Flood Damage Cleanup Guide: How to Restore Your Home Quickly

Taylor Sansano
Written by Taylor Sansano
Updated September 28, 2022
Flooded bathroom
Photo: Rober Kneschke / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Create a water removal plan immediately after a flood.

  • Mold and mildew can develop 24–48 hours after water damage.

  • Throw away anything that has been underwater for more than 24 hours.

  • Professional water remediation costs an average of $3,300.

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No matter how much you prepare for home emergencies, like a flash flood or roof leak, it can feel disorienting in the moment. But that’s why this flood damage cleanup guide will tell you everything you need to know, from what to do after a flood to crucial remediation steps you need to take. 

What to Do Immediately After a Flood

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Whether you’re dealing with a minor or major emergency, there are a few things you should keep in mind to protect your family and belongings during the flood damage cleanup process.

  • Check road conditions before driving: Before traveling, check road conditions to see if it’s safe to get on the road. 

  • Do not drive through floodwaters: If possible, turn around to avoid having to walk, swim, or drive through flooded areas. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down; 1 foot can carry your vehicle away, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

  • Find safe shelter: Move to higher ground or a higher floor, or evacuate if given the order. 

  • Create a water removal plan: Don’t leave standing water, as this could attract mosquitoes or mold.

  • Turn off gas and electricity: Wear proper protective clothing, including rubber boots, and never turn off electricity if water is on the ground. Call an electrician if you need help. 

  • Document your valuables: Take as many photos or videos of all your belongings as possible to help with the insurance claim process. Even if it’s just a flooded basement, this can be helpful for your records.

  • Contact insurance: Contact your insurance company to register your damage and start the claims process.

  • Test well water: If you use a well, don’t drink from it without testing for contaminants first.

The Importance of Timely Water Damage Cleanup

If your home is flooded or has any amount of standing water, it’s crucial to act fast. Mold and mildew can develop within just 24 to 48 hours of water exposure, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

If not treated immediately, water damage can harm your home, its foundation, and your belongings. If you need help, contact a water cleanup company in your area.  

Flood Damage Cleanup Steps

Person cleaning tile floor after flooding
Photo: ETAP / Adobe Stock

Before you can get started on flood damage cleanup, you’ll want to ensure it's safe to enter your home. Do not return if weather conditions are unsafe or your home (or street) is still flooded.

Even if things are dry, do not enter your home if there is a risk of collapse or falling debris. Consult with local authorities and call a pro to assess the damage to ensure it's safe to enter your home.

Once it’s safe, you can focus on restoring your home by following the water damage cleanup steps below.

1. Shut Off the Power

Safety first: Begin the flood damage cleanup process by putting on rubber boots. You’ll want to shut off the gas before entering your house. 

Next, shut off the power using a dry stick while standing in a dry spot. If your circuit breaker box is in a waterlogged area (or there is any water at all on the floor), call a local emergency electrician or the power company to shut it off for you instead. 

As you begin cleaning, watch out for falling plaster and holes in the ceiling or flooring. 

2. Pump Out the Water

If you’re going the DIY route, or if you’re still waiting for help from professionals, focus on removing the excess water from your home. Use a wet-dry vacuum, electric water transfer pump, or sump pump to remove standing water. 

Depending on the severity of flooding, you may have to do this step in stages. In cases of severe flooding, FEMA recommends marking a spot on the wall where the water stands, then pumping out 1 foot of water. Wait 24 hours, and if the water hasn't risen, you can pump out another foot. After another 24 hours, if the water stays at the same level, you can up the amount to 2 to 3 feet per 24 hours.

If you remove water too quickly when the ground is still saturated, your floor or walls could buckle and cause structural damage. If you’re at all concerned about this, call a structural engineer near you.

3. Dry Off Your Home

Once most of the water is out, start the drying process. Open all doors and windows. Set up fans to maximize the airflow in your home. 

If your vents were exposed to floodwater, wait to turn your HVAC unit back on until you have the ducts inspected and cleaned by a local HVAC technician.

4. Tackle Your Floors

Dealing with flooded floors calls for elbow grease and, unfortunately, in many cases, sacrifice. Depending on the severity of the water damage and how fast you act, you may be able to salvage your flooring with a little hard work and patience. 

Carpet

While cleaning your carpet after a flood is sometimes possible, anything that’s been underwater for more than 24 hours has to get the boot. Carpeting is like a sponge, and mold and mildew are no joke—when in doubt, throw it out.

