Safety recommendations for reentering a home after flooding
In homes with relatively minimal flooding, appearances may not be indicative of what is lurking in the air, under floors or behind walls.
“Homes that experienced only several inches of flooding may appear relatively normal except for the smelly mud and debris left by the flood waters. However, that doesn’t mean the home is not at risk for dangerous pathogens or parasites,” said Dr. Abiodun Oluyomi, assistant professor of medicine-general medicine at Baylor. “Look out for areas that may have trapped water for a longer period of time or may still hold standing water, such as behind floor moldings. These areas are breeding grounds for microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and mold.”
For minimal flooding scenarios with no damage to electrical and other systems, the general guidelines include use of a wet vacuum to remove standing water, use of a shovel to remove mud, removal of carpeting and other porous items, including dry wall, that got wet, vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum, and washing all hard surfaces using water and detergent. Ventilate the home by opening windows and doors and use fans and dehumidifiers to help reduce moisture levels, unless there is significant mold growth.
Severely flooded homes generally require professional help to assess the damage and design a remediation plan. Removal of water, sludge and wet items as described above by homeowners and volunteers is recommended only if it can be done safely. Homes built before 1978 often present additional remediation risks, including the presence of lead and asbestos. Be particularly wary of electric shock, as exposed outlets and downed neighborhood wires can be hidden under water. Any special items such as photographs removed from the home after flooding need to be properly cleaned and decontaminated.
“If water has not cleared, wet furnishings removed, and the drying process significantly underway within 48 hours there is a high risk for mold growth,” said Dr. Winifred Hamilton, associate professor of medicine-general medicine and director of the Environmental Health Service at Baylor.
Mold is most easily identified by a musty smell or the appearance of mold colonies in damp areas. In general, nonprofessionals should not attempt mold removal if the affected area is larger than roughly a 6’ x 5’ area. For small amounts of mold, washing with a solution of five gallons of water, one cup of bleach and a non-phosphate detergent may be effective.
“Avoid the use of air fresheners and industrial strength cleaners,” added Hamilton. “These unneeded chemicals will only add to your exposure to toxins.”
Cleaning up after flooding poses a set of risks and challenges all its own. Know the risks, use effective personal protective equipment, and get proper medical attention immediately if symptoms likely associated with exposures related to flooding or clean-up activities present.
For more specific information about how to safely enter a home and begin the clean-up process, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.