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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Claire Wolfe

Flood cleanup: a question for the Commentariat

Friday, November 16th, 2012

The other day, reader “just waiting” emerged from two weeks of post-Sandy blackout. He conveyed some lessons learned and joked that he couldn’t see a downside to the storm from where he sat.

However, there’s a definite downside in the aftermath. This morning he requests help from the Living Freedom Commentariat:

I’ve never had to clean up after a major flood before (water was about 2 ft high over entire first floor). I’ve done some research and got the basics, but I bet there’s tips and pitfalls, what not to do’s, etc. that the sites I’ve seen don’t list.

With our vast scope of experience, and you in the NorthWet where water problems must be pretty common, I was hoping you might ask for me to get some insight from the group who may have been through this.

I know some of you have suffered through floods and other depredations of water. What advice do you have for just waiting (and the rest of the world who might be listening in)?

Thank you!

23 Responses to “Flood cleanup: a question for the Commentariat”

  1. MamaLiberty Says:

    Not much in the way of advice, but lots of sympathy. We lived in the desert, so didn’t have too much flooding. Sand storms, brush fires and other stuff, but no real floods.

    Don’t likely have to tell you, but be careful of mold and mildew AFTER your cleanup. The damned stuff is sneaky. It might look clean, but if in doubt… throw it out. Your respiratory system will thank you for a long time to come.

    Good luck, just waiting.

  2. Water Lily Says:

    Good quality dehumidifiers are a must. Other than that, I don’t know much about floods, but we have an ongoing mold issue in our bathroom. Boric acid and peroxide work well, as we are too sensitive to chlorine.

  3. just waiting Says:

    Thanks ML, I appreciate it.

    This is my parents home, and luckily, they were away on vacation when the storm hit. 1st floor is no more than 6-7 ft above sea level at high tide, from door to edge of bay is maybe 20 ft. Its always been a flood waiting to happen.

    I went down the day before and got all of their photo albums and pictures out of the house (the rest is just replaceable stuff). There’s no utilities or facilities on the whole island, so they’re staying on vaca a while (6-8 months) longer.

    Mold and mildew are definately my biggest concerns. FEMA and NatGuard wouldn’t let anyone on the island for 16 days, and even then only once for a few hours, so everything that got wet is still wet, and rotting.

    1st floor had about 18″-2 ft of saltwater sewage sand and sludge. I already chucked the stuffed furniture, started pulling up carpet. Walls start coming down after that. Should I be thinking of getting rid of all the mechanicals too? All stood in 18″ of water for 3 days, and have been untouched for 3 weeks.

  4. JoeFromSidney Says:

    You don’t say if you have a basement. My house was flooded, with water 5′ deep in the basement, but the first floor was above the water. We had the basement pumped out. After throwing away everything in the basement, we had to have the furnace and hot water heater repaired. Once the floor drains were working again, we washed down the walls and floor as follows. We got an insecticide sprayer that goes on the end of a garden hose. We filled it with PineSol, and sprayed down everything in the basement. This sanitized the basement pretty well, and got rid of the decaying vegetation stench that came from the muddy river water.

  5. Pat Says:

    I’ve been lucky to live on high ground during hurricanes in Delaware, Florida, and Virginia so houses have never been swamped, but I have been surrounded by water and unable to get from Point A to Point B. My car has also been flooded a couple of times in the midst of a hurricane, while crawling through flooded streets trying to get to or from work.

    I repeat what’s been said here already: mold and mildew are your enemies. Also warping and erosion in hidden areas, like dry walls and framing. Inspect the house carefully next spring, if not before. It’s worth the price.

    (And don’t forget bugs, they will come to visit throughout the next year. Including termites! And don’t forget any staples or other foodstuffs that were in the house. Can can rust out, boxes will break down or be eaten though by mice, rats, and other vermin.)

    Now that you have electricity, you can use a fan to help “blow-dry” any rugs, cushions, or linens you keep. Once they’re completely dry, dust them with lots of baking soda, and shake/sweep/vacuum well; it will help take up a lot of dust, dirt and debris, and cut down on the odors. Then launder.

    Good luck!

  6. Mari Says:

    Where I live on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, everyone receives a “mold handout” when they sign a lease for residential housing. It is info from the EPA website: There is useful info there including which type of respirator to use.

    Dr. Mercola wrote about the dangers of improper mold clean-up:

    Happy to hear you are safe and recovering from Sandy.

