How to clean up after a flood?
How to clean up after a flood? As if the flood was not stressful enough you now have to clean up the mess. Cleaning up afterwards is hard work and the situation comes with many risks. Some of the things you need to keep in mind when planning to clean up after a flood include –
- Be prepared before the season
- Know the risks and how to handle them
- Contact insurance company
- Getting prepared
- Seek help
- Clean up
- Dry everything out
DISCLAIMER: This information is a guide to help you after a flood event. It does not override the advice given by your insurance agency or the local authorities. Special items such as your car need professional treatment to stay functional and maybe written off by your insurance agency. Better to be prepared and move valuable items to higher ground.
The mess left after a flood has many risks that can cause serious illness and injury. You need to be prepared and risk manage the situation.
Hazards such as diseases, faecal matter, generator fumes, sharp objects, chemicals, dehydration just to name a few.
Stressed out and having problems remembering what equipment you need, how to clean up and what can be cleaned up. Download your free Flood Clean-up Checklist.
Be prepared before the season
I’m sure you have seen what happens in the shops once a disaster warning is given and after the event. Panic buying takes over and shops are unable to resupply causing empty shelving. Best be prepared before the season when the shelves are full.
Put together an emergency cleaning kit as part of your emergency kit. Having all the required chemicals, mop, rags and protective equipment means you can start cleaning sooner. The longer you leave wet carpets and mud the smellier it will get as the microbes multiply.
Keep your kit in a waterproof container and store it up high to keep it out of the floodwater. If you evacuate take your emergency kit with you.
Know your risks
Floodwaters are dangerous and the mud and debris left behind are equally as dangerous. You need to follow instructions from the police regarding evacuation and re-entry to the area, as the police are preventing looting. Listen to the radio for advice from local authorities and utility providers.
- Floodwaters – carry hazards and hide others – missing manhole covers, fallen trees
- Diseases from sewerage, soil-borne microbes, dead animals, rotting food and rubbish
- Sewerage, the system fills with flood water overflowing into houses and the street
- Industrial chemicals, get knocked over or washed away
- Pesticides & Herbicides, domestic and industrial
- Wildlife such as snakes, spiders, rats and frightened animals (domestic and wild)
- Floating debris can knock you over or cause injury
- Trip hazards submerged under the water (garden beds, fallen trees, rubbish)
- Washed out areas such as manhole covers, washed-out bridges, potholes
- Sharp objects, broken glass and submerged objects can cut or puncture the skin causing infection.
If there is a flood risk, the authorities will give out warnings and possibly evacuation orders. Have the radio on to stay up to date with warnings.
If you evacuate turn off the power, water and gas before leaving. Take your emergency kit and stay tuned to the radio for advice and to know when you can return to your home.
Electricity – power and water pose a huge danger. If the whole area is flooded the energy provider ‘may’ disconnect power to the area but don’t assume they have. Assume all electricity lines are live.
Turn the power off at the switchboard before the flood hits or if you evacuate beforehand.
If your roof is full of water or has roof damaged DON’T enter until the energy provider has disconnected the power at the street as the mains in the roof will still be alive.
DON’T turn the power back on until it has been checked by a ‘licenced professional electrician’. Any appliances that got wet will also need to be verified as safe for use by the electrician too.
Gas – again make sure you turn it off before the flood or before evacuation. Have the system checked before turning it back on as there may be damage to the line from falling trees or similar.
Gas appliances could be full of mud, water and debris so they should be cleaned and checked by a licenced gas fitter before use.
Generators and water pumps – don’t run a petrol or diesel-powered equipment inside any building as the exhaust fumes are odourless and deadly (CO2). People have died after cyclones in the past when they had their generator inside their home.
Diseases and infections – the microbes and chemicals in the flood water and mud can cause infection and skin irritation. Getting floodwater in your eyes, nose or mouth can cause infection.
Contamination of existing injuries or being injured in the environment can cause serious infections. If you get injured after any disaster event you should seek medical help as soon as possible as you may need antibiotics or a tetanus injection.
Cleaning chemicals – to clean down the building and disinfect it you will need some strong cleaning products such as high strength disinfectants, chlorine bleach, ammonia and the like.
DON’T MIX CHEMICALS! Mixing chlorine and ammonia gives off DEADLY GAS!
Ventilate the building when you are cleaning to prevent yourself from being overwhelmed with fumes which can be dangerous.
Don’t overdo it. Moving wet furniture, mud and cleaning is exhausting work. Getting tired leaves you making mistakes, slipping in the mud and taking shortcuts.
- Take regular breaks
- Get some fresh air away from the smells and chemicals
- Keep an eye on each other
- Stay hydrated and eat food to keep your energy up
- Know when to call it a day or get some help
Any disaster was stressful enough, cleaning up afterwards is just as stressful both emotionally and physically.
- Get help, find friends, family or volunteers who have signed up to help with the clean-up.
