After the Flood
Following a flood, it is important to restore your home to good order as soon as possible to protect your health and prevent further damage to your house and its contents.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has prepared the following handy checklist to help you organize your clean up. However, this information is provided as self-help advice only.
Before you Begin
Exercise caution when re-entering your home. Avoid electrical shock by wearing rubber boots in an area flooded with more than 5 cm (2 in.) of standing water.
Keep extension cords out of the water. If the power is on in the flooded area, shut it off immediately at the breaker box.
If conditions are wet around the breaker box, stand on a dry board and use a dry stick to turn off the switch.
Consult with your local electrical utility if you require assistance.
Make sure the building is structurally safe. Look for buckled walls or floors. Watch for holes in the floor, broken glass and other potentially dangerous debris.
Flood water can be heavily contaminated with sewage and other pollutants, and pose a serious health hazard. If through taste, colour or odour you suspect that your drinking water has been contaminated, purify it before drinking either by boiling it for 10 minutes or adding purification tablets. If you choose to chlorinate your water with a non-perfumed bleaching compound, add one drop per litre of water, or three drops per litre of cloudy water, and allow it to stand for 30 minutes before consuming.
Household items that have been flood-damaged will have to be bagged, tagged and discarded according to local regulations.
Assemble equipment and supplies, which should include:
- gloves, masks and other protective gear
- pails, mops, squeegees and plastic garbage bags
- chlorine bleach and non-ammonia dishwashing detergent (Note: Never mix bleach with ammonia since the fumes produced together are toxic.)
- large containers for soaking bedding and clothing, and lines to hang them until they are dry.
- You may also need to rent extension cords, submersible pumps, wet/dry shop vacuums, a carbon monoxide sensor, and dehumidifiers, fans or heaters.
Remember to store all valuable papers that have been damaged in a freezer until they are needed.
Record details of flood damage, by photograph or video if possible. Register the amount of damage to your home with both your insurance agent and local municipality immediately.
Before Moving Back In
Once the flood waters have receded, you must not live in your house until several steps have been followed:
- the regular water supply has been inspected and officially declared safe for use
- every flood-contaminated room has been thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and surface-dried
- all contaminated dishes and utensils have been thoroughly washed and disinfected either by using boiling water or by using a sterilizing solution of one part chlorine bleach to four parts water, then rinse dishes and utensils thoroughly
adequate toilet facilities are available. (For more information, consult your local health authority.)
Heating Systems and Appliances
Do not use flooded appliances, electrical outlets, switch boxes or fuse-breaker panels until they have been checked by your local utility.
Whether you use a wood, gas or electrical heating system, ensure that you have it thoroughly inspected by a qualified technician before using it again. If they have been soaked, replace the furnace blower motor, switches and controls. Flooded forced-air heating ducts and return-duct pans should be either cleaned or replaced.
Replace filters and insulation inside furnaces, water heaters, refrigerators and freezers if they have been wet. However, it is often cheaper to replace this equipment.
Flush and disinfect floor drains and sump pumps using undiluted chlorine bleach. Scrub them to remove greasy dirt and grime. Clean or replace footing drains outside the foundation when they are clogged. Consult a professional for advice or service.
Any of the following food items exposed to flood waters must be disposed of:
- the contents of your freezer or refrigerator
- all meats
- all fresh fruit and vegetables
- all boxed foods
- all bottled drinks and products in jars, including home preserves – since the area under the seal of jars and bottles cannot be properly disinfected
- all medicines, cosmetics and other toiletries.
- all undamaged canned goods must be thoroughly washed and disinfected. Any cans with large dents or that reveal seepage must also be disposed of.
(A reminder: Anything that stays wet long enough will grow mould, and mould can make people sick. Dry everything quickly to avoid future health problems.)
First Steps in Clean-Up
Immediately add about 2 litres of chlorine bleach to standing water.
Do not occupy a house that still contains standing water.
Remove water from your flooded home slowly. Drain it in stages – about a third of the volume daily. If the ground is still saturated and water is removed too quickly, it could cause the walls or the floor to buckle.
Use pumps or pails to remove standing water, followed by a wet/dry shop vacuum to mop up the rest.
For instructions on how to disinfect and restore wells and cisterns, contact your local or provincial health authorities or emergency measures organization.
Do not heat your home to more than 4 degrees Celsius (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) until all water is removed.
If you use gasoline-, kerosene-, or propane-powered pumps or heaters, buy and install a carbon monoxide sensor. Combustion devices can produce large amounts of lethal carbon monoxide when out of tune or improperly ventilated.
Dirt and Debris
Remove all soaked and dirty materials and debris. Break out walls and remove drywall, wood panelling and insulation at least 500 mm (20 in.) above the high-water line. Remove residual mud and soil, furniture, appliances, clothing and bedding.
Hose down any dirt sticking to walls and solid-wood furniture. Then rinse several times.
Wash and wipe down all surfaces and structures with chlorine bleach, ensuring there is adequate cross ventilation to remove fumes. Then rinse again. Wear a charcoal respirator (which can be obtained at major safety supply or hardware stores) when using bleach in any closed space.
Wipe down surfaces that have not been directly flood-affected using a solution of one part chlorine bleach to four parts cold or tepid water, mixed with a small amount of non-ammonia dishwashing detergent. Then rinse.
