Cleaning up after a hurricane or basement flood

You survived the storm, but now you have to clean up the mess. Maybe your basement or first-floor got flooded. Now’s it’s time to clean up!

! Be aware of dangerous electricity !

I can’t stress this enough. When you’re wet, you conduct electricity well enough to kill you if you get zapped. If you are working down in a flooded basement, do not risk touching an electrical outlet or working with plug in devices with your bare, wet hands, especially if you’re standing in the water.

If you absolutely must deal with something electrical, please, wear thick rubber gloves to insulate your hands. And don’t be standing in a puddle while you do so!  You’ve been warned!

If water is still entering your home…

Active water leaks are a real nightmare. If your foundation is still surrounded by water and water is flowing into your basement, the chances are good that you don’t have a big enough pump to get the water out faster than it can enter.

Often, water will seep up around a “floating slab” in your basement. The channels cut around the perimeter are meant to allow water to drain out but they do just the opposite during a big flood. And there’s pretty much nothing you can do to stop it.

Hopefully, before the storm, you got all your valuables out of the basement. Unfortunately, basements are prime storage areas, so they’re often filled with priceless photos, books and clothes. Even if the boxes are not sitting in the water, I highly recommend bringing anything of value to an upper floor where it’s dry to prevent them from being damaged by the evaporated water in the air.

Protecting your valuables

If you have boxes that did get wet, that cardboard acts like a sponge, and the contents will get moldy quickly. You must remove the contents and dry them off. Once you’ve gotten the dripping water off of them. Lay them out on a dry surface like towels and allow them to dry. A fan helps this process.

If the wet contents aren’t worth drying off like this then just throw them away. Seriously. They’ll probably just be a nasty, moldy mess if you don’t and you don’t want boxes of mold sitting around your house!

Wet electronics and mechanical items

Electronics and things with motors or other moving parts can be problematic after a flood. The problem is, you have to remove all the water from the device, and even then, it may not work. Whatever you do, don’t plug it in to “try it out!” If you’re going to try to salvage these devices, you really have to take them apart, and soak up all the water, then dry it off with a fan.

There are lots of sites that cover drying off iPhones and similar devices that you dropped in the toilet. But the same rules apply to other devices. If you want to learn more about this, Google it with the search phrase: “how do I dry out wet electronics”

Mechanical items are both easier and more difficult. Most mechanical devices have motors and bearings. You have to be careful about rust and other crud that might have gotten into the motor.

If the motor was in relatively clean water, you may be able to take it to a dry place and use an air compressor to blow out the remaining water. If you don’t have a compressor (most people don’t) you can use a leaf blower or shop-vac in blower mode. Once no more water comes out, you still want to let it dry out more because there’s a good chance that water remains in the moving parts. Using a hair dryer on low (you don’t want to melt anything!!!) can really help. The important thing is to dry it out as soon as possible. The longer you leave something wet, the greater the chance it will be ruined by water.

With mechanical devices, you can also use a spray lubricant to help minimize corrosion. Details vary depending on the device, so you’ll have to use your brains.

Unfortunately, most homeowners don’t have the tools or the experience to adequately dry out larger mechanical items like furnaces, washing machines and so on. If you have any appliances that have been submersed in a flood, you should rely upon professionals who will probably tell you that you need to replace them.

Here’s a reference that the state of Pennsylvania put together about recovering your mechanical devices after being flooded.

Once the water recedes…

Step 1: Remove all standing water

After water stops entering your home, the obvious thing is to get rid of any remaining puddles. You absolutely have to remove all “standing water” ASAP. I know a lot of people who just want to let it evaporate, but doing this is asking for permanent damage to your home and creates a perfect environment for mold and other nasties that like high humidity. Borrow or buy pumps, shop vacs, whatever you need to remove all the visible water from your home. This is the most important thing you can do to protect your health and your belongings.

Step 2: Dry off anything wet

Hopefully, you can make this a team effort. While one person dries out the basement, another can dry stuff off. As noted earlier, you need to empty boxes and dry the contents. Throw away wet boxes – they’re not worth saving. (The boxes, not the contents).

A shop vac works really well to suck off the water and it saves lots of paper towels! And you can use a leaf blower to evaporate the water much faster too.

Step 3: Dehumidify with stand-alone dehumidifiers

If you have a dehumidifier, you’re going to need to run it continuously for some time after a flood. The building materials in your basement can suck up tons of water during a flood. Imagine that your basement is built of sponges and you won’t be far off! Your best bet is to run a couple of dehumidifiers constantly, and allow them to drain into a sump pit or pump them into a drain. You don’t want to be manually emptying the bucket constantly. You’ll be amazed at how much water you’ll be sucking out of the air. But it’s worth it. Run them continuously for days, maybe weeks, until the rate of water removal is low.

Important: do NOT try to dry out the basement by airing it out while it’s still wet outside. During the summer, there’s an infinite amount of moisture outdoors and by opening up the windows and airing out the basement, you’re actually bringing more water into the house. You’re much better off drying things off manually then running dehumidifiers.

Please be aware – you will drive up your electricity bills because dehumidifiers us lots of energy. But what would you prefer – high electric bills for a month or a house filled with mold and rotten wood?

Step 3a: Dehumidify with central air conditioning

If your air conditioner didn’t get damaged by the flooding, you can use it to suck the moisture out of the house. Air conditioners work really well to dehumidify the air. You’ll see this by the amount of condensate dripping from the air conditioner.

During the summer, you’ll probably be using the AC anyway, so close up the house after manually drying things off and let the AC run.

Step 4: Avoid the next flood

Sometimes, flooding is avoidable. For example, if your gutters drain too close to the foundation, you’ll probably flood the basement. A little bit of “Mr. Fix-it” work, directing your gutters away from the foundation (typically 5 or more feet) makes a huge difference.

A friend just told me that to prepare for hurricane Irene, she connected a couple of “rain barrels” to her downspouts, then let them drain away from the house to the street. The rain was so heavy that the barrels filled up in seconds! Imagine if all that water was dumping right at the foundation walls.

You should also look around the outside of your house for puddles. Any place near the foundation where water pools up is a problem area. You want to ensure that the ground around your foundation slopes away from the house so that the water runs away. Otherwise, it will funnel the water into your basement.

Another thing to do is maintain your sump pump, if you have one. You’re probably well aware by this time that you often lose power when there are storms. When that happens, if you don’t have a battery backup for your sump, then you’re out of luck. It’s well worth investing in backup power for the sump to avoid a lot of heartache in the future.

Keep in mind that the battery won’t last very long. If you have a big storm that requires frequent sump operation, the battery will run down pretty quickly, so even that is no guarantee. To really prepare, you’re going to need a backup generator.

Summary of steps to clean up after a flood

  • Play it safe – don’t go in wet areas and handle electrical devices, especially if it requires standing in a puddle. If possible, turn off the power to the area.
  • Remove standing water – puddles or any other sources of liquid water. Things will never dry out if you don’t.
  • Dry off your precious belongings as soon as possible
  • Dehumidify the space with dehumidifiers and air conditioning
  • Fix problems like poorly routed downspouts to reduce problems in the future
Good luck and keep it dry!

12 thoughts on “Cleaning up after a hurricane or basement flood

  1. My wife and I are remodeling our basement, so we are trying to take steps to make sure we don’t flood the basement during construction. I had no idea that a leaf blower could be used to dry things out and evaporate the water faster. We’ll be sure to try this if any of our stuff gets wet. Thanks for sharing.

    • Anything that moves lots of air will help speed the evaporation process. Most practical would be using several large fans, but the leaf-blower trick can work pretty well for spot-cleanup.

  2. nice post.. but these are the two important points that you have skipped:
    – You must analyze the level of water in the surrounding areas of the basement. This is to make sure the water that hase been extracted out will not come back into your house.
    – Water extraction should be slow and steady this is to make sure that pressure inside the basement does not fall rapidly and cause walls of the basement to crack.

  3. When you are handling the water cleanup, be sure that everything is dry, from carpet and flooring, to baseboards and walls, to insulation and jambs, etc. Forgetting to dry or remove something wet will lead to mold growth. If you have any questions while attempting your water cleanup, contact a trusted water damage restoration company. They can provide advice, expertise, and appropriate equipment to ensure that your home is restored to a dry, safe, healthy state.

  4. Thailand is flooding. Then I search for the knowledge to prepare myself and tell my friends. We’ve never seen these messes before and we’re panic.

    Thank you for your blog.

    This is very helpful.

  5. Pingback: Keeping it real, pt.2: Cleaning up after a flood | OurKudos Cheers! Good News for a Better Today

  6. Nice job Ted!

    When generators were no longer available, I directed 2 clients to get heavy duty inverters designed for cars. I powered my sump with the one in my van when power went out. Beforehand, I ran an extention chord from it to my basement sump. When the power went out, I started the van and fired up the inverter. Our basement stayed as dry as any other very heavy rain with only a few gallons of water to shop vac out of our crawl.

  7. Thanks Jack,
    If you’ve got any more recommendations, please share! Sounds like you guys were knocked out for a lot longer that we were. Up here, it was just like any other rainy day.

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