Cleaning up after water damage may not sound all that appealing, but it is a must after water damage has wreaked havoc to your home. There are many decisions that you have to make once you start cleaning up your house, but perhaps one of the most difficult choices that you have to make is what things to keep and what things to discard.
The rule on keeping and discarding things is simple: if you cannot wash or disinfect a certain thing, throw it away. Remember that water damage can also become sources of bacteria, so disinfection is necessary. Generally speaking, if the damage is caused by contaminated water, you must hire a restoration professional to help you in segregating your things. But if the damage is caused by clean water, most often than not, your stuff can be cleaned and restored.
Things to consider in cleaning, repairing, and disinfecting your home
Let us first define the three terms. Cleaning is simply removing debris, such as mud and soil, from an item surface. In repairing, damaged items are restored back to its working state. They may not be completely returned into their original conditions, but at least they can be used again. Disinfecting is more than just cleaning – it involves destruction of potentially disease-causing microorganisms, making an item safe to use.
Before you start cleaning, repairing, and disinfecting your home, make sure that your home is stabilized first. If you cannot do this, you might consider moving out all your stuff to a stabilized environment so as to prevent further water damage from occurring in your salvaged items.
You also need to assess the amount and type of water damage in an item. Generally speaking, an item submerged in clean water is easier to clean rather than an item soaked in contaminated or sewage water. The type of water damage will dictate the technique that you have to perform to be able to restore an item.
Things will be a bit easier if you have insurance, in case water damage was due to flood. If so, you need to call your insurance agent first and ask if your insurance covers the damage. List all the damages incurred, and document them properly through photos and videos.
Cleaning up the different areas of the house
The actual cleaning up process starts with shoveling out the mud inside the house. Once you have removed as much mud from your house as possible, spray clean water on the hard surfaces using a hose or garden sprayer. This will rinse off mud which are hard to remove.
Afterwards, clean and disinfect all the surfaces by scrubbing hard surfaces using hot water and a heavy-duty cleaner. To disinfect, use ¼ cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water. You can also use of commercial disinfectants available in the market.
Ceiling and walls
Wallboards absorb water easily, so you need to remove the water-damaged areas of the wallboard, plaster, and paneling, especially if they have been damaged with contaminated water. Still keeping these wallboards will pose some serious health hazards since they may already harbor mold and other microorganisms.
However, if the wallboards were only damaged by clean rainwater, you can still keep them, provided that you let them dry. To make drying faster, you can cut a 4- to 12-inch-high section from the bottom and top parts of the wall. This will facilitate air movement, thereby drying the wallboards faster. When cutting the boards, avoid cutting through pipes, ductworks, and wiring. A useful tip is to use only the tip of the saw blade that you are going to use for cutting.
For your plasters and wall paneling, ensure adequate air circulation so that they can be thoroughly dried.
Different kinds of insulation require different treatments. For Styrofoam insulation, hosing them off is enough. On the other hand, fiberglass batteries should be discarded if they have incurred so much damage. If not, they need to be properly dried. This is not an option for blown-in cellulose since these materials tend to carry water for a long time, and hence should be replaced.
Ceilings and walls must be vacuumed to remove mildew. Afterwards, they must be washed with disinfectant. Make sure that as you do these things, you are wearing the proper protective mask to shield you from breathing mold spores.
Wood subflooring must be thoroughly dried, and the drying up process can take weeks and even months to complete. The floor coverings must be removed to allow the wood subflooring to dry completely. It is also advisable to open the windows of the house so that there is as much exposure to air as possible, facilitating in the tedious drying up process of the floorboards.
Carpets and rugs must be dried as soon as possible. Keep only those that were covered by clean rainwater; otherwise, discard it for health reasons. You must also discard the carpeting if it was exposed to water for 24 hours or more.
