Floodwaters that have passed through homes and other buildings generate health and safety concerns. Many clothing items and household articles that have been submerged may not be safe or worth the time, effort and money to try to make useable again and should be discarded. Other items may be salvageable. Remember, it is best to assume that anything touched by floodwater is contaminated.
When you can safely return to your home or business to assess damage, wear clothing that will protect you from injury and protect your health. Wear rubber or other water-resistant gloves and boots with long pants tucked into the boots. These items will provide protection when walking through debris-littered areas and when handling items inside the structure. Mold spores will be present in the air inside the structure. Wear a face mask to cover your nose and mouth to protect against inhalation of the mold spores.
What to Consider Discarding
Almost any textile items, such as carpeting, mattresses, pillows, upholstered furniture, stuffed toys/animals or clothing, that have been submerged for weeks in floodwater should probably be discarded. The contaminants, odors and organic soils are so imbedded in the fabrics and fillers or stuffing that is doubtful that any cleaning products and efforts will completely clean the items. The amount of soil in or on an item can make a disinfectant less effective. If all soil and contaminants are not removed, odors and possible health risks will remain.
What to Save
Textile items that have been elevated in the house or building out of the reach of floodwaters may be salvageable. However, the combination of heat and humidity may have created the perfect conditions for mildew growth. Use products and procedures to remove mildew that will not further damage the