14 Things You Absolutely Must Get Rid of if Your Home Floods
Floodwaters can carry all manner of foul things, from dirt and mold spores to sewage. Some household items that have been in a flood can be cleaned, but others should be thrown out immediately.
Some flood damage is immediately visible—cars, trash cans, and even trees swept away by strong currents. When the water recedes and flooded homes are once again above water level, the time-consuming cleanup process begins. That’s when many household items as well as materials used in the construction of the house will have to be thrown away and replaced if they can’t be safely cleaned.
Before you start tossing things out, however, take photos of everything in your home so you’ll have a record to show your insurance agent.
Drywall, which is made from compressed gypsum particles and covered with a paper liner, will not withstand saturation. The panels will delaminate, swell, and provide a mushy environment for mold to grow. You don’t have to rip off entire panels, however. Instead, measure 20 inches above the floodwater line, then cut and remove the drywall below the line. For example, if the floodwater reached a height of 6 inches on the wall, remove the lower 2.5 feet of drywall and replace it.
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If floodwaters got into HVAC ducting that lies beneath the main floor, the ducting should be replaced as soon as possible. The water probably left behind dirt and mud deposits, and because ducts are enclosed spaces, mold and mildew are likely to grow. In addition, other contaminants in the water may remain in the ductwork. While duct-cleaning services are available, they’re often inadequate for removing the hazards left behind after a flood.
Insulation has to maintain its loft in order to provide thermal value. When insulation gets wet, it compresses and no longer offers adequate R-value. Wet insulation also provides a hospitable environment for mold and mildew to get a foothold. As with drywall, you don’t have to tear out all the insulation—only to a height 20 inches above the highest floodwater mark.
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Upholstered sofas, easy chairs, and recliners should all be tossed out if they were standing in floodwater. The soft padding and fabric now present a risk of mold and mildew growth, and it’s impossible to clean these materials. But suppose only a portion of the piece of furniture is upholstered, such as a padded seat on a piano stool. In that case, you may be able to replace the old seat with a new one and clean the rest of the item with disinfectant.
Wall-to-wall carpeting that’s been in floodwater can’t be adequately cleaned of dirt and bacteria, and the sooner it’s removed, the better chance you’ll have of salvaging the subfloor that lies beneath. The carpet and the pad should both be torn out to let the subfloor dry. In some cases, area rugs should also be tossed. If a rug is too large to throw in a washer or power-wash outdoors, if the dye is bleeding, or if the rug is coming apart—get rid of it.
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Items Containing Particleboard
Cabinets, toy boxes, and bookshelves that contain particleboard—which readily absorbs water—won’t survive being in a flood. Particleboard is a compressed material that will delaminate and lose its structural integrity when it’s saturated. Unless you can cut away and replace the damaged portion of the particleboard, you’ll probably have to throw the item away.
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Warped Hardwood Furniture
Hardwood chairs and other hardwood items might be salvageable if they didn’t sit in floodwaters for more than a day or two. It may be possible to clean and refinish them. After several days underwater, however, saturated hardwood can expand and warp—wood joints may loosen, and veneer can curl away from the surface. When this happens, the damage is usually beyond repair, and it might be better to throw the item away than try to restore it.
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One of the first things that should be thrown into the dumpster after a flood is a saturated mattress. Like upholstered furniture, mattresses that have been soaking up floodwater cannot be safely cleaned, and they will always present a health risk. Mold and mildew can quickly develop, and the mattress will never again be sanitary for sleeping.
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Being a natural material, leather can be permanently damaged by floodwater. Suppose the item, such as a patent leather shoe, has only a few water spots. In that case, you might be able to salvage it by cleaning the spots with a mild detergent, following up with rubbing alcohol, and then applying a leather conditioner. However, suede items and nubuck boots are almost impossible to clean and restore, and they should be tossed.
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Made from lightweight, porous materials, acoustical tiles quickly absorb water, dirt, and contaminants, and they can’t be cleaned. This type of tile is frequently seen in drop ceilings in basements, so it’s at high risk of damage during floods. Plus, even when acoustical tiles are damaged by clean water from a pipe leak, they will develop dark yellow stains, so bite the bullet and throw them out.
Items With Gaps
Many items made from plastic, glass, and stainless steel are salvageable because they’re nonporous and can be sterilized. But if you have items with gaps, such as computer keyboards or manual egg timers, they should be thrown away unless they can be entirely disassembled and cleaned. Anything with holes or cracks where floodwater could seep in but you can’t get inside to clean it is trash.
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Face cream, eyeshadow, mascara, and other cosmetics can be pricey, so it’s understandable you’d want to salvage them. But if any unsealed cosmetic containers were submerged in floodwater, it isn’t a good idea to try and clean them. Small bits of bacteria can get beneath even tight lids and contaminate the product. For safety’s sake, buy new cosmetics.
Commercially sealed foods, such as cans of beans, soup, and stew, can often be saved, although the can must be sterilized with rubbing alcohol before opening. Unfortunately, all those home-canned jars of applesauce, jelly, and salsa must be thrown out because it’s impossible to ensure the safety of the food within. Dump out the contents and ditch the rings and screw tops, but save the glass jars, boil them, and reuse them next year.
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Electrical power often goes out during a flood, so foods in the refrigerator can spoil even if the fridge is not sitting in floodwater. The general rule is to discard any refrigerated food that has been exposed to temps above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours or longer. The refrigerator itself might be salvageable if it didn’t get wet. If, however, it was in sitting water, the water likely saturated its elements and insulation, and now it is no longer safe to use. It’s time to replace the refrigerator.