How to Clean Your Home After a Flood

Haniya Rae

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Last year, tens of millions of Americans experienced just how devastating floods can be. From January to October 2019, the estimated overall losses for damage caused by severe thunderstorms and flooding in the U.S. was more than $180 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

If your house has flooded, once your local police or fire department says you can return, you’re in a race against mold growth to clear out debris from your home. If you have flood insurance, the very first thing to do is file a claim—you have only 60 days to send in a proof of loss form documenting the contents of your home.

Though you may want to rush back to your home and start the cleanup process, take care because there can be unseen hazards.

“A home or area that has been flooded should first be determined to be safe, with no structural, electrical, or other hazards,” says Enesta Jones, a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Strong winds and flood waters can down power lines. And rushing water can erode the ground around buried utilities, potentially causing breaks in gas mains. So be sure to check for the smell of gas outside your home, as well as any dangling electrical wires, and call the gas or electric company, or the police or fire department if you find evidence of either.

If you see any structural damage to the outside of the house, such as cracks or shifting of the foundation, or a tree on your house, bring in a building inspector or structural engineer, the Federal Emergency Management Agency advises (PDF). 

You’ll want to check for gas leaks and structural damage inside the home, too, says Don Huber, Consumer Reports’ director of product safety. If you smell gas once you’re inside, immediately turn off the main gas valve, open up all the windows, go outside, and call 911 and your gas company.

If you get to the point where you realize you’re in over your head, do yourself a favor and hire some professional help. You can find a pro through a number of organizations that the EPA recommends: the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), the National Environmental Health Association, the American Council for Accredited Certification, and the American Industrial Hygiene Association

Then, once you’re reasonably sure that your house is structurally sound and safe to enter, here are the steps to take to clean out your home.

1. Wear Protection

When your home has been flooded, there’s more than just water to worry about. Flood waters ferry all the gross stuff at the bottom of storm drains, ditches, and sewer lines. When they recede, they could very well leave mud and toxic substances behind in your home.

According to the EPA, coming into contact with sewage or mold can cause allergic reactions and other problems. “You have to assume that mold is growing after a flood,” says Kellogg Schwab, Ph.D., the Abel Wolman Professor in Water and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Mold can cause respiratory distress and can exacerbate asthma.” 

To protect yourself, wear clothing that covers your arms and legs. To shield your hands and face—and to avoid breathing in mold spores and toxic fumes—the EPA recommends [PDF] wearing an N95 respirator, goggles tight enough to keep dust and small particles out of your eyes, and long, tight-fitting gloves made of rubber or neoprene. (See a list of supplies you’ll need for your cleanup below.)

Keep anyone with a weak or compromised immune system out of the house because mold, cleaning chemicals, and sewage in storm runoff can make them even more sick.

2. Dry Out Your Home as Quickly as Possible

“Mold starts growing in damp places within 24 hours, and within two days, you can have visible colonies if it’s warm,” says Joan W. Bennett, Ph.D., a fungal geneticist and professor of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

The first step for getting rid of mold is to air out your house.

3. Monitor the Moisture

While you’re airing out your home, use a humidity meter, around $15 at hardware stores, to keep tabs on the moisture level. Aim for between 30 and 50 percent humidity to inhibit mold growth, the EPA advises [PDF].

Floors, walls, and furniture may be dry to the touch and still harbor mold and bacterial growth. A moisture meter, $50 at hardware stores, is another good tool to have, so you can detect dampness you can’t see.

4. Remove Debris

Before you get rid of contaminated debris, be sure to put on your respirator and other protective gear.

Jeff Bishop, former director on the board of the IICRC, recommends using shovels or rakes to remove wet silt and debris from your home, and depositing it a safe distance away from your house. Just make sure to thoroughly clean and sanitize your clothes and shoes, and clean the tools with bleach after you use them.

If you have flood insurance, call your insurance company about the documentation you need to back up your claim. You may need to save pieces of carpet, flooring, and walls, and take photos of the extent of the damage. The Insurance Information Institute says some insurers may want to view your property remotely via video chat or even use drone footage to assess damage to your entire neighborhood.

If any household items, such as pieces of furniture or carpeting, have been damaged and you can’t clean and dry them within 24 to 48 hours of your house being flooded, discard them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Chances are these items already harbor mold and can’t be saved. If there’s any item of value that has to be discarded, take a photo of it for your insurance claim.

Ask your town’s sanitation department about how to dispose of household items from your cleanup. 

