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Cleaning up and returning home after flooding

Advice for cleaning up and returning to your home after a flood.

Please read this important information and follow these instructions carefully if you are cleaning up after a flood.

As flood water may be contaminated there are some things you should remember when cleaning your home to keep safe:

  • infection problems arising from floods in this country are rare but wherever possible, try to avoid coming into direct contact with floodwater
  • if you have to go into the water, be aware of hidden hazards. Wash your hands frequently - this is the most important way to get rid of harmful bugs
  • use rubber boots, protective overalls or waterproof apron, and waterproof gloves are important to avoid exposure to floodwater
  • scrubbing, hosing or pressure-washing may cause a lot of splashing, so it’s recommended to wear a standard face mask, such as those sold by DIY stores
  • eye protection such as goggles offer added protection and can be reused after thorough washing
  • hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and warm water after each clean-up session
  • clothes used for cleaning should be washed on a separate cycle from other clothes
  • cover open cuts and wounds on exposed skin with a waterproof plaster
  • remove all soft furnishings and fittings that are damaged beyond repair
  • avoid turning on devices that use gas or electricity as there is a possibility they may have got wet – a registered electrician should be called to assess the condition and damage to electrical wiring, equipment and appliances that have been affected by the flood
  • contact your insurance company and landlord if applicable for advice and to get approval to carry out any repairs – residents should take photos of the damage and keep records where possible
  • remove all dirty water and silt from the property as much as possible, including out of the space under downstairs floorboards if you have these - this may require pumping out
  • wash down all hard surfaces with hot soapy water several times until visually clean including walls and floors
  • use a domestic disinfectant, following manufacturer's directions as to concentrations, to wash over all hard surfaces after cleaning - food preparation surfaces and storage cupboards, refrigerators should be washed down with food safe disinfectant
  • diluted bleach can be used to mop hard floors or can be sprayed onto surfaces and then wiped off. Bleach should be left on surfaces for the contact time stated on the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure disinfection is effective. Bleach residues should be wiped off surfaces.
    • Safety precautions:
      • appropriate personal protective equipment (gloves, disposable plastic apron such as those available from DIY stores) should be worn when using these products and care should be taken to ensure that manufacturer’s instructions are followed correctly
      • cleaning activities should be carried out in ventilated spaces (for example with open windows) and bleach should not be mixed with other cleaning products as this could result in the release of harmful fumes
  • do not eat any food that has been in contact with floodwater
  • heating and good ventilation will help with the drying process - items can also be left to dry out naturally in open areas during dry weather. Sunlight is effective at killing micro-organisms
  • if using portable indoor heating appliances to dry out indoor spaces ensure good ventilation
  • once floodwater has receded, dehumidifiers can be used to collect moisture from the air and can aid in drying out a property but should not be used to remove floodwater. Water is collected in the dehumidifier and can be disposed of down regular water drains and sinks. Where possible, face masks and eye protection should be worn when emptying the water collection tank
  • do not use fuel-powered appliances indoors as the exhaust gases contain carbon monoxide which can kill

Clothing and bedding

Clothing, bedding and other fabric articles, including children's toys, should be washed on a hot wash (60C) to destroy any germs.

Other soft furnishings which have been damaged and cannot be put in a washing machine will have to be professionally cleaned or disposed of.

Find out about disposing of bulky items of household waste.

Getting rid of contaminants

Sometimes floodwater may contain contaminants such as oil or diesel. Usually these will be removed with the floodwater and silt.

If any is left and it is in an accessible area you can remove it with a detergent solution and washing the surface down after initial cleaning has been carried out.

Where it isn't accessible, such as beneath floorboards, it may cause a bad smell but isn't necessarily a health hazard.

You can seek advice from your district, borough or city council on this if the smell lingers or you are worried about your health.

Returning home

We recommend that you only return to live in your home once cleaning has been completed.

Additional work may also need to be carried out, your insurance company, housing officer, landlord, builder will advise you of this.

If you decide to return to your home before cleaning is complete you should:

  • contact your local water company if you notice a change in drinking water quality, such as a change in the colour, taste or smell of your tap water
  • try to have some heating on at all times, consider the use of a dehumidifier
  • make sure the property is well ventilated - leave windows open as much as possible
  • make sure that if you have air bricks to any under floor spaces that these are unblocked to give cross ventilation to these areas

Read the Government’s flooding health guidance and advice.