Cleaning Flood-Damaged Homes Can Involve Hidden Dangers

Main Content
Release date: 
September 14, 1999
Release Number: 

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Take extra precautions when cleaning flood-damaged homes, mobile homes, apartments or businesses, say federal and state disaster officials as McKean County residents continue their recovery from the recent flooding.

Even after their homes have been determined to be structurally safe, people should proceed with caution as they begin to clean up. "The dangers are not over just because the water has receded," said Bob Churchman, State Coordinating Officer for the Pennsylvania State Emergency Management Agency (PEMA).

Floodwaters affect a house in three ways, added Jack Schuback, Federal Coordinating Officer of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "Water damages materials. Wallboard will disintegrate if it stays wet too long; wood can swell, warp or rot; electrical parts can short out and cause fires or shock. Mud, silt and unknown contaminants in water not only get everything dirty, they also are unhealthy. And, dampness promotes the growth of mildew," Schuback explained.

The following clean-up tips apply whether you are returning to a home, apartment, mobile home or business:

  • Lower the humidity and everything will dry more quickly. You can speed the process by opening up the house, opening closet and cabinet doors, and using fans and dehumidifiers. Desiccants, materials that absorb water, can be useful in drying closets or other closed areas.

  • Floodwaters pick up sewage and chemicals from roads, farms, factories and storage buildings. Many flooded items, such as wallboard and mattresses, will hold mud and contamination forever.

  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect all rooms that have been inundated with water.

  • Furniture, mattresses, rugs and carpets that have been saturated by floodwaters are contaminated and serious health hazards.

  • Check food and water supplies before using them; throw out all food, cosmetics and medicines that came into contact with floodwater.

  • Open closet and cabinet doors and remove drawers to allow air to circulate; use fans to dry out your home.

  • With sunny weather and gentle breezes, mildew problems slowly begin to abate. However, high humidity may contribute to persistent mildew problems that will require aggressive cleaning. A solution of one part household bleach and four parts water will kill surface mildew.

  • Protect your eyes, mouth and hands. Wear rubber gloves and, if possible, a face mask when cleaning. Use a soap containing disinfectants to wash your hands when you are done.

  • Always follow the manufacturer's directions when using household cleaners, disinfectants and bleach. Be sure to read the labels and be aware of any caution or danger warnings. Never mix household bleach with other cleaning agents.

  • Volunteers are working in many communities to help residents clean up their flood-damaged homes. To find out about volunteer help in your area, call the local chapter of the American Red Cross in McKean County at: 1-814-368-6197. Literature on flood clean up is also available at the state/federal Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) located at 62 Main St., Bradford, Pa. 16701. The DRC will close at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17.
Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
State/Tribal Government or Region: 
Back to Top