5. Remove Damaged Drywall

If the drywall in your home has more than 10 square feet total of water damage, the EPA recommends hiring a contractor with experience handling water damage to remove it. Any area smaller than that, however, you can deal with yourself. You’ll want to cut the drywall 15 to 24 inches above the visible water line.

“Take a utility knife, score the drywall, then punch it in,” Bishop says. Check with your local sanitation department to see whether you need to take the drywall to a dump yourself, or if you can just pile it up on your curb for trash pickup.

Then, if the insulation behind the drywall is damp, you’ll need to remove that, too. Nonporous materials, such as metal and glass, can simply be cleaned thoroughly with water and detergent and sanitized with a bleach and water solution. The CDC recommends 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water to remove mold on hard surfaces.

Don’t seal any walls up with new insulation and drywall until everything is completely dry.

6. Remove Flooring

Even if they appear dry, ceramic tile, sheet vinyl, laminate, and solid wood floors should be removed because moisture and silt collects underneath them—and cause bacteria or mold to grow.

Once you discard these, ensure that everything is clean and dry before installing new flooring. Maintain your home’s humidity at 30 to 50 percent, and use a moisture meter to check that subflooring is at or below 16 percent moisture content before installing new flooring (for wood floors, manufacturers advise that the subfloor’s moisture content should be 13 percent or less). Be patient—it might take a few weeks for your flooring to return to a reasonable moisture content, Bishop says.

If you’re unsure when you can reinstall flooring, the EPA recommends that you consult with a contractor or home inspector who has experience with flooding (see above).

7. Check Appliances and Countertops Thoroughly

Whatever you do, don’t plug in or otherwise provide power to your appliances right away (read our article “What to Know About Water-Damaged Appliances”), because their components could be corroded or damaged by flood waters.

If an appliance, such as your washer or stove, has been submerged in flood water, Consumer Reports recommends discarding it to be safe. If you think an appliance can be saved, make sure to hire a professional repair person to inspect it before putting it back into service.

“Mold doesn’t do a great job of growing on metals or ceramics,” says Bennett, the professor of Plant Biology and Pathology at Rutgers University. However, you still want to wipe down everything with bleach to sanitize and kill any possible mold.

If there’s no visible mold, the CDC recommends using a solution of 1 cup of bleach to 5 gallons of water for cleaning most nonporous surfaces, such as the metal on appliances. If you see mold growth, use 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Be sure to rinse or wipe items and allow them to completely air-dry before you use them.

8. Vet the People You Hire

Bishop, the former director on the board of the IICRC, emphasizes that there are a lot of scams involving restoring flood-damaged homes after disasters, so be sure that the restoration firm you hire is certified for mold and water damage remediation. (See the list of organizations recommended by the EPA, above.) Check your local government’s website to see whether there’s a department that handles flood assistance.

Tools and Supplies Checklist

Best Portable Generators in CR's Tests

Thinking of getting a generator for the next time bad weather hits? These three top-performing models have crucial safety features that can help reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from the generator’s exhaust. For more on generators, see CR’s generator buying guide.



More from Consumer Reports:
Top pick tires for 2016
Best used cars for $25,000 and less
7 best mattresses for couples

  • If you have power, turn on your air conditioner, a dehumidifier, and/or every fan you own. Keep your windows closed if you have a dehumidifier and an air conditioner to help the air circulate inside and get rid of excess moisture. Keep your windows open if you have only fans, and face the exhaust toward an open window.

  • If you don’t have power but you own a portable generator, use it so that you can follow the strategy above. Just remember that generators emit deadly carbon monoxide; to avert carbon monoxide poisoning, never run a generator indoors. And “make sure to place the generator at least 20 feet from your home, with the exhaust facing away from your house,” advises John Galeotafiore, associate director of product testing at Consumer Reports. If your generator isn’t connected to a transfer switch in your home, use a heavy-gauge extension cord (around 12-gauge), to keep the generator at a safe distance from your house.

  • No power at all? If weather permits, open all your windows and doors to create airflow.

  • N95 respirator
  • Tight-fitting goggles 
  • Long rubber or neoprene gloves
  • Humidity meter
  • Moisture meter
  • Buckets
  • Bleach
  • Shovels
  • Rakes
  • Garbage bags
  • Utility knife

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2020, Consumer Reports, Inc.