  7. MamaLiberty Says:

    I’m afraid that “Pine-sol” would be dead last on my list of mold/mildew clean up. It might mask the smell for a while, but it won’t do diddly to eliminate the mold spores – which, no matter how well dried out, only need a little moisture down the road to bloom like the black rose.

    There are serious chemicals available to kill mold and mildew, but even the most powerful only do so much. The damned spores are almost impossible to kill completely. Only replacement with uninfected materials will really do the job in the long run.

    My youngest son worked for quite a while in the Palm Springs area with a home repair outfit, and the most difficult thing they had to deal with was the black mold and mildew created by the incredible high heat/ humidity, especially on the drainage from the air conditioners. It invaded walls and turned whole rooms black!

    Remove every speck of drywall or plaster that has gotten wet, for one thing. The money you spend eliminating it now will be worth gold later. The stuff spreads like cancer.

  8. naturegirl Says:

    We were flooded in the desert, so the mold wasn’t so much an issue with our catastrophe…..Everyone is correct with their suggestions so far, especially get rid of all the drywall and once the wood is exposed it wouldn’t hurt to treat it with either bleach (as a quick and easy fix) or something that disinfects (penetrates) the wood…..whatever is left, if it can’t be washed in hot water some how right away, will eventually smell as time goes by… toss as much as you can bear to throw away and clean the bajuniors out of what’s left…..

    Treat the clean up as if it’s a hazmat situation, because it is…the water is nasty and can cause all kinds of skin problems – you have no idea what all was swirling around in that water that is now all over everything….boots, gloves, masks, and change them all often (or disinfect as often as possible)…..

    Down the road, expect windows to not open as the seasons change, and sliding doors can buckle (then shatter unexpectedly) as well, along with gaping cracks that start showing up in the ceiling and over doorways (that also might not open, or close, suddenly one day)….

    The smell never really goes away….and we also had the worst time trying to clean off any concrete, it had an icky super fine powder-y dust thing happen no matter how many times we’d clean it…it leeched out of the concrete for at least a year…

    Sea water (salt) can do a lot of damage to appliances, if possible just replace all of those too….

    I know, it’s heartbreaking to lose so many prized possessions….and the expense is astronomical on top of all the other worries….but it’s worth it to be sure your health isn’t ruined by what you insist on keeping…..

    I feel so bad for everyone back there :(

  9. Richard Says:

    You really should strip down the walls to stud. If your home is stick built make sure all the wood is dry before putting up new drywall. you will replace all warped lumber and sheeting necessary. Once it is thoroughly dry you should spray down your walls with a chemical mold retardant. Sorry I can’t remember the name off hand but its also good for termites. I suffered through 3 major hurricanes in Florida including Andrew. We normally have CBS construction in south Florida but drywall mold and stud rot still occurs. heck mold will start to grow on you in Florida if you stand in one place to long. Your biggest problem is the length of time the walls were left soaking. If I remember the name of the fungicide I’ll repost.

  10. cctyker Says:

    I was in the restaurant business for years and old house remodling before that. Bleach kills about anything, including people if the dose is high enough.

    Dry kiln wood, which is the 2x4s etc. in a house might warp some, but so what? Ever had a roof leak you did not know about? Like the water dribbles down through a wall between the outside and inside wall from a leaky gutter. Wetness does not show on the outside of the wall and the inside wall might feel a little damp once in a while when it rains a long time. But poke a hole in the wall and it will be wet inside. You might even get to pet a slug or two.

    It takes months for the wood to warp. It will start to rot before it warps. When wood drys, it supports no life forms. Otherwise, houses would not be made of wood, right?

    Termites require water and they take years to do structural damage. Don’t worry about it until you see mud tubes going from the ground, up the foundation, into the wood. Termites also want it dark as well as damp. Sunlight kills them. That’s why the mud tubes; the tubes keep the light off them, and the termites keep the tube damp so they don’t die on the trip home.

    Carpenter ants are also lovers of water soaked wood. I doubt they, or termites, can survive salt water though. Ask an exterminator. Carpenter ants are harder to find. I used to poke suspected places where ants might be with an awl. If the awl went into the wood easily, I knew I had found an ant home. Most of the time I had to replace the few studs the ants had weakened. Otherwise, if the structure was still sound, like only one stud was soft, I just sprayed the area with 6% bleach once a day for a week or so.

    Drywall, if left alone, will dry. It’s powdered rock between two pieces of thick paper. Nothing for anything to live in or off of when dry. Just wait, it will dry. And it does not warp. It won’t even fall to peices if you don’t mess with it.

