Experience from other floods show that the most common health problem is personal injury for individuals when re-entering and cleaning up their homes.
What steps should I take when I return home following a flood?
Protect your health and safety during cleanup
- Electrocution is a serious risk when entering flood-damaged areas. Do not turn on any electrical appliance (major or small, furnace, water heater, etc.) if it has gotten wet. Have it checked by a qualified service technician. Do not enter your basement if you know or suspect that water has risen above the level of electrical outlets, baseboard heaters and furnace, or is near your electrical panel. If you are unsure, do not step into the water or enter the basement, and contact an electrician.
- When power outages occur during floods, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating, cooling, or cooking can cause carbon monoxide (CO) to build up in a home. Similarly, when generators or gasoline/diesel equipment such as pumps have been running near confined spaces, a buildup of CO may occur. Make sure there is a working carbon monoxide detector when re-entering, especially if drying out your house using a generator.
- It is important to remember that flood waters and surfaces that have been in contact with water may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. The following steps may be taken to protect against personal injury:
- Wear protective clothing including rubber boots, waterproof gloves and eyeprotection. An N95 mask should also be worn to protect against mould and dust.
- Avoid entering flooded rooms or areas of poor visibility prior to draining the water
- Avoid moving large heavy objects by yourself; these objects are heavier than normal when wet and may result in back or other injuries
- Avoid working when fatigued. When your body is tired, you are more prone to accidents and injury. Set a realistic schedule and rest frequently or when tired.
- If you cut or puncture your skin, clean and disinfect the wound. Seek medical attention if you have not had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years or if signs or symptoms of infection, such as redness, swelling or oozing develop.
Step 1: Gather the necessary cleaning supplies
Here are some of the items you may need for the clean-up:
- Trash bags
- Floor brushes
- Cleaning detergents/soap
- Rubber boots
- Rubber gloves
- Face mask (N95 respirator preferable)
Step 2: What to wear when cleaning
- Wear coveralls, rubber boots, rubber gloves, face mask and eye protection. Also, an N95 mask should be worn to protect against mould and increased dust due to clean up efforts.
- Always wash your hands with soap and clean water before preparing or eating food, after toilet use, after participating in flood clean-up activities, and after handling articles contaminated with flood water.
Step 3: Sort damaged items to be repaired or discarded
It can be difficult to throw away items in a home, particularly those with sentimental value. However, keeping certain water-soaked items may be unhealthy. Although it may not initially be visible, mould can start growing on anything that has been damp or wet for two or more days. In general, belongings and household contents, such as upholstered furniture, that are wet and cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried within 24 to 48 hours should be discarded, as they can remain a source of mould and bacterial growth. Building materials such as dry wall and insulation that are wet cannot be salvaged and must be removed and discarded.
Items that are usually thrown away because they can’t be properly cleaned may include:
- Carpet padding
- Leather furniture
- Particle board furniture
Some of the above-mentioned items may be salvageable, however the process may require expert assistance.
Always throw away food that has been exposed to flood water. Discard food and beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops, corks, and home-canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected. The only safe flood-exposed foods are those sealed in metal cans have not been damaged. Thoroughly clean and disinfect with bleach and water all undamaged cans before opening.
Always throw away these flood-exposed items:
- Leather goods
- Medical supplies
- Stuffed animals
- Soft toys
- Household hazardous materials (e.g. paints)
- Household chemicals
- Upholstered furniture
Please note that some of these items are considered hazardous waste and need to be disposed of properly.
Step 4: Clean up one room at a time
How to clean flood-contaminated areas that have non-porous surfaces and can easily be cleaned:
- Drain all water
- Remove visible debris
- Clean with soap and water (using mops, cloths, sponge, brushes, etc.)
- Rinse with clean water (e.g. damp mop)
- Disinfect with a diluted household bleach in water. Bleach straight from the bottle is hazardous and must always be diluted with water. Protect your skin and eyes when mixing. In general, mix 15ml (1 tablespoon) of bleach to 1 litre of water is adequate to disinfect hard surfaces. To treat areas with mould, use 60ml (¼ cup) of bleach per litre of water
Step 5: Dry out your home and remove mildew by lowering the humidity
It may take several weeks to completely dry out a flooded area. It is very important to ensure flooded areas are completely dry to ensure that mould does not grow. If the house is not dried out properly, a musty odour signifying growth of mould, bacteria and other organisms, may remain. It is important not to paint over or cover mould as the mould will continue to grow and pose a health risk. Dry wall and insulation and other similar building materials that are wet must be removed and discarded.
- Drain or mop standing water
- Remove waterlogged items from the home when possible
- Open doors and windows to ventilate your home
- Open closets, drawers and cabinet doors
- Circulate air with fans, ideally pushing air out a window or door
- Run one or more dehumidifiers as needed
- You may need to re-clean the surfaces on which mould is growing several times until the moisture levels no longer support mould growth
- Commercial anti-mould sprays are available to control mould growth during the drying phase. You can also mix household bleach and water and lightly spray surfaces using an atomizer (use 60ml (¼ cup) of bleach per litre of water)
Professional cleaners vs. do-it-yourself
Professional cleaning services are also an option and may be advisable for certain situations. If you are doing it yourself, it is very important to ensure that the spaces are completely dry in order to control mould. Mould spores are all around us, waiting to grow and spread into mould when given moisture. Keeping things dry and the humidity low is the best way to control mould growth.
- During the flood clean up, supervise children and pets and keep them out of the area until clean-up has been completed. Remember to always keep children within arm’s reach in and around water.
- Replace sand in sandboxes and clean any play structures that may have been contaminated.
- Till garden beds. Do not consume any produce from vegetable gardens impacted by flood water. After re-establishing garden beds, remember to always wash produce before consumption.
- Properly remediate/clean-up any areas where fluids may have leaked from vehicles such as cars, boats, ATVs, etc.
- Standing water can pose various health risks (e.g., pails, old tires, or other containers with water can become places where mosquitoes breed) and should be removed.