  • Sanders hit early and often at Democratic presidential debate
    Yahoo News

    Sanders hit early and often at Democratic presidential debate

    Bernie Sanders, who has been mostly spared attacks by his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, paid the price of being the frontrunner Tuesday night in the debate in South Carolina, which holds its primary election on Saturday. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off the flurry of attacks by referencing a finding from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was seeking to aid Sanders's candidacy in the primary election. “Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States and that's why Russia is helping you, so you'll lose to him,” Bloomberg said.

  • Trump official says coronavirus death rate same as flu – despite it being 100 times worse
    The Independent

    Trump official says coronavirus death rate same as flu – despite it being 100 times worse

    In congressional testimony today, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf claimed that the mortality rate for coronavirus is similar to the flu, both at about 2 per cent. While he is correct on the current average for coronavirus which is considered by the World Health Organisation to be approximately 2 per cent, although it fluctuates as more data comes in, the mortality rate for seasonal flu is much lower.

  • Italian hikers rescued in Alaska after visiting infamous bus
    Associated Press

    Italian hikers rescued in Alaska after visiting infamous bus

    An Italian man suffering from frostbite and four other tourists were rescued in the Alaska wilderness after visiting an abandoned bus that has become a lure for adventurers since it was featured in the “Into the Wild” book and movie. Alaska State Troopers say the five Italians were rescued Saturday from a camp they set up after visiting the dilapidated bus on the Stampede Trail near the interior town of Healy.

  • Bloomberg accidentally claims to have 'bought' the 2018 midterm results
    The Week

    Bloomberg accidentally claims to have 'bought' the 2018 midterm results

    The billionaire former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has been slammed by his Democratic primary opponents for allegedly "buy[ing] his way into the debate[s]." On Tuesday night, he nearly admitted to buying a whole lot more than just that. The Freudian slip came as Bloomberg was bragging about spending $100 million in the 2018 midterm elections to back 21 of the 40 Democrats who were elected to the House. "All of the new Democrats that came in, put Nancy Pelosi in charge, and gave the Congress the ability to control this president, I bought — I got them," Bloomberg said, quickly correcting himself.

  • San Francisco's mayor has declared a state of emergency as the coronavirus continues to spread
    Business Insider

    San Francisco's mayor has declared a state of emergency as the coronavirus continues to spread

    San Francisco Mayor London Breed has declared a state of emergency in the city. Breed said the city is "taking the necessary steps to protect San Franciscans from harm." The coronavirus outbreak, which began in China, has spread in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

  • Coronavirus spreads in Asia, Europe, Middle East fuelling market selloff
    Reuters

    Coronavirus spreads in Asia, Europe, Middle East fuelling market selloff

    SHANGHAI/SEOUL (Reuters) - Asia reported hundreds of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including the first U.S. soldier to be infected, as the United States warned of an inevitable pandemic and outbreaks in Italy and Iran spread to more countries. Asian shares fell on Wednesday as the U.S. warning to Americans to prepare for a likely coronavirus pandemic jolted Wall Street again and pushed yields on safe-haven Treasuries to record lows. In the past four trading sessions about $3 trillion has been wiped off the value of the MSCI World , a market cap weighted stock market index of 1,644 stocks globally.

  • A rare, 'cryptic' rainbow snake was spotted in a Florida forest for the first time since 1969
    USA TODAY

    A rare, 'cryptic' rainbow snake was spotted in a Florida forest for the first time since 1969

    In a state constantly dealing with animals it wants gone — like pythons and green iguanas — someone found something rare. A Florida hiker discovered a rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma) last week in Ocala National Forest, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Wildlife Research Institute. It's the first time a rainbow snake has been spotted in Florida's Marion County since 1969, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

  • Senate Rejects 20-Week Abortion Ban
    National Review

    Senate Rejects 20-Week Abortion Ban

    The Senate on Tuesday rejected two Republican abortion bills, one that would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks and another that would attempt to raise the standard of care for newborns born alive after botched abortions. Senators voted 53 to 44 against a motion to proceed to debate on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, failing to reach the 60 votes required to overcome the Democratic filibuster against the measure. The bill, sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham, would have made illegal all abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy — the point at which pro-life advocates argue science determines a fetus can feel pain — with exceptions for when the life of the mother is in danger and for victims of rape and incest.

