In today’s article, we’re going to be handling something a bit on the gross side, but important nonetheless. Contaminated floodwater is not only disgusting but can also be extremely dangerous. We’re going to guide you through the process of cleaning up the floodwater itself and things that have been contaminated. And most importantly, we’ll cover how you can stay safe around contaminated floodwater.

Featured image for "Biohazard: A 3 Step Guide To Handling Contaminated Floodwater"

Is it contaminated?

You can never know for sure what’s in floodwater. At any given time there could be zero harmful-to-your-health elements. And at another time there could be ten. A few of the dangerous (or even potentially deadly) things that might be found in standing floodwater include downed power lines, human or livestock waste, household or medical waste, and wild or stray animals. And that’s only scratching the surface of potential hazards. 

With the possibility of hazards like these, it’s better to treat all floodwater as if it is contaminated. Especially if you’re involved in repeated cleaning up after floods, such as during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Laura. As we saw in Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, it is possible to lose your life due to flesh-eating bacteria from floodwater. So let’s get started learning how to stay safe and healthy, all while being productive and helpful in floodwater cleanup. 

1 – Gearing up 

First things first, you need to get “geared up” before you tackle the job of floodwater cleanup. Because of how dangerous floodwater can be, it’s important to get the right equipment to keep you safe. The CDC recommends that you wear long sleeves, pants, rubber boots, gloves, goggles, and a mask for general cleanup. These items will help your skin, extremities, and lungs from being exposed to health hazards. 

2 – Weeding out

Various canned foods

Now that your health and safety have been taken care of, we’re ready for our next step. Figuring out what should be kept and what should be thrown away. As a general rule, you should get rid of anything that has sat for 2-3 days in floodwaters. It would be hard, and possibly dangerous, to try to salvage and clean something that’s most likely been sitting in contaminated water for that long. 

You should dispose of all food and consumables, no matter how little or much they were in contact with contaminated water. One exception to this is unopened, canned foods that can be properly disinfected. Otherwise, it’s not worth risking your health for that Snickers bar or can of Pringles. You know where to get more. 

As devastating as it is, pretty much anything that may have absorbed dirty floodwater should be discarded, unless it can be cleaned. Clothes, blankets, and the like can easily be washed/disinfected. But things like mattresses, pillows, books, chairs, and other similar items are not safe to keep. As we mentioned earlier, anything that has been sitting in water or a wet place shouldn’t be kept, solely for the safety of the person using the item. 

Rugs can sometimes be salvaged, but carpet, and especially the padding underneath, should probably be ditched. If hardwood floors have been wet/damp for a while, they most likely will need to be replaced. However, in every case, a professional water restoration team could tell you exactly whether things like flooring and carpets need to be torn out or can be kept.

3 – Cleaning contaminated items

We’re going to take a quick look now at how to clean your salvaged items. Any items that don’t retain water, such as metal, plastic, glass, and some wood items, can be wiped down with a disinfecting cleaning solution. The CDC recommends using a solution of 1 cup of bleach for every 5 gallons of water. Just be sure to rinse everything after cleaning it, and protect yourself from direct bleach or bleach fumes. 

When it comes to cleaning your actual house, it can be hard to know where to start. This compilation of articles from the CDC has excellent information on that subject. It’s important to disinfect every surface that has been touched by floodwaters.

Person cleaning surface

Depending on the severity of your flooding, a wipe down with a bleach solution may be sufficient. However, at other times, you may have to pull up flooring or re-sheetrock your home to properly get rid of all hazards. Do research for your specific kinds of damage or have a professional come in to help you learn what needs to be done to ensure everyone’s health and safety. 

Don’t take chances

This topic can’t be stressed enough. With the number of lives lost to health complications from contaminated floodwaters, your safety and the safety of others must be your number one priority. Don’t take a chance on not cleaning or discarding. Protect yourself from harm, and stay healthy. And if you’re up against floodwaters that have damaged your walls, check out this article on our blog about drywall water damage.