Your Home After a Flood
After a flood, it is important to stay calm and make a plan of action. Try not to get overwhelmed, you can only take on so much, so be sure to ask for help. Break your tasks into smaller steps and follow them. Follow the guide below if it makes sense for your home.
Before Anything, Photograph the Damage
Insurers will need these photos to assess the breadth of damage.
Take Care of Yourself First
Make sure you get enough food and rest throughout the ordeal. If you have any medical conditions that require prescriptions, check if they are damaged and replace accordingly. Ask local authorities if your tap water is safe. If it has been contaminated, buy bottled water to drink and to wash your hands with regularly, as floods can spread dangerous chemicals and germs. If you have children or pets, reassure them that everything will be fine and make sure they are out of harm’s way.
Ask for Help
Cleaning up after a flood can be a lot of work. If you need help, ask for it. Solicit your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, government disaster programs, and local volunteer groups to see who can help out.
If any parts of your ceiling are sagging, create a ‘poker’ by attaching a nail to the end of a long stick. Stand away from the sagging area and use the poker to poke a hole at the edge of the sagging area to allow the water to drain.
Rescue Your Valuables and Irreplaceable Items
Collect your money, jewelry, insurance papers, photos, heirlooms, and any other valuable items. Wash the mud off and put them in a freezer overnight to avoid mildew.
Get Fresh Air
If the weather permits, open windows and doors to reduce moisture and speed up the drying process. Open closets, cabinets, and drawers, and use fans and dehumidifiers to increase air circulation.
Especially important if more rain is on the way, use plastic sheets or trash bags to patch holes and prevent further damage.
Check for Leaking Pipes
Turn off your water supply if any pipes are broken or leaking.
Shovel Out the Mud
Clear out as much mud as possible before it dries. Once dried, it is much more difficult to remove.
Take Apart and Clean Appliances
Disassemble and disinfect all appliances before letting them air dry. Clean out heating and cooling systems to avoid blowing dirty air into your home, which can be a hazard to your health.
Hose Down Your Walls
This also includes your electrical outlets, switch boxes, and light sockets for your lamps. Disinfect with a quaternary, phenolic, or pine oil-based sanitizer. Do not turn the electricity back on until your home is completely dry.
Mop Excess Water
Immediately after hosing down the flooded areas of your home, use a mop, wet vac, or squeegee to remove excess water.
Check for Structural Damage
Hire a professional to repair any cracked foundation walls, shifted stairs, and slanted floors.
Mold Prevention at Home Following a Flood
Assess the damage to your flooring and furniture and decide what can be salvaged and what must be replaced. Most mattresses, pillows, carpets, and books will have to be thrown away if they got soaked, as porous materials can trap mold . Food, cosmetics, medical supplies, stuffed animals, and baby toys must be thrown away after coming into contact with floodwater.
Mix 1-1/2 cups of household bleach with one gallon of water to thoroughly disinfect the area and prevent mold. Investigate any odors, as it is possible for mold to hide in walls . Consider hiring a professional to clean and repair your home or reupholster your furniture.
Floodproof For the Future
If your home has flooded once, it is likely it can become flooded again. To prevent and protect against future flooding, consider elevating your home, installing floodwalls, using dry floodproofing to seal your home, or wet floodproofing with water-resistant material . Ask your local building department what flood protection level is required in your area and consider relocating if you do not want to deal with floodproofing and the risk of more future floods.
Most homeowners’ insurance covers damage caused by wind, storms, and broken water pipes—but not surface flooding. Select policies may cover basement flooding if caused by sewer backup or sump pump failure. If you have flood insurance, most of your losses caused by surface flooding should be covered. Read your insurance policy, list and photograph your damage, and make a thorough claim.
- “Repairing Your Flooded Home.” Red Cross.
- “Flood Cleanup to Protect Indoor Air Quality.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 16 Aug. 2018, www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/flood-cleanup-protect-indoor-air-quality.
- “Flood Resilience: A Basic Guide for Water and Wastewater Utilities.” Environmental Protection Agency.
- “Tips to Prevent Post-Flooding Mold at Home: Clean It, Dry It or Discard It.” What Is Disaster Assistance? | FEMA.gov, Department of Homeland Security, 7 Sept. 2012, www.fema.gov/news-release/2012/09/07/tips-prevent-post-flooding-mold-home-clean-it-dry-it-or-discard-it.