Cleaning carpets and rugs involves draping them outdoors and hosing them down. Use a disinfectant to remove soiled spots. The musty odor of these things is another problem – rinse them with a mixture of 2 tablespoons of bleach and 1 gallon of water, but take note that this cannot be applied to wool or nylon carpets. Before placing these dried-up carpets to their original places on the floor, dry those areas first. Padding should be replaced since it is difficult to clean.
In case the carpet is impossible to remove from the floor, make the most of what you can do to dry it. Use a vacuum dehumidifier for drying, and also maximize air circulation by using a fan to ventilate it.
For vinyl floorings and tiles, remove them first so as to allow drying of the subfloor underneath.
The cleaning and drying up process for wood floors are different, since wood floors must be dried gradually. Rapid drying can make the wooden floors prone to cracking or splitting. Restoration companies usually force air through the underside of wooden floorboards to somehow accelerate the drying up process without causing them to crack. To prevent buckling, hardwood floorboards must be removed. Also, before you attempt to repair the wooden floorboards, clean and dry them first.
Just like walls, floors must also be vacuumed to remove mildew from accumulating. This should be followed with a thorough washing and rinsing using a disinfectant. A two-strap protective mask must also be used to prevent breathing in the spores.
Since the basement is the lowest part of the house, it is possible that there is still water in there if the water is caused by floods. Therefore, start cleaning it up by pumping out about 2-3 feet of water everyday. Draining the basement in a quick manner will make the floors crack and collapse, since the pressure outside the walls will be greater than the pressure inside.
Kitchen facilities and utensils
It is very important to clean the kitchen because this is where food is prepared. Therefore, you should know what to do with kitchenware that has been damaged by water. For dinnerware made of glass, porcelain, china, or plastic, you must disinfect them using a solution consisting of 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach and a gallon of hot water. Do not use a towel when drying them up; air-drying the wares is enough.
The chlorine bleach solution instructed above can also be used to clean the cupboard and counter. Make sure to clean these first before returning the dishes inside them.
Immerse silverware, metal utensils, and pots and pans in boiling water for 10 full minutes to disinfect them. In this case, chlorine bleach must not be used because it causes metals to darken.
Furniture and household items
All salvaged furniture, beddings, rugs, and clothing must be taken outside to dry. You can also make use of an air conditioner or dehumidifier to remove accumulated moisture in these items. If these appliances are not available to you, opening at least two windows to let air circulate will do.
If you suspect that mold has already developed in these furniture and household items, brush them off outside the house so as to prevent scattering spores inside the house.
In general, mattresses are not salvageable and must be thrown away for health safety reasons. Same goes for wood veneered furniture, since the cost of repair is usually higher than the cost of buying one. Hence, it is not worth the effort.
For upholstered furniture, let restoration professionals handle them as these may have absorbed contaminants due to water damage. Solid wood furniture can be kept, unless there is severe water damage.
Most toys must be discarded, unless you can totally clean or disinfect them. Generally, stuff toys must be discarded. Don’t attempt to keep toys that cannot be properly cleaned, since there is a risk that the baby or toddler might put the toy in his mouth, resulting into a possible disease.
Important documents, as well as other materials made of paper such as photographs and books, should be properly and immediately treated in order to be saved. Freezing is done to salvage paper, while cleaning it will come afterwards. Before freezing, mud should be removed first, and the papers must be kept in plastic bags before putting them inside a frost-free freezer. Freezing prevents further damage from occurring, as well as protects the papers against mold growth. They should be dried patiently.
Once you have dried the paper, expose it to a cool, well-ventilated, and dry place to eliminate the musty odor that usually comes with dried paper. If this is not possible, placing the paper beside an open box containing baking soda will do the trick. Make sure though that the baking soda and paper do not come in contact with each other.
Generally, professional help must be sought for electrical appliances, though you can already start cleaning the exterior. Doing so can prevent water-damaged appliances from getting damaged further, plus it will also prevent you from getting electrocuted. Metallic appliances should be properly grounded to prevent electric shocks.
Recovering from water damage requires lots of hard work and patience, but it not impossible as long as you have the knowledge on how to clean your house effectively after experiencing water damage.