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Cleaning up safely after a flood

There has been some amount of devastation in recent weeks due to floods, which will obviously require industrial cleaning solutions, however, if part of your home has
sustained a small amount of flooding, you might be happy to tackle the clean-up yourself. But there are a few things to think about it you do, to maintain the health of
your home and family.

The first thing to consider is that flood water is not just water – this water has gathered all manner of concerning gunk from storm drains, ditches, and sewer lines, leaving a toxic cocktail in your home. When the waters recede, this may cause mould to grow in its wake, which can cause allergic reactions and respiratory distress.

With this in mind, please take care to protect yourself before attempting your clean-up. Keep your space well ventilated, make sure your skin is covered, protect your hands with strong rubber gloves, and use a respirator mask to avoid breathing in toxic fumes. It’s also a good idea to wear goggles.

Now, let’s get to work…

First, wash all mud, dirt and debris using with a hose, starting at the highest point – you may need to hire a pump to ensure all water is removed, and use a shovel to shift the muddy residue as you go – and be sure to unblock any air bricks and ventilation grilles. You will need to remove floor coverings to ensure the base concrete or timber can dry out, then assess what can be salvaged. There are some specialist carpet cleaning and drying services that can give you a good result, but it will obviously come down to the cost of this versus replacement of the carpet. Soft furnishings may be redeemable, but it could be safer to dispose of them. Mattresses should absolutely be thrown away. It will not be possible to save veneered or particle board furniture, though solid wood furniture can usually be restored. A handy tip for personal items like photographs and important papers is to freeze them, and clean them as you thaw each one individually – or take them to a specialist who is able to restore them for you.
Any items of a porous nature should be discarded, as they will have absorbed who-knows-what from the flood waters and silt.
Children’s soft toys should always be discarded to be on the safe side, though some hard toys can be washed and disinfected, if there are no holes or cervices that might harbor toxic residue.

You should also check your drywall for damage, which can act like a sponge. If it has become too well-soaked, you may never get rid of the musty smell. You may need professional assistance to remove this if required.
Do be aware that flooding can cause spiders, snakes and rats to hide out in your home, so take extra care when removing your fittings and possessions.

The Dry Out
Next, you need to start the process of drying out – not a stage you want to rush, tempting as it may be – especially given the weather may still be pretty wet. That said, you do need to start the drying process as quickly as possible, as mould will start growing after 24 hours in any damp place. Keep doors and windows open on dry days, and supplement airflow with fans and de-humidifiers. Heat drying equipment can be used if carefully monitored, as these can cause some damage to certain materials. Be sure to avoid using any petrol or diesel-powered equipment in enclosed spaces, which will only add to the toxic environment. If you have no power and need to use a generator, make sure it is placed as far away as possible from your home.

It’s worth leaving your space empty and well ventilated for a good period of time to ensure everything is completely dry, otherwise mould and mildew will continue to build up. To monitor moisture, invest in a humidify meter – around $30 from Bunnings. Aim for around 30% humidity to inhibit mould growth. Remember that though surfaces may be dry to the touch, they can still harbor mould and bacterial growth.

The Clean-up
You can tackle the mould and mildew with household bleach, but again, make sure doors and windows are open while you do this, and your face is well protected. If there’s no visible mould, it’s worth using a solution weak solution of bleach in water for cleaning all nonporous surfaces, such as the metal on appliances. Be sure to rinse and wipe dry, then allow them to completely air-dry before using them.

Hard surfaces can be cleaned with hot soapy water and disinfected by wiping or spraying surfaces with a bleach solution or a disinfectant product.

For any furniture items you’ve decided to hang onto, you may need to consult a local furniture renovating company if you are unsure about their condition and likely success of restoration.
It’s also a good idea to have an electrician to check your appliances and circuits for safety.

As your home dries out, there will be a significant amount of dust and loose material forming, so regular vacuuming will be required, and you may need to repeat the wiping down with disinfectant periodically without getting things too wet.

Once everything is thoroughly dry, you can begin the re-decoration process, which will also help to dispel any residual musty smells, though if the smell is strong and persistent, chances are there are hidden areas that haven’t fully dried, or have absorbed something unpleasant. If this is the case, you need to identify the culprit and remedy the situation before decorating.

In Summary

Our key message here is to be patient with the recovery and take your time. Don’t be tempted to tackle the clean-up process all at once – you really need to limit your exposure to the damp environment, mould, cleaning materials, and the toxic nature of the sludge water itself. If you are unsure about any aspect of the clean and recovery, it’s best to call in a professional.
Above all, make sure you get plenty of fresh air between cleaning sessions and keep yourself well-hydrated.

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Louisa Sanghera
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Sydney

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Sydney

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Sydney

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Louise S
Sydney

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Sydney

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Sydney

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