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Immediate Aftermath

For up to date information call Floodline on 0845 988 1188

Immediate Aftermath of a Flood

This section deals with the practicalities as to how to deal with your home if it has been flooded.

Returning after Evacuation

If you have been evacuated check with the emergency services that it is safe before returning to your property. Do not enter until you have shut off the gas and electricity if it was left on when you evacuated.

Water supply companies advise that mains tap water should not be contaminated. Wash taps and run them for a few minutes before use. If in doubt contact your water company.

During a period of flooding the water levels may rise and fall over a period of several weeks, dependent upon rainfall and drainage. It is pointless to carry out any restoration work until you are fairly confident that the floods have gone. However, do carry out any immediate work to make the structure safe if you can. Continue to monitor the weather and flood warnings.

Do not return to live in the building until it is structurally safe, sufficiently clean and preferably reasonably dry.

Contact your Insurance Company

Call your insurance company to apprise them of the situation. Take as many photographs as you can of the flooding and the damage. Make sure your insurance company knows how and where to contact you.

Dealing with Stress

Flooding is a highly stressful event particularly for children. Even if everything else is falling apart around you, find time to spend to spend at least a few minutes each day with each child. A few loving words and a hug can work wonders. Children can settle down more easily after a crisis if you establish some daily routines as quickly as possible even if these are not the routines they are used to. Establish regular times for meals and bedtime.

You need to rest and your body needs time to relax and recharge. Take 20 minutes each day for a restful activity, walk, read a book or sit quietly. When you feel fatigued give in to the need for sleep. Continuing when you are tired adds to your stress.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Communities, friends and relatives can be a big support if you let them know what you need. Children begin to relax and feel secure when they sense an easing of tension in their parents.

Pump out Standing Water

Do not occupy a house that still contains standing water.

Standing water should be removed with pumps or pails, followed by a wet and dry vacuum to mop up any remaining water.

Your local fire brigade may assist with pumping once flood waters are beginning to subside. It is important not to leave basements full of water if pumping out is possible.

Be careful not to de-water too quickly since the pressure of water surrounding the building could damage the foundations of your property. As a general rule of advice it is best to drain in stages - the recommendation is about a third of the volume daily.

Do not heat your home to more than 4ºC (about 40ºF) until all the water is removed.

Safety Precautions

During clean up, the following safety precautions should be adhered to:

  • Wear protective clothes, sturdy boots and gloves while handling debris.
  • Wear substantial waterproof gloves while cleaning flood-damaged areas and items.
  • Keep your hands away from your face while cleaning.
  • Allow plenty of ventilation through a flooded building.
  • Wash your hands with disinfectant if you have been in contact with flood water or silt and after cleaning up.
  • Watch out for any sharp objects such as broken glass or nails while you're clearing up.
  • Cover any existing or new open cuts and wounds on exposed skin with a waterproof plaster.

Remove Mud and Silt

Mud will invariably be contaminated from a variety of sources, particularly sewage. Shovel out as much mud as possible and then use a garden sprayer or hose to wash away mud from hard surfaces.

Remember to hose out ducts (having disconnected them from any appliances such as central heating systems) and other void spaces. If large volumes of mud and silt have been left in and around your building, remove the mud from inside and outside of the walls to ensure that they do not have excessive loads on one side of the wall.

See High Pressure Jetting for suppliers of pressure jetting equipment and services.

See Clean Up Teams for emergency response companies with experienced clean-up teams available.

Clean and Disinfect

Scrub surfaces with hot soapy water and a heavy duty cleaner, using a brush. When clean rinse the soap off surfaces. Make sure that you clean in hidden voids (for example, behind and under kitchen units and cupboards), as the flood waters are likely to have entered these areas too.

The flood water may have contained oil or diesel - if some still remains once the flood water and silt have been removed, clean by using a detergent solution. If in doubt about what has been contaminated, remember that it is better to be safe than sorry, especially in the case of objects such as soft furnishings and clothes. 

Any obviously spoiled goods should be placed in plastic rubbish sacks (tied securely) and disposed of. This includes any food which have come into contact with flood waters. Remove all soft furnishings and fittings that are damaged beyond repair.

The Cleaning and Restoration Products and Services page has links to companies with specialist cleaning expertise.

Domestic disinfectants should be used on all areas that have been in contact with flood water following cleaning. All food preparation surfaces, equipment, containers, utensils, crockery and cutlery must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before use.

Allow all cleansed and disinfected areas to thoroughly dry - the majority of germs and infectious organisms require water to survive. See Drying Out for further details on drying out your property. Take furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing outside to dry as soon as possible - this will assist in the prevention of moulds.

Your Local Authority may also be able to help with advice and clean up materials.


Mould can pose a health hazard, especially for infants, the elderly and those with asthma, allergies, or illnesses. If mould is present or materials have not been cleaned and dried within two or three days of the flood water receding, then vulnerable persons should stay away during restoration and precautions should be taken to protect workers. Well-fitting respirators with toxic particle cartridges are recommended; dust masks are not adequate. Respirators can be found at DIY or building centres.

Mildew is a growing organism that can permanently damage most textile fibres - especially natural fibres such as cotton, linen, rayon and wool. Mould exposure may cause cold-like symptoms, watery eyes, sore throat, wheezing and dizziness and trigger asthma attacks. Because some mould spores are very small and can easily be breathed deeply into the lungs, it is not safe to live in houses with high mould levels. 

Moulds can usually be detected by a musty odour and discolouration of surfaces is common with mould growth. The mould may change surfaces to white, green, brown, black or orange.

Reliable sampling for mould can be expensive but the best solution to mildew problems is to disinfect and dry.

Electric Units Require Care after a Flood

All electrical wiring, appliances and motors damaged by flood water should be checked by an electrician or competent person before any attempt is made to start them. Motors damaged by moisture and dirt can burn out by careless starting and damp wiring can short out.

Where immediate use of electric power is essential and the permanent wiring is not yet dry, temporary lines may be run for some equipment, such as pumps. No one should attempt to work on wiring, especially when it is wet, without turning off the mains.

If you have any questions about your electrical system and want information or help, check with your main supplier of power.

You can help by following some of these actions:

  • Wiring must be completely dried out.
  • If plaster is weak and must be replaced, take advantage of the resulting openings to circulate warm air between the framework and siding. This will speed up the drying of concealed wire.
  • Remove covers from switches, sockets, light sockets and junction boxes that have been under water.
  • If the junction box is filled with mud, remove screws holding the receptacle or switch in the box. Pull receptacle, switch and wires in junction boxes out about two inches from the box. Clean out mud and dirt. Do not remove electrical connections. Leave the boxes open.
  • Remove fuses and cover from the fuse box. Clean out mud. Wires can be moved, but do not disconnect.

After these things have been done and the wiring has had a chance to dry, an electrician can check the system without delay.

For electric motors and generators, contact an electrician or electric repair person. For radio and television sets, refrigerators, freezers and electric water heaters that have been damaged, call a competent service person. Amateur attempts at cleaning and drying radio or television sets can do more harm than good.

Electric irons, lamps and ranges probably can be cleaned at home. Remove the plate from the base of your electric iron, clean and dry the iron element and mechanism. Check the cord carefully, and clean and dry the plug. Give special care to the cord and plug of a damaged electric lamp. The switch also should be cleaned and dried along with the wiring switches, controls, plug and cords of your electrical itmes.

Treating Flood Damaged Cothing

The first step to cleaning mud-soiled clothing is rinsing and soaking in clear water to remove most of the muddy residue. If the washer still works, use the pre-rinse spin cycle. If the washer also is flooded, wring out as much excess moisture as possible.

Do not leave wet clothes piled in a heap, the moist, warm and dark conditions in the center of the heap will be perfect conditions for the growth of mildew. Mildew is a growing organism that can permanently damage most textile fibres especially natural fibres such as cotton, linen, rayon and wool.

If outdoor lines are available and it is clear weather, clothes can be rinsed and hung up outdoors to dry. The weather does not have to be sunny in order to dry items. Indoor, air conditioning will assist drying, but in its absence, dehumidifiers or fans may help speed the drying process.

Drying clothes quickly, even with soil in them, will help prevent growth of mildew. Do not be tempted to put them in the tumble dryer as this will not only mess up the dryer, it will also set the mud and other stains in the clothing fibres, making them more difficult to remove.

Try to wash clothes as soon as possible and get them really clean using manageable-sized laundry loads. Wash light-coloured items first to help avoid permanent staining.

In general, for washable clothes, the same procedures that one might use for extremely dirty clothes in normal circumstances, should be followed.

It is recommended that you soak clothes in cold water to remove as much mud as possible, then wash them in hot water with a heavy-duty detergent. Using about one-half cup of water conditioner will boost the detergent's cleaning power.

Hot water and bleach are needed to reduce bacterial contamination that may have occurred. Add an all-fabric bleach when washing most coloured clothing. For colourfast or white clothes, add a cup of liquid chlorine bleach to the wash cycle, unless the water contains a lot of iron. Iron in the water will stain the clothes if chlorine bleach is used.

High temperature dryer drying also will help sanitize clothing, assuming it is clean after laundering.

Dry-clean only clothes, if they are worth salvaging, should be sent to the dry cleaner. The chemicals in the cleaning process and the high-temperature steam pressing will sanitise the clothing.

Treatment of Flood Contaminated Bedding

  • Bedding: Hang out to air and dry thoroughly; then brush to remove excess dirt and soil.
  • Blankets: Put wool blankets through a dry-cleaning process either at a commercial dry-cleaning plant or at a coin- operated facility. Shrinkage and thorough cleaning make wool blankets difficult to wash. For blankets that are washable (rayon, acrylic, cotton), put them through two complete washing cycles. Air-dry or use an automatic dryer at proper temperature settings.
  • Sheets and Pillowcases: Put through two complete washing cycles. Bleach using diluted liquid chlorine bleach to help kill germs. Follow your regular drying procedure.
  • Quilts and Comforters: Wash or dry-clean depending on fibre content of the bedding. Usually, it's best to wash cotton quilts.
  • Pillows: If pillows are foam rubber or stuffed with feathers or fibrefill, put them through a regular washing cycle using sudsy lukewarm water. Do not overload the machine. Two pillows usually make a normal load.

Check the ticking on the feather pillow to see if it is tight. If it is, do not take the feathers out of the pillow. If the ticking is worn, transfer the feathers to a muslin bag larger than the ticking. Sew up the bag, wash feathers in it; then dry, and put them back in the ticking.

Stop the washing process mid-way and turn the pillows over by hand. Plan to use a non-chlorine disinfectant in the wash or rinse water for pillows containing foam, down or feathers. Use bleach on fibrefill pillows.

Air-dry foam rubber pillows. There is danger of fire if they are put in an automatic dryer. Feather pillows may be dried in an automatic dryer at a low temperature setting or may be air-dried. Air-dried pillows can be fluffed up by hand as they are drying.

Do not wash kapok and cotton-filled pillows. The cotton filling will become lumpy because water disintegrates kapok. These pillows probably should not be reclaimed.

  • Mattresses: Foam-rubber and urethane-foam mattresses are mildew-proof and odourless. The cover can be removed and machine-washed (or you may want to discard it and buy a new cover). The foam mattress part can be thoroughly washed with a garden hose. Squeeze a detergent and water solution through the foam if possible.

Reconditioning of other types of mattresses is generally too difficult to do at home and should be handled by professionals. For a good innerspring mattress, check with a nearby commercial renovating company to see if it is worth reclaiming. Check the cost of renovation against the replacement cost.

As a general rule, inexpensive mattresses are not worth the expense of reclaiming and should be discarded.

Making Choices about Cleaning Wet Carpets

Flood damage varies from a little basement dampness or run off through to total submersion in sewage-contaminated flood water lasting for days or weeks.

If your damage is less severe, you can try to clean the carpet, but you may face a health risk. Even with your best efforts, wet carpets will be difficult to clean and it will be a challenge to prevent mildew and odour problems. Professional cleaning is expensive and will probably leave your carpet a different shade and maybe even a size smaller than it was before.

You can assume that the flood water and your carpet has been contaminated with infectious organisms so it is very important to be aware of the consequential potential health risks.

Throws or accent rugs:

Washable accent or throw rugs can be cleaned after a flood. If they are dry, shake them out to remove excess dirt. If they are wet, hose them off to remove mud before you put them in the washer.

Machine wash them in strong detergent and hot water. Adding 1/2 cup of all-fabric bleach per wash load will help reduce odour in the rugs. Most washing machines will hold two small (60cm x 90cm) rugs. Larger rugs can be washed in larger washers at laundrettes.

Line drying, preferably in the sun, is best. If the rug has a non-skid latex backing, low temperature drying for a short time is possible, but avoid high heat or the rubber will start to deform, melt, and make a mess in your dryer.

If the latex backing on a throw rug was worn and beginning to peel off before the flood, the rug may not be worth cleaning. The backing will flake off in the washing machine and can be very hard to clear out. Non-skid latex backings deteriorate with time and normal use.

Sometimes these rugs hold together well enough to be washed in a bathtub or outside tub and dried outdoors. If the backing is ruined, a non-skid mat or liner can be used beneath it so that people can avoid trips, slips, and falls. The cost of the non-skid mat may be equal to that of a new rug, so compare prices.

Salvaging Photographs, Documents and Books

If you want to save photographs, important documents, or books that have been damaged by flood water, the first thing to do is get them out of the water. Then, if you don't have time to care for them immediately, freeze them.

If other flood clean-up is more pressing, put flood-damaged photos, documents and books in the freezer, freezing will delay further damage.

The important thing is to act quickly, before mildew sets in. You have the best chance of saving items that are not mildewed already. Photos, papers and books that still are wet have not yet been attacked by mildew. Mildew doesn't grow on wet material, it grows on damp material.

If an item already is mildewed and can be replaced, throw it away. If you can't make that decision now, then freeze the item. Freezing doesn't kill mildew, but it temporarily stops mildew growth. And, freezing doesn't dry the item. Freezing simply buys time. Eventually you will have to decide what to do with each item you freeze.

How to freeze photos, documents, books:

  • Pick the item up out of the water and hold it while it drains.
  • Place the item in a plastic bag, and stick it in the freezer.
  • If you have several items of approximately the same size, such as file folders or books, you can place them upright in a milk crate or box, separated with paper towelling, butcher paper or wax paper.
  • When freezing books, stand them vertically on their spines. A milk crate is a good choice for this task because it allows air flow around the items.
  • Use a container that won't become water-logged.
  • Pack the items just tight enough so that they remain upright.
  • If a book obviously is wet and is still closed, keep it closed. Don't open it or you may destroy the book. Let it drain, then freeze it.

If photos have stuck together and then dried, don't pull them apart, you could damage the emulsion layer. Get the photos wet again before attempting to separate them, or consult a professional photographer.

You can leave the items in the freezer, literally, for years. Freezing won't hurt them. But we suggest that you deal with the items as soon as you can.

When you have time and can decide calmly, review the items you've frozen. Decide which items you really want to save and which items you can discard. Later, you can get the items out of the freezer as many or as few at a time as you like and dry them.

Drying frozen photos, documents, books:

When you're ready to deal with the frozen items, you may want to contact a commercial freeze-drying company if you have items of sufficient value and quantity to be worth the expense.

Alternatively you can air dry the items yourself by following these guidelines:

  • Work in an area that doesn't present more problems. For example, don't dry the items in a damp basement. As the items thaw, water will drip and conditions will get humid.
  • Place wet items on a surface that won't be damaged by dripping water. Or place items on a surface that has been covered with polyethylene.
  • Documents and photos can be hung on a line.
  • Stand books on end, fanned open. You may want to place paper towels within each book, every 50 pages or quarter inch. The towels will act as wicks and pull water out of the books.
  • You may want to put paper towels underneath the items to absorb water that will drip during thawing. Change the towelling as it gets wet.
  • Run a fan to circulate air over and around the items as they dry.
  • After books feel dry, close them squarely and stack them under a brick. Let them dry another 24 hours. This should help them resume their shape.
  • It may take two or three days to dry out a photo or document, and several days to dry out a book.

After they've dried, photos probably will be curled. To uncurl them, you can wash each photo carefully in a photo tray, then put them between clean white blotters under pressure. Photography blotters, which are preferable, may be available at photo supply stores, but any kind of clean white blotter would work. Change blotters as they become damp.

Alternatively you might want to call a commercial photographer, who may be able to help you depending on the amount of damage to the photo. A photographer may be able to make a new negative from the original photo, and print a new photo for you.

See also You have been flooded

Useful Links

If you wish to have a loss adjuster to represent you to ensure that you get the best deal from your insurers, you can find local Loss Adjusters or look to contact someone via The Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters.

To find a structural surveyor who can advise on repairing your property visit the Structural Engineers area of this site or The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors