If your home flooded and you can safely return, quick work is needed to avoid long-lasting damage and health hazards, according to experts at the LSU AgCenter.
Wet carpets, insulation and drywall along with high humidity can spur the growth of molds, algae and bacteria in affected houses.
And some types of fungus that grow in wet wood can cause damage to homes long after floodwaters recede, according to a list of guidelines and tips from the AgCenter.
"In a nutshell, a wet house is soon an unhealthy house and eventually a rotting house," said Claudette Reichel, an AgCenter housing specialist. "To make matters worse, such secondary damage may be excluded from coverage on your flood and homeowners' insurance."
Flooded homes should be cleaned, disinfected and dried quickly, Reichel said.
Wet areas — wooden subfloors, studs and joists included — should be allowed to dry completely before being covered again with drywall or new flooring.
While professional contractors have special equipment that can efficiently and safely dry and disinfect flooded homes, many south Louisianans won't have access to their services.
To begin cleaning up your home, follow these tips from the AgCenter:
- Wear protective clothing. Cover your mouth, legs, arms, feet and hands while cleaning debris. Wear rubbers gloves and goggles.
- Use disinfectants carefully. Create a bleach solution using ¼ to ½ cup of liquid chlorine laundry bleach to one gallon of water. While this mixture is an economical general purpose disinfectant, it can damage the finishes of some furniture and fixtures.
- Remove wet carpets, rugs and carpet pads. Within 24 hours of floodwaters receding, remove types of flooring that absorb water. Disinfect the slab with the bleach mixture. Some valuable rugs may be cleaned, but always replace carpet pads.
- Pull up vinyl and laminate floors on top of wooden subfloors. Remove these impermeable types of flooring and clean and disinfect the wooden subfloor. For wooden floors, remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling until the floor dries. Some buckled floors will flatten once they dry.
- Pull out wet insulation. Even if you have to cut into your wall, remove wet insulation from the walls and the attic. "Saturated insulation will hold water, even if the wall looks dry, and eventually cause wood rot and mold problems," according to the AgCenter.
When rebuilding and renovating, consider using materials that can withstand future flooding, Reichel recommended. Ceramic tile, solid vinyl tile and solid wood flooring are considered flood-hardy materials.
Many household items don’t need to be thrown away. To clean these items, follow these guidelines from the Flood Safety Education Project:
- Soak your dishes and cups. Immerse glass, porcelain and plastic dinnerware in a disinfecting solution made from 2 tablespoons of bleach in one gallon of hot water. Soak them for at least 10 minutes and let the dishes air dry.
- Disinfect pots and pans and silverware. Clean metal utensils and pots and pans by boiling them in water for 10 minutes. Don’t use bleach. It could cause some metals to darken.
- Throw away items you can't salvage. Dispose of mattresses, stuffed animals and less expensive wood-veneered furniture. Solid wood furniture can often be restored. Upholstered furniture should be cleaned only by a professional.
- Freeze meaningful papers and photos. Wash the mud off important papers, photographs and books and place them in a frost-free freezer. This will protect them from mildew until you can thaw them or take them to a professional restorer.