    Every house has mold in it where it gets damp and never completely dries. If you are of normal health, not a problem. If in doubt, spray it with a strong bleach solution. Again, mold can not survive on a dry surface. Mold needs moisture, just like most life forms do. Ever find any mold in the desert?

    Get everything dry and don’t worry about it until it is. Then after everything is dry, decide what needs done. Cost less and a lot of unnecessary time and human energy will be spared.

    By the way if you have mold in your home, you have already been exposed walking around the house the first time you entered. If you show no symptoms a few days after your first exposure, don’t worry about it.

  11. MamaLiberty Says:

    cctyker, the mold itself does not grow in a dry environment, but any area that has high humidity is not ever going to get dry enough to actually prevent it… And the spores can survive in extremely dry and otherwise hostile environments.

    Some excellent information at this site:
    “Molds reproduce by forming tiny spores that are not visible to the naked eye. Mold spores are very hardy and can survive under conditions in which mold cannot grow, such as in dry and harsh environments. These spores travel through outdoor and indoor air. When the mold spores land on a surface where moisture is present, mold can then start to grow. “

  12. Don Says:

    Search for the word *encapsulate* regarding the restoration of damaged residences. There are specific products on the market for doing this. Its a method by where the construction materials are rendered unable to release contamination. Typically, all wall materials are removed down to the structural members, then the structural members are treated with a product for neutralizing the contamination, then they are treated with an encapsulation product. The first step kills the danger than the second step prevents it from reoccurring. This is from my brother who has been involved with building disaster restoration for more than 10 years all over the US.

  13. Woody Says:

    Any electrical outlets and switches that got wet should be replaced. All the others should be inspected as well. Any appliances that were flooded are most likely toast.

  14. Ellendra Says:

    “You really should strip down the walls to stud. If your home is stick built make sure all the wood is dry before putting up new drywall. you will replace all warped lumber and sheeting necessary. ”

    I’ll second that advice. And anything that you can’t afford to pull out, dry it, bleach it to death, and dry it again.

  15. Jim B. Says:

    It’s really bad. I just got heard from my Mom in the Toms River area. She went this Saturday morning to volunteer at the local Lions Club Disaster event at the Honda dealer place just east of the Parkway. She mentioned that when one women found a coat that fitted her, she was so grateful that she broke down crying right there, turns out that she had lost everything to the storm. That was this morning.

  16. cctyker Says:


    I agree with your statements.
    “…any area that has high humidity is not ever going to get dry enough to actually prevent it… And the spores can survive in extremely dry and otherwise hostile environments.”

  17. Bulucanagria Says:

    I’ve done mold remediation for years and most of what’s said here is true, except cctyker. Bleach will kill mold, but not spores and high humidity will just reactivate the mold, and you won’t realize it. Drywall will dry out eventually, but will aslo be wet again eventually, starting the cycle again. Since you haven’t had any dehumidification going on, you must assume that any drywall that got wet is growing mold. Remove it, but as you do, look for obvious growth, usually looks like a black powdery coating, but could be other colors as well. Take note of where the visible growth ends and remove any non-structural natural material two feet beyond what you can see. Spray whatever is left with an anti-microbial agent, then set up as much dehumidification as possible, without putting air movement directly onto the affected area. Do your best to seal the affected area, which will intensify the drying as well as contain any spores which get airborne. If you can get an air-scrubber of any sort, include that as well. Without a moisture meter, it’ll be difficult to be sure if the wood studs are dry. With powerful commercial dehumidifiers and everything open, we can dry the framing in a full basement in about 2 days or so. If you get a few quality consumer grade dehumidifiers, and concentrate the drying carefully, you can probably do it within a 3 or 4 days. The a sealer on the wood to keep any spores dormant and you can start to rebuild.

    One thing to note is that you should have your heating ducts clened as well, assuming that the furnace has been running at all. Onething cctyker is right about is that mold is everywhere. What you want to avoid is increasing the concentrations in any one area, or creating ideal conditions (organic matter & moisture) for the spores to activate.

    This won’t be an easy time for you but you seem strong. Good luck.

  18. Mr Galt Says:

    Speaking from the experience of doing environmental cleanups, I would add some cautions on personal protection.

    1. If you aren’t up-to-date on tetanus vaccinations, get it done. Also the Hep-ABC vaccinations are nice to have too. There will be many poky things that have washed onto your property from other places.