- Take regular breaks in fresh air
- Play some music in the background, listen to the radio for updates
- Talk to people, don’t bottle it up
- Seek professional help if you are feeling overwhelmed or depressed. There are free phone counselling services like Beyond Blue or Life Line.
After a disaster, the authorities should be advising everyone what’s available. There are usually counsellors, and welfare agencies helping out that can be approached.
Contact the Insurance Company
Before the season when you are getting property, house and contents insurance find out then what you are covered for. The cheapest insurance may not cover flood insurance.
Have a copy of your policy in your emergency kit and take a photo with your phone so you have the contact details and policy number.
- Contact the insurance company as soon as you can during or after the event so they can get the ball rolling early. Follow their advice to make the process easier.
- Take lots of photos and videos – before, during and after the event.
- Don’t clean up or throw out anything before you contact them as they may want to see the proof in person.
- If they are going to be several days ask if you can start cleaning up as the smell will get worse over a day or two. Rotting household items can cause more damage.
Better to be prepared and reduce the amount of damage as claims can take a while, you may not get all your money back or they may say no
If you get enough warning beforehand you can prepare for the flood when it hits. Preparation will reduce the damage done and the stress it will cause to you and your family.
- Prepare your emergency and evacuation kit
- Lift furniture and items to avoid them getting wet (depends on the height of the water, may not be possible)
- Follow your emergency plan regarding evacuation, organising family members etc
- Move valuables to higher ground if you have time.
- Collect your clean up kit and place it in a safe area
You are not alone. There are family and friends who have not been affected and can help. Disasters also raise the community spirit in people who will volunteer to help others clean up.
If you want to help others clean up contact your local council or police for information as there are a few safety issues that need addressing.
- Register you as a volunteer in case something goes wrong
- Organise helpers into teams to complete tasks in an orderly fashion.
- Less risk of being arrested as a looter.
- More security for homeowners knowing you are there to clean up not case the joint for later.
Don’t forget emotional help. If you can’t talk to family or friends then there are numerous phone up counselling services available. There may even be counsellors in the area in person to talk to.
Clean up after a flood
Once the area has been deemed safe you can start the clean up after a flood. Power, gas, water and sewerage have been deemed safe.
During this time, you can be organising helpers and getting your clean-up kit sorted out. Listen to the radio for directions on waste management and help.
Remove all items, furniture out of the house. These can be hosed down and cleaned or put on the rubbish pile. See the Free Flood Clean-up Checklist for what items can be saved.
Shovel out any excess mud and debris if you have any in your home. Clean any access pathways too, to prevent slips and falls.
Hose down the building starting at the top and working your way down. If the inside is badly damaged for example it is plasterboard and dissolving just clean up the best you can the home will need renovations before you can move back in.
Using a broom (which is easier or pressure cleaner) wash down the surfaces with cleaning products like sugar soap or floor cleaner. Don’t mix chemicals it can produce a deadly gas.
Work towards the doorways to prevent contaminating the clean areas. Give the area a final rinse.
Disinfect all surfaces that had flood water on them with either a high strength disinfectant or bleach.
Aerosol disinfectants won’t give enough coverage and will be very expensive. Follow the instructions on the product for time frames and rinsing requirements.
Dry everything out, after cleaning you need to let everything dry out. Open the doors, windows, turn on the fans (use a generator and pedestal fans if you have no electricity).
It may take a few days to dry out depending on the humidity (which will be high after a flood). You may have to lock up at night and reopen in the morning for security reasons.
There may be some level of renovation needed after a flood depending on-
- Flood height
- Level of damage
- Type of building materials
- Electrical appliances affected
This all takes time and life can be disrupted for everyone. The whole neighbourhood is affected and they are living elsewhere so other people have some effect of the flood in their lives too. Such as you are living in your parents’ spare room for a few months.
After the event is over look back and ask yourself what are you going to do differently next time.
- Make changes to the disaster plan
- Move to a higher suburb
- Raise the house
- Make alterations when rebuilding
The government may choose to move the how suburb as with Grantham in the Lockyer Valley, Queensland flood of 2011.
To reduce the stress and workload after a flood and to make cleaning up easier –
- Be prepared before the event, have a plan, and enact the plan on receiving a warning
- Move or evacuate valuable items if you have time.
- Turn off the electricity, water and gas before the flood hits or if you have to evacuate.
- Stay tuned to the radio for advice and to know when it’s safe to go back home.
- Minimise the hazards to prevent injury or infection
- Get help with the physical and emotional workload.
- Don’t mix your cleaning chemicals as they can give off deadly gas.
- Don’t run a petrol or diesel-powered equipment indoors as fumes are deadly.
- Take regular breaks, drink lots of water and eat to maintain energy.
Know your limit and that of those around you. Be safe, if people are struggling call it a day, the mess isn’t going anywhere.
- Recovering after the flood – clean-up for householders
2. Cleaning up after a flood