Salvaging Flood-damaged Items

NDSU Offers Flood Salvage Tips
As floodwater recedes, homeowners will want to salvage as much as possible.

Here is some basic information from the North Dakota State University Extension
Service on how to save damaged possessions and clean or repair your water-
damaged home.

"What it boils down to is you simply can’t keep things that are made of porous
material, " says Becky Koch, NDSU Agriculture Communication director and past
chair of the Extension Disaster Education Network. "If water can get inside, it
carries biological and chemical pollutants that are impossible to get totally

Mold growth is a major concern when saving flood-damaged items. Absorbent
materials must be dried within 48 hours (72 hours in cooler conditions).

Here are some ways you may be able to save documents and photos:

* Use a blotting material, such as paper towels, to remove moisture from

* Air-dry the documents in a cool place with lots of air circulation.

* Rinse wet photos in clean water if they are dirty and dry them face up in a
single layer on a clean surface.

* If you can’t dry documents and photos within hours, clean off mud or muck,
separate photos with wax paper, put them in plastic bags and store them in a
frost-free freezer.

* Avoid drying documents or photos in direct sunlight because this may damage
them permanently.

Here is advice for various other cleanup procedures:


* Turn off electricity to your home. Stand on a dry spot or a dry wooden block
or plastic crate. Use a dry wooden stick or plastic pipe to pull the fuse box
handle to off. Pull out the main fuses and unscrew each circuit fuse. On a
breaker box, use the stick to switch off the main breaker switch and each
circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to your electric box, call
an electrician or your power company. Even if the power company has turned off
electricity to your area, make sure your house’s power is disconnected so it
won’t come back on without warning.

* Turn off gas. If you suspect a leak or smell gas, leave your home immediately.
Leave the door open. If the gas meter is outside, use pliers or a wrench to turn
the valve a quarter turn so the valve is perpendicular to the pipe. Also contact
your gas supplier.

* Make sure your drinking water is safe. Listen for announcements about the
local water supply. Private water wells need to be tested and disinfected after
floodwater recedes if floodwater has been near the well. Water that might be
contaminated should be boiled at least 10 minutes. For more information about
cleaning flooded wells, visit

* Make sure food is safe. Frozen or refrigerated foods, including meats, milk
products, eggs and casseroles, warmed above 40 degrees for more than two hours
may not be safe to eat. Discard anything that is moldy or has an unusual odor or
look. Partially thawed frozen foods that still have ice crystals can be
refrozen. Most once-frozen foods that have thawed can be cooked and eaten
immediately if they haven’t been above 40 degrees more than two hours.

* Stay healthy. Floodwater may contain biological contaminants, so wash your
hands with soap and water often. Get a tetanus booster before working in
floodwater if your immunization is not current. Disinfect dishes, appliances and
other materials that may have been contaminated by floodwater.

General Cleanup

* Remove water from the basement slowly. If your basement is full or nearly full
of water, pump out just 2 or 3 feet of water each day. If you drain the basement
too quickly, the pressure outside the walls will be greater than the pressure
inside, causing the walls and floor to crack and collapse.

* Remove contaminated mud. Shovel out as much mud as possible, then use a garden
sprayer or hose to wash away mud from hard surfaces. Start cleaning walls at the
bottom or where the damage is the worst. Remember to hose out heating ducts,
disconnecting the furnace first.

* Clean and disinfect. Scrub surfaces with hot water and a heavy-duty cleaner.
Then disinfect with a solution of 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chlorine bleach per gallon
of water or a product that is labeled as a disinfectant to kill germs. Do not
use laundry bleaches on materials that will be damaged or might fade. Thoroughly
disinfect areas where small children play. Don’t mix cleaning products. A
combination of chemicals can give off toxic fumes.

* Dry ceilings and walls. Remove and throw away flood-soaked wallboard. Plaster
and paneling often can be saved, but air must be circulated in the wall cavities
to dry the studs and sills. The three kinds of insulation must be treated
differently. Styrofoam might only need to be hosed off. Fiberglass batts should
be thrown out if muddy but may be reused if dried thoroughly. Loose or blown-in
cellulose should be replaced since it holds water for a long time and can lose
its antifungal and fire retardant abilities.

* Prevent mold growth. Drying must be completed within 48 to 72 hours to
minimize mold growth. Take furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing outside to dry
as soon as possible. Open at least two windows to ventilate the home with dry
outdoor air or use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to remove moisture. Use
fans to circulate air in the house. Wear a protective mask to prevent breathing
mold spores.

Cleaning Carpet and Floors

* Clean and dry carpets and rugs as quickly as possible. If sewage-contaminated
floodwater covered your carpeting, discard it for health safety reasons. Also
discard the carpet if it was wet for about two days because mold growth will
have occurred and can’t be removed. To clean, drape carpets and rugs outdoors
and hose them down. Work a disinfecting carpet cleaner into soiled spots with a
broom. Dry the carpet and floor thoroughly before replacing the carpet. Padding
is nearly impossible to clean, so it should be replaced. If the carpet can’t be
removed and does not have a pad or attached foam backing, dry it as quickly as
possible (within 24 hours) using a wet/dry vacuum and dehumidifier. Use a fan to
circulate air above the carpet and, if possible, lift the carpet and ventilate
with fans underneath.

* Remove hardwood floor boards to prevent buckling. Remove a board every few
feet to reduce buckling caused by swelling. Clean and dry wood before attempting
repairs. With wood subflooring, the floor covering (vinyl, linoleum, carpet)
must be removed so the subflooring can dry thoroughly, which may take weeks.
Open windows and doors to remove moisture from the house.

Electrical Cleanup

* Appliances: Electric motors must be reconditioned or replaced. To clean
surfaces, use a heavy-duty cleaner and hot water, then a bleach solution.
Refrigerators, freezers and ovens with foam insulation and sealed components may
have little water damage, but since they hold food, they should be cleaned and

* Electronics: Get a cost estimate from a professional for repairing
televisions, radios, computers and similar equipment to decide if the device is
worth repairing.

* Cleanup Equipment: When using sprayers, wet vacs, vacuum cleaners and other
cleaning equipment, use an extension cord with a ground fault circuit
interrupter (GFCI) or install a GFCI in the electrical circuits in damp

* Hire a professional to replace or recondition electrical wiring and equipment.

Taking Care of Yourself

* Accept support from family, friends and others. Talk about your feelings to
release tension.

* Discuss the situation with children honestly and openly.

* Get proper nutrition and rest. Pace yourself, and take one step at a time.
Don’t be afraid to get help.


* Call your insurance agent. If your insurance covers the damage, your agent
will tell you when an adjuster will contact you.

* List damage and take photos or videotape as you clean. You’ll need complete
records for insurance claims, applications for disaster assistance and income
tax deductions.

* Check with governmental officials for procedures and documentation required
for possible financial assistance.

For more help to cope with flooding, visit NDSU’s flood information Web site at