    2. Wear double gloves if possible. Latex or neoprene tight fit against your skin, have work gloves over those.

    3. Decontaminate yourself. Don’t eat, smoke, or drink anything unless those gloves are off, and you have washed.

    4. Protect your breathing space. Wear a mask if you can. Particulate masks are better than nothing and can stop mold spores, dust, asbestos, and other large particles from entering your lungs. If dealing with organic vaporous compounds, these may be inadequate and you’ll need to go with something like an acid and organic vapor filtration mask.

    5. Goggles tight fitting around eyes, but these aren’t very comfortable, so at least wear safety glasses.

    6. Steel-toed boots if you got em.

    7. Watch for cross-contamination. Remember, a whole bunch of stuff has washed onto your property from who knows where, containing who knows what. Sludge can be high in organic compounds and especially heavy metals. Protect your water supply if it’s on-site, and if you have a well, consider getting a qualified well driller to check it out and sanitize it before using it for potable drinking purposes.

  19. gooch Says:

    Yep to all of the above AND Photos. Lots and lots of photos prior to the beginning of the restoration destruction.

    Family members will understand Why you threw away Great Gran-dads favorite ottoman [whatever] when they see the damage done and the state in which the storm left it. [Try to use a camera that includes the date stamp on each photo.]

    Your insurance company will be denied the underhanded excuse that you are “padding” the inventory for personal gain. Cameras can be made to Lie but mostly they don’t.

    All the Best,


  20. gooch Says:

    I forgot to add [what memory … where?] that two of the wood preservatives I have used are J-Max and Cuprinol.
    I am not financially connected to either one. [darn it *sniff*]

    J-Max is normally used on the exterior and will kill mold but not the spores. [IIRC]
    Cuprinol is a copper based wood rot preservative and BOTH are not for human ingestion. [underline for emphasis] Wear protection. See Mr Galt’s post.

    There are many variations on the market for repairs and restoration as well as new construction.

  21. naturegirl Says:

    As per Mr. Galt’s excellent suggestions – I was not going to walk on the streets/sidewalks because I expected nails and who knows what to be at the bottom of the water….I found out that walking on the grassy areas wasn’t so smart either – as I proceeded to sink up to my knees a few times….Keep in mind anyone who’s been flooded for an extended period of time is now in a swamp…..

  22. Pre-press veteran Says:

    In the Outer Banks, we remove all contents to dry – appliances MAY be toast if motors and electrical connections were flooded. At this point, you’ll have an inventory of what to replace, for contents.

    Drywall, carpet, linoleum & soaked insulation are all stripped & tossed. Then, the house is wiped with bleach and dried. Good luck this time of year — we’ve had constant nor-east weather ever since Sandy. (We don’t make the news tho’). Once things are dry, then you’ll have to evaluate for some kind of encapsulation coating. Then, you can re-decorate.

    Besides requiring ocean side houses to be one floor above ground level (and pilings not closed in so that ocean overwash flows under the house), most floor plans will put bedrooms on the next floor – and put the functional part of the house: laundry, kitchen, etc on the top floor. Saves replacing salt-water soaked appliances.

  23. art w. Says:

    just emerging from the effects of sandy on the flooded south shore of Long Island N>Y> approx 13 days no electric no cable for internet no heat. here the tidal surge and the wind effect on trees with leaves and evergreens further enhanced the damages to homes and power. thankfully there was no loss of life in my area but really extensive damage and losses in the nearby Rockaway peninsula. the storm surge wa s unprecedented in the area and ran through the streets invading homes through driveways and garages flooding low areas of homes and basements , many of which had never been flooded before. imagine 4 to 5 feet of water in the streets. i believe cable and electric were turned off at the start of storm. Most cars left in the street were totalled by the salt water surge. some conclusions nothing could have prevented the ocean surge or protected from it items of preparation helped to survive in the 1800’s atmosphere. campstoves.kerosene lamps and wood fires(cooking)helped keep morale up and frozen 2 litre bottles of water kept food ok in coolers but after nearly two weeks most supplies ( fuels ) were nearly gone. One might suggest a wood stove but one gent lost 10 cords of wood washed away in the surge. gas generators were a mixed blessing since people could run pumps and refrig but need for constant refueling a was a pain and the gas a safety hazard. also i believe in certain areas gas hot water heaters tore loose with fire and burn downs as a result food on hand was great as was stored water since the responses were slow in coming as all had emergencies to deal with The more you learned and prepared in advance the better you fared and the sooner you were able to help others around you. who were in worse shape. also cell phones dont work if the power to the cell tower is interupted

    hope this helps others . prepare so you are not helpless

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