Tile

As for your tile flooring, scrub out dirt and grime with soapy water. Next, clean the floor with 1 cup of chlorine bleach diluted in 1 gallon of water. Dry-mop the floor to absorb any remaining water.

Hardwood

Use a shop vacuum to remove all the standing water from the floor and clean the area with a wood-safe disinfectant. Then, dry the wood with a dehumidifier. What’s most important here is patience—it could take a day or two for the wood to dry. 

If the floor is crowning or cupping, consider bringing in a local hardwood repair expert to help.

5. Dispose of Anything You Can’t Salvage

Perhaps the most difficult part of the flood damage cleanup process is disposing of any belongings that aren’t salvageable. 

This includes:

  • Mattresses

  • Pillows

  • Upholstered furniture

  • Stuffed animals

  • Rugs

  • Books

Just like with carpeting, throw it out if you’re in doubt. Mold and mildew can cause health concerns over time, like respiratory issues, nasal congestion, headaches, and more, according to FEMA. 

Restore Important Paper Documents

In some cases, there are ways to save waterlogged documents like birth certificates, marriage licenses, or social security cards.

Blot the paper with a clean rag or sponge to remove as much extra moisture as you can. Hang the documents on a laundry line to dry but don’t use a hair dryer or fan pointed directly at them.

Try to avoid pulling water-damaged papers apart; dry them in small stacks in a sandwich-like approach, placing them on an absorbent material (like a towel) with another towel on top. Add a heavy item, like a brick or wood block, on top of the stack to help press the water out. 

How to Handle Mold and Mildew After Water Damage

If the mold spread is greater than 10 square feet, hire a local mold removal company to handle removal safely and thoroughly. For smaller mold and mildew issues, it’s possible to clean it on your own—though you should always contact the pros if you’re not comfortable handling it. 

Before you get started cleaning, here are two important safety warnings:

  • Do not mix bleach and ammonia (an ingredient found in many common cleaning products)—the mixture creates a dangerous gas that can cause shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs, and worse, according to the Washington State Department of Health

  • Do not mix bleach and laundry or dish detergent together (or any cleaning or disinfecting product), as it can create extremely dangerous vapors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To prevent or remove mold after flooding, follow these important tips:

  • Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, goggles, and an N-95 mask.

  • Clean hard surfaces with hot water and laundry or dish detergent. Wash the surfaces thoroughly with water to remove all traces of laundry or dish detergent before disinfecting. (Remember, never mix bleach with laundry or dish detergent or any other cleaning products.)

  • Disinfect with a thin coat of 10% bleach solution over the entire area (1 cup of bleach with 1 gallon of water).

  • Use a sprayer or sponge to disperse the bleach solution, but avoid excessive amounts of runoff or standing pools. Thoroughly wash the surfaces before using them again.

  • Keep children and pets out of the flooded area until you’re done cleaning up.

  • Wash clothes contaminated with floodwater in hot water and detergent and dry them thoroughly afterward.

Should You Hire a Flood Remediation Company?

Designed home interior
Photo: David / Adobe Stock

Dealing with even an inch of floodwater can be a stressful and often exhausting experience for a homeowner. In some cases, it can be downright dangerous. But hiring an experienced flood remediation company in your area will help take some of that weight off your shoulders. 

Professional water damage cleanup crews know how to handle everything from flooded carpeting to cupboards. On average, water damage restoration costs $3,300. Your estimate will depend on the severity, type, and location of the water damage. Your insurance company may help cover some, if not all, the costs associated with flood remediation. 

And while this price may seem steep, it’s often worth it. Flood damage cleanup should begin within 24 hours of exposure if you want to increase your chances of saving any belongings or your home’s foundation. 

A professional company often offers emergency services and can bring all its own equipment—meaning the team can get to work faster and more efficiently than you’d be able to yourself.

Common Causes of Water Damage

From faulty piping to unpredictable weather, water damage can happen before you even know there’s an issue. But if you aren’t sure what caused the water damage in your home, you’ll want to conduct a quick investigation. 

If the flooding wasn’t due to natural causes, it’s likely you have an issue with one of the following: 

  • Water supply line leak

  • Leaking appliances or plumbing

  • Clogged gutters

  • Cracked foundation

  • Overflowing sinks, toilets, or tubs

  • Damaged roofing

  • Blocked drains or backed-up sump pump

  • Excess AC condensation

These are just a few of the ways water damage can happen. If you notice any of these issues or anything else that might be a cause for concern, contact a local water damage remediation company or a general contractor near you

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