Ventilate or dehumidify the house until it is completely dry. Tape clear food wrap to sections of material. If these sections are still damp inside, they will turn darker than the surrounding material. Dry until this does not occur.
Rinse, then clean all floors as quickly as possible. Replace flooring that has been deeply penetrated by flood water or sewage.
Clean all interior wall and floor cavities with a solution of water, chlorine bleach and non-ammonia dishwashing detergent and dry thoroughly.
If regular checks reveal mould, kill it with chlorine bleach. Mould can lead to serious health problems.
Carpets must be dried within two days. For large areas, hire a qualified professional to do the job. Carpets soaked with sewage must be discarded immediately.
Water-Damaged Heirlooms and Antiques
Time is of the essence to prevent further damage. Wet items will be heavy and fragile, so keep them well-supported when handling, drying, or freezing. Relocate items to a cool, dry location as soon as possible. Freeze books, paper, and textiles until they can be properly treated, and consult a conservator before attempting any repairs. If items are contaminated with sewage, take proper health precautions.
If dirty items are saturated, rinse with clean water if they are strong enough to withstand it; exceptions are paper, fragile items, or those with loose parts or soluble paints and adhesives. If items are only damp, let mud dry and then brush it off.
To minimize mould growth, move items to a cool, dry area within 48 hours and set up fans. Alternatively, textiles, paper, and books can be frozen and a conservator called for advice. Wet mould will smear if wiped; let it dry then brush it off out-of-doors. Materials not affected by alcohol can be lightly misted with isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) to kill mould spores. Note: Mould is a health hazard. If present, wear a face mask and disposable gloves.
(Other than Upholstery)
Separate dark- and light-coloured items to prevent staining; if colours run, rinse in clean water until the water runs clear.
Remove any metal attachments and dry separately.
Blot excess water, lay items flat, shape them, and air-dry quickly using fans; alternatively, place textiles individually on supports, bag separately, then freeze for treatment later.
If staining has occurred, do not allow items to dry; bag them wet and freeze, then seek the advice of a conservator.
First priority is to keep the wooden structure from warping or splitting, so dry slowly; discoloration of the finish such as "blooming" is secondary and can be dealt with later. Use caution with flaking paint and lifting veneers. Joints may be loose if flue is water-soluble.
Open doors and drawers immediately so they do not swell insitu and become impossible to remove when dry; do not force if stuck.
Blot excess water.
Lay freezer or wax paper on lifting veneer and apply weights.
Air-dry using fans; if necessary, shelter the item under polyethylene sheeting to slow drying.
For upholstered furniture remove cushions but not upholstery, and blot excess moisture from both; raise furniture onto blocks and place fans underneath.
Move ferrous (iron-containing) metals to a dry location as soon as possible, blot excess water, blow hollow areas with warm (not hot) air, and air-dry.
Metals other than iron are less prone to water damage.
Most items can be air-dried. Inks or dyes that have run can be "wicked up" with the corner of a sheet of blotting paper or paper towel. Do not blot! Stains and distortions should be treated by a paper conservator.
Bag or wrap in freezer paper all books printed on glossy paper, and freeze immediately to prevent pages from sticking together.
For other books, if not saturated fan out pages and air-dry, using fans (set on cool) to circulate air; if saturated, freeze as soon as possible and thaw as time permits.
Remove documents from wet storage boxes or coloured file folders; keep supported.
Do not try to separate pages if stuck together.
Where possible remove pins, paper clips, and staples to avoid corrosion.
Air-dry on blotting paper or paper towels, or freeze.
Framed Items (i.e. Prints, Drawings, Watercolours)
Remove items from frames, lay face up on blotting paper or other absorbent material, and air-dry.
For vellum or parchment documents, and pastel, charcoal, or chalk drawings, call a conservator.
Oil and Acrylic Paintings on Canvas
Remove excess water by tilting and draining from a corner.
Relocate paintings to a dry area; use fans to increase air circulation.
Remove paintings from frames unless there is adhesion of the paint to the frame; do not remove paintings from stretchers.
Place damaged or highly textured paintings face up and raise on blocks for adequate air circulation.
Paintings with minimal texture should be placed face down on a padded, absorbent surface covered with tissue paper, if the stretcher is warping, place weights on the corners.
Contact a conservator immediately for further advice and/or assistance.
Some early photographs (i.e. tintypes, daguerreotypes) will not survive immersion. Store them in waterproof containers away from potential leaks. If other types of photographs are stuck together do not try to separate them. Prioritize for salvage as follows:
- contemporary colour prints;
- black and white prints;
- black and white negatives.
- Most photographs can be either air-dried (face up) or frozen, then thawed and air-dried.
What to Keep or Discard
Remove and replace all insulation materials and other articles that have been soaked, including particleboard furniture, mattresses, box springs, stuffed toys, pillows, as well as furniture coverings, paddings and cushions.
Frames on high-quality furniture can often by salvaged. However, they must first be cleaned, disinfected and rinsed, then dried by ventilation away from direct sunlight or heat. Drying too quickly can cause warping and cracking.
Scrape heavy dirt from washable clothes. Rinse and wash them several times in cold water treated with one cup of chlorine bleach per washer load, and dry quickly.
Consult your lawyer to determine whether flood-damaged documents or just the information in them must be retained.
The yard area should also be cleared of all debris and refuse, which can provide a breeding ground for bacteria and mould.
Keep children away from contaminated areas during clean-up operations.