Flooding affects many households each year and takes a great toll on property. Handling water damage from burst pipes or a leaking roof is a challenge. However, floodwater–which is contaminated with silt, chemicals, and raw sewage–is more challenging and fewer items may be salvaged. Understanding which items you can keep and which ones you should throw away after a flood saves you wasted time and effort.
What to Save
Non-Porous Items. Most non-porous household items can be carefully cleaned and sanitized. This includes impermeable dishware such as glass, porcelain, silver, and hard plastic. Rinse all mud away and then boil metal dishes and utensils for 10 minutes or more. Non-metallic dishes can be rinsed and then sanitized in a bleach and water solution made from 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach to one gallon of water.
Appliances. You can salvage most appliances as long as all inner components are thoroughly cleaned, dried, and checked by professionals. Hidden pockets of moisture or debris left inside these items can prove very dangerous, making it is essential that you leave this job to professionals.
Textiles. Save clothing and other washable fabrics by washing them as soon as possible. Rinse them, and then disinfect them with bleach or another fabric-safe alternative. Mildew sets in fast and makes cleaning more difficult, or even impossible. If you are unable to wash the clothes for a while, put them in a place where they can dry out quickly until you can sanitize them.
Photographs. Most people assume that cherished family photos are destroyed in flooding, but this is not always the case. Photos can be saved if you get to them in time. You’ll need to rinse off the contaminated water and silt, shake off water droplets, and then gradually dry them out in a container filled with a desiccant, such is silica or clay cat litter.
Carpet. Carpeting can only be saved if the flooding was caused by clean water or grey water, from burst water pipes or an overflowing washing machine, for example. It’s also important that the carpet hasn’t been left wet for more than 48 hours. After 48 hours, mold and bacteria have had ample time to colonize, and carpet should be thrown out. In the case of weather-related flooding, all carpeting is contaminated and should be discarded.
Documents. Important documents will survive if you can freeze them to prevent mildew and then clean and dry them slowly later.
What to Get Rid Of
Food and Medication. Throw away all food and medicines. Even canned goods and items wrapped in plastic should be discarded because there is a chance that the packaging has been compromised.
Beds. Mattresses cannot be sufficiently cleaned and sanitized and should be thrown away.
Furniture with upholstery. Some upholstered furniture can be salvaged if you hire a professional cleaner, but the longer it has been sitting in floodwaters, the more difficult sanitizing and deodorizing will be. Unless you really need the furniture, it is wiser just to get rid of it.
Furniture with veneer or laminate. Discard furniture covered in wood veneer or laminate. The only way to save these pieces is if the wood underneath the veneer is solid wood and not particle board, which swells and crumbles in water.
Toys. All toys that have been through a flood should be thrown away. They are difficult to sanitize and it isn’t worth the risk to your child’s health.
When you start the cleanup process after a flood, section an area into zones for items to throw away and items you to save. Make sure everyone involved in the cleanup knows which zone is which and what kinds of items you are looking to keep. This helps ensure you won’t accidentally get rid of something that can be saved.