  • NASA space telescope spots a double star system with an alter ego
    NBC News

    NASA space telescope spots a double star system with an alter ego

    A volatile double star system appears to change its behavior rapidly and unpredictably like a cosmic story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The pair consists of a neutron star — an extremely dense remnant of a supernova explosion — and a smaller, sunlike star. Using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Science Foundation's Karl F. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), astronomers found that this binary star system switches between two alter egos every few years.

  • Whoopi Goes Off on Bernie’s Castro Remarks: ‘There’s Nothing Groovy About a Dictatorship!’
    The Daily Beast

    Whoopi Goes Off on Bernie’s Castro Remarks: ‘There’s Nothing Groovy About a Dictatorship!’

    The women of The View continued to rail against Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Tuesday, this time taking issue with the democratic socialist senator doubling down on his praise of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's literacy program. There is nothing groovy about a dictatorship,” host Whoopi Goldberg exclaimed at one point. Sanders has come under fire, including by many Democrats, for telling 60 Minutes that it was “unfair” to say “everything is bad” with Castro's regime.

  • Pete Buttigieg appears to mimic Barack Obama almost exactly in campaign speech video comparison
    The Independent

    Pete Buttigieg appears to mimic Barack Obama almost exactly in campaign speech video comparison

    Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has been accused of plagiarising Barack Obama in several campaign speeches. In a compilation video featuring side-by-side comparisons of the two men's speeches, Mr Buttigieg is shown using almost the exact same words as Mr Obama on multiple occasions. The embarrassing video comes as Mr Buttigieg faces mockery for a tweet in which he seemed to borrow from one of the speeches in question.

  • A Wrongfully Convicted Kansas Man Who Spent 23 Years in Prison Is Awarded $1.5 Million
    Time

    A Wrongfully Convicted Kansas Man Who Spent 23 Years in Prison Is Awarded $1.5 Million

    A Kansas man who spent over two decades in prison for a double murder he didn't commit will be awarded $1.5 million for his wrongful conviction, according to the Kansas State Attorney General's office. Lamonte McIntyre was convicted and sentenced to two terms of life in prison for the murders of Donald Ewing and Doniel Quinn back in 1994. According to the Associated Press, documents made public during the 8-year fight to free McIntyre allege that the prosecutor in the case intimidated witnesses who told her that McIntyre did not look like the shooter after they saw him in person.

  • Arizona congressional candidate suspends campaign after overdosing on heroin: 'I'm not going to hide from this'
    The Week

    Arizona congressional candidate suspends campaign after overdosing on heroin: 'I'm not going to hide from this'

    A Republican running for Congress in Arizona announced on Monday he is suspending his campaign following a heroin overdose last week. Chris Taylor is an Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan and a member of the City Council in Safford. Thankfully I have every resource available to me through the Veterans Affairs Administration and I have the strongest support system one could dream of.

  • The coronavirus death toll is still rising, but US interest in the outbreak is plummeting
    Business Insider

    The coronavirus death toll is still rising, but US interest in the outbreak is plummeting

    Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images Google Trends data show that Americans are losing interest in the coronavirus, even though the death toll continues to rise in mainland China and other countries. The World Health Organization said Monday that the epidemic peaked and plateaued in China between January 23 and February 2. Cases have been reported in 34 countries outside of China, with the most severe outbreaks in Italy, Iran and South Korea.

  • Secretary of State Pompeo appeared to coordinate with Giuliani on Ukraine, new documents show
    Yahoo News Video

    Secretary of State Pompeo appeared to coordinate with Giuliani on Ukraine, new documents show

    A trove of documents released on Friday by the State Department to American Oversight make clear that Rudy Giuliani — who was acting as Trump's personal attorney — pressed American diplomats to consider the information he'd unearthed in Kyiv about corruption. Though the documents released amount to fewer than a dozen pages of emails, they nevertheless show aides to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unambiguously receptive to Giuliani's overtures.

  • Nine of the World’s Most Beautiful Outdoor Saunas
    Architectural Digest

    Nine of the World’s Most Beautiful Outdoor Saunas

    From Seattle to Oslo, these outdoor saunas take relaxation and high-design to the next level Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

  • Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejects Roger Stone's bid to disqualify her from the case
    USA TODAY

    Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejects Roger Stone's bid to disqualify her from the case

    WASHINGTON – U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied Roger Stone's motion to disqualify her, saying the move was merely an attempt to generate public interest in the case. If parties could move to disqualify every judge who furrows his brow at one side or the other before ruling, the entire court system would come to a standstill,” Jackson said. At bottom, given the absence of any factual or legal support for the motion for disqualification, the pleading appears to be nothing more than an attempt to use the Court's docket to disseminate a statement for public consumption that has the words 'judge' and 'biased' in it.

