Removing water from carpets or rugs after a flood

Now that you’ve survived a storm, the water has receded and you’ve got your power back, what next? In all likelihood, you’re probably dealing with a wet rug or carpeting and dreading the idea of tearing it all up and throwing it away. But do you really need to do this? The answer is, “it depends.”

If your flood was caused by a stream or river, chances are you’ve got mounds of mud in your basement. While this silt may be great for growing crops, it’s really bad for carpets and the amount of money you’d have to spend cleaning up is probably greater than what it would cost to rip it out and buy it new after your basement has dried out. In addition, there’s a good chance that the water was polluted and maybe smelly, so you probably want to get it out of your home ASAP!

On the other hand, if the water was relatively clean, and your house doesn’t yet smell like a wet dog, you might be able to salvage the carpet. But it really depends upon the situation.

In either case, it may be days or weeks before you can get someone out to your house to remove or clean the carpet, and every day it sits there soaking wet, the greater the chance of it getting moldy or causing damage to your home. So your biggest priority is drying it out, and soon!

If you have a shop vac designed for sucking up water, you’re in luck. If not, it’s worth going to your hardware store and buying a big, powerful shop vac. For example, I’ve got one of these and it’s awesome! Every homeowner should have one of these. If you don’t want to go for the big one, it’s worth getting a smaller one. They’re well under $100 and even if you use it just this one time, it will pay for itself.

You might be tempted to use a carpet cleaner, but don’t do that yet. You’ll be amazed at how much water a wet rug holds, so a shop-vac is the the way to go. Plus, you want to suck up all the big debris first or you’re liable to clog up an expensive carpet cleaner. Save that for final cleaning.

Do a thorough vacuuming of the wet carpet. This will take a long time and lots of elbow grease. Expect to go over the entire surface several times. You want to keep doing it until the shop vac can’t remove any more water from the carpet. In the end, you want the carpet as dry as if you had just had the carpet cleaned. This is really important because it will take forever to dry out if it’s still soaking wet. And you don’t want hundreds of gallons of water from the carpet evaporating into your home or you’ll end up with an unhealthy, moldy mess.

As noted in the previous post, you want to remove excess moisture from the air as quickly as possible. A couple of dehumidifiers and your home’s central air conditioning will work well. Or, if you have a beautiful day with low humidity, you can open the house and run fans to help evaporate the water and flush it out.

Physics lesson for the day:

Humid air is lighter than dry air, so the moisture from your flooded basement wants to rise up through your home. This is why ceilings or high up on the wall is often the first place that get moldy. When you have a wet basement, it will affect your entire home and you could end up with mold on the upper floors of your home. All the more reason to get the moisture under control ASAP!

Protecting the floors

If the rugs are removable, like an area rug, I highly recommend taking it outside after you’ve removed the bulk water with the shop vac. Set it in the sun, on your driveway (not on the lawn or you’ll likely kill the lawn).

This serves several purposes:

  • The hot sun and a little breeze will bake out the remaining water far faster (and cheaper) than doing this in your house.
  • The summer sun has a fair amount of ultra-violet radiation, which helps kill bacteria.
  • It protects the floors on which the rugs were lying and gives them a chance to dry out.

The last point is key. There’s few things worse than leaving a wet rug on a wooden floor. The trapped moisture can warp and ruin the floors very quickly. So it’s critical to get that moisture away from the wood and let the wood dry out thoroughly before putting anything on it that might trap moisture.

Even if you have wall-to-wall carpet, it’s a good idea to pull up the carpet after a flood to ensure that there’s not water trapped under it. You might get lucky and be able to remove enough water with the shop vac and the dehumidifiers/air conditioning, but you are highly advised to make sure that there’s no water left after a couple days or you’ll have much more expensive problems than replacing carpets.

Fortunately, basements are usually cement, which doesn’t mind moisture, so if you do a good job sucking the water out of the carpets, and dehumidifying the space, you’re probably in luck. But again, you have to make sure that everything has dried out well within the first few days after a flood or you’re going to have a mold breeding ground which can cause serious health problems if you have a sensitivity to mold.

It’s all about speed

Throughout these recommendations, I’ve mentioned to clean and dry everything ASAP. It is truly a race against the clock. We’ve all spilled something on a carpet or had the dog decide that it’s easier to go there than outside, and we know that there’s usually no harm done if it’s cleaned up as soon as possible. But leave that wet carpet there for days or weeks, and you’ve got problems. Nasties will start growing and you may even do structural damage to your home. You need to act fast.

So break out the shop vac, dry the carpets, set them in the sun if you can, and make sure the floors are dry. A couple days of work could save you thousands of dollars. Get off the Internet and get to work!



9 thoughts on “Removing water from carpets or rugs after a flood

  1. The “physics lesson” is wrong: humid air is NOT lighter than dry air. Warmer air is lighter, and can “carry” more water, so the warmer air that picks up more humidity rises… and causes the effects described in the article. But volume for volume, dry air at the same temp as humid air weighs LESS.

    • sorry I have to disagree. the molecular weight of water vapor is substantially less than the molecular weight of the air that we breathe therefore volume for volume air with water vapor is lighter and dry air.

      • I apologize — you are absolutely correct. I was thinking along the lines of a solution (e.g. salt in water does not take up more space than water alone). But two gasses do not work that way. Feel free to delete my post if appropriate.

      • No Problem Charles. I appreciate these discussions because if one person has a question like that, there are undoubtedly dozens others thinking the same thing.

  2. have mould in my heat pump. a technician took it apart and squirted mould killer in there then rebuilt it. I am too scared to turn it on now. will it be safe? I was so sick from mould poisoning for 6 weeks. I thought it was asthma at first until I turned pump off and got better in afew days..

    • The important question is why was it moldy? A heater should be a dry environment,,hostile to mold growth. Or did it start when you ran the air conditioning?
      Do you have a humidifier built-in to the heat pump? If you do, make sure it’s disabled, because they are a prime source of excess moisture that can lead to mold growth.
      If you have a sensitivity to mold, then you may want to have your air tested with the system running to ensure mold levels are safe. If there was mold in there, there’s a good chance it’s in your ducts and those may need cleaning. Normally, I don’t recommend duct cleaning, but I’m your case, it may be required.

  3. Our wet rug is in the basement on assumed concrete floors. It is a relatively small area (about 6 sq feet in a whole floor sized basement). Dehumidifier and fans and wet vac seem to have worked pretty well in the last 24 hours but the padding underneath still seems wet. Do we have to/how do we pull that up without pulling up the whole rug?

    • Those carpet pads do hold a lot of moisture. Just do your best with the wet-vac. If it keeps pulling water out, keep vacuuming. That will get the bulk water out.
      Otherwise, with a dehumidifier and fans on the area, the water should evaporate pretty quickly. The key is to keep dehumidifying as long as there’s moisture remaining.

      If you’re really concerned with it, you could cut and open the carpet and remove the padding for drying in the sun or replacement, but that’s pretty drastic and then you’re left with a seam.

      If it were my carpet, I’d give it several days of fans and dehumidifier and see how that works.

  4. One more thing….
    If you have carpet padding, you’ll quickly find that it’s a huge sponge. You’re very unlikely to be able to suck out enough water using a shop vac. You can try, but don’t blame me if you ruin the underlying wood – if you leave trapped moisture in the pad, it’s going to ruin the wood.

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