Clean Up After A Disaster

The following are recommendations for how to safely and effectively clean up after a disaster occurs:

Evaluate Home Safety After a Disaster

  • After confirming that dangerous weather has subsided, approach homes with caution.
  • Check foundations for cracks or other damage. If there is obvious damage or doubts about safety, contact a building inspector or contractor to check the house.
  • Call utility companies to report down wires or gas leaks. Contact utilities if there is standing water in the basement.
  • Upon returning to home after a flood, electricity should be restored by your local utility company.
  • Smoking, using candles or lanterns should be prohibited until it is determined that there are no gas leaks.
  • Check the water system for leaks or damaged pipes. Do not drink from a damaged water system. “When in doubt, purify it first”.

Keep Good Records

  • Keep receipts for cleanup expenses, materials, labor, equipment rentals, and motel bills for insurance records.
  • Compile a list of the damage to your home (include pictures and videotapes for supporting evidence).

Restore Utilities With Professional Help

  • Gas and electrical systems should be repaired and restored by certified/licensed professionals.
  • Sewage and water problems should be reported to local water officials to determine the point of origin.

Test Plumbing Drains Before Use

  • Plumbing problems may not always be evident after a natural disaster. We recommend you test drains prior to use. Test drains of plumbing fixtures, water closets, and basement drains by pouring a bucket of water into the drain. If they are clear of obstructions, the water will drain freely.
  • In most cases of stoppage, it is necessary to call a qualified plumber for service or advice. Improper use of tools or incorrect tools can result in breakage of fixtures. To check valves and other backflow preventers requires the services of a qualified plumber.
  • Always check with your local building department to see if a permit is required for any necessary repairs and to ensure your plumber is licensed.
  • If you have the tools and the ability, you may be able to perform some cleanup of your plumbing.
  • Remove clean out plug for access to plumbing lines and clean out all obstructions.
    • Remove accessible traps and clean out all mud and debris.
    • A plumber’s snake can be used in stopped up drains and a closet auger in stopped up water closets.
  • Check the sump pump.  It must be thoroughly dried and will need to be checked by a qualified electrician for proper operation and safety.
  • If you are on a public or semi-public water system, follow the directions for usage of water, which will be put out by local authorities.
  • If you are on a private water system, follow the directions on the Fact Sheet for Disinfection of Flooded Private Water Systems.
  • Make sure you contact your local health department to sample and approve your water supply before resuming use. 

Clean Up

Take special care during cleanup to disinfect everything that has come in contact with floodwaters.  Use EPA registered disinfectants during cleanup. We recommend the following procedures be carried out before you formally occupy your home after a natural disaster:

  • Turn off main power switches.
  • Unplug all appliances.
  • Carefully check electric wiring and outlet plugs.
  • Dry off all appliances which have been flooded.
  • Check your fuel oil or gas system out thoroughly before use of any of these appliances.
  • If you have L.P., propane, or fuel oil tanks on your property, make sure these are properly secured.
  • Check all lines for breaks or leaks (DO NOT USE A FLAME).
  • Check all pilots and burners for any obstructions and proper operation.

If you have questions or are uncertain of the operation of any of these items, contact a repairman. Check pilot lights for a few days to ensure they are continuing to operate.

  • Scrub your entire home, clothing, furniture, drapes and anything that has been exposed to the floodwater or elements. Use the community water source. This water is heavily chlorinated for this purpose. Use COLD water and soap. Boiling will destroy the chlorine. Soap in any form may be added to the cold water.
  • Floors and all contact surfaces should be disinfected. A 10% bleach solution should be used.  To make a 10% bleach solution, add 1 ½ cups of household bleach to 1 gallon of water.
  • Carpets and rugs must be removed. After flooding, you will find silt on the floor and in carpet padding. In most cases, the padding must be discarded. Before removing your carpet or rug, scrub with a soap solution. It is very difficult to clean a carpet once it is removed. Finally, consult with a reputable carpet cleaner. 
  • We suggest curtains and draperies be taken to a dry cleaner for professional cleaning.
  • Scrub all usable furniture thoroughly. Use the community tap water, which contains chlorine; finally scrub with soap and water.
  • Pump basement dry and clean out debris. In case of floods, wait until the floodwaters have receded below the basement level. Prohibit children from entering the basement while it still contains water.
  • Open all windows for drying and ventilation. Use electric fans to speed drying process.

Financial Assistance

In general, there are four primary sources of financial assistance that may be able to help with clean-up and recover after a disaster:

  • Insurance agencies
  • Government disaster programs
  • Voluntary organizations
  • Businesses

Beware of “special deals” from repair contractors. Contact local builders’ associations for advice on reconstruction or to obtain a list of local contractors. Check licenses, insurance and references for any contractor you hire and obtain written estimates and a written contract (make sure any and all guarantees are in writing).


Click here to learn about how to properly deal with garbage and waste after a disaster:

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