  • Italy coronavirus outbreak spreads south as cases spike
    AFP

    Italy coronavirus outbreak spreads south as cases spike

    Italy's new coronavirus spread south on Tuesday to Tuscany and Sicily, as the civil protection agency reported a surge in the number of infected people and Rome convened emergency talks. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has blamed poor management in a hospital in the country's north for the outbreak, which has caused seven deaths in Italy so far and infected the largest number of people in Europe. Tuscany reported its first two cases, including one in the tourist destination of Florence, while Sicily marked one: a tourist from the worst-hit Lombardy region, where 212 people have tested positive.

  • 'D.C. Sniper' Malvo can seek parole after change in Virginia law
    Reuters

    'D.C. Sniper' Malvo can seek parole after change in Virginia law

    Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 when he took part in the deadly 2002 "D.C. Sniper" shooting spree in the Washington area, will get a chance to seek parole in Virginia following a change in state law enacted on Monday, preempting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the matter. The change, signed by Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, allows people like Malvo, now 35, who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for offenses committed before age 18 to ask for release after 20 years. Malvo, who is incarcerated in a supermax state prison in Virginia's Wise County, and an older accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, were convicted in the shootings in which 10 people were killed.

  • Bernie Sanders gets pummeled in the first minutes of the South Carolina Democratic debate
    Business Insider

    Bernie Sanders gets pummeled in the first minutes of the South Carolina Democratic debate

    REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst Nearly every candidate went after Bernie Sanders within the first minutes of the 10th Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night. Mike Bloomberg argued that the Russian government is interfering in the election to aide Sanders' primary bid because he would lose in the general election. Pete Buttigieg attacked Sanders as the "chaos" candidate.

  • No checkout needed: Amazon opens cashier-less grocery store
    Associated Press

    No checkout needed: Amazon opens cashier-less grocery store

    Amazon wants to kill the supermarket checkout line. The online retailing giant is opening its first cashier-less supermarket, where shoppers can grab milk or eggs and walk out without waiting in line or ever opening their wallets. It's the latest sign that Amazon is serious about shaking up the $800 billion grocery industry.

  • Tom Steyer has paid more than $40,000 to rent a property owned by Jim Clyburn's daughter
    The Week

    Tom Steyer has paid more than $40,000 to rent a property owned by Jim Clyburn's daughter

    Billionaire Tom Steyer is facing some criticism over his spending in South Carolina, a state where his Democratic presidential campaign is making some legitimate headway. Some people have even accused him of trying to buy votes from the state's African-American voters, which Steyer and many others have adamantly denied, The New York Times reports. One thing that's been particularly scrutinized is the Steyer campaign's rental agreement with a company owned by Jennifer Clyburn Reed, the daughter of Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking African American in Congress whose endorsement is considered key in South Carolina.

  • A British Tank Army Expected to Last Just a Few Days Against the Russians
    The National Interest

    A British Tank Army Expected to Last Just a Few Days Against the Russians

    The British Army in late February 2020 handed over, to German authorities, its last remaining headquarters in Germany. The handover of the headquarters at Bielefeld in northwest Germany signalled the final dismantling of what once was a powerful ground force. "Today I think, not only for me but for the British forces as a whole, means the end of an era,” Lt. Col. Tony Maw, commander of the British Army's Germany Enabling Office, said in an official statement.

  • United Airlines dished out $10,000 each to 9 passengers who were forced to downgrade from business class to 'Premium Plus'
    INSIDER

    United Airlines dished out $10,000 each to 9 passengers who were forced to downgrade from business class to 'Premium Plus'

    Seth Wenig/AP United Airlines gave $10,000 travel vouchers to nine passengers on a flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Hawaii on Saturday. The travelers to received the vouchers after the aircraft they were meant to fly on was swapped out, leaving fewer business class seats. The passengers agreed to sit in "Premium Plus," an area between business and coach class that offers more legroom than coach and other benefits.

  • Bloomberg

    Spain Announces Steps to Aid Farmers After Protests

    Spain responded to weeks of protests by farmers by announcing steps to support prices for their goods. The government will prohibit sales of agricultural products below cost price by decree, Agriculture Minister Luis Planas said Tuesday. The government will also make it easier for olive growers to access subsidies, after they were battered by drought and an increase in U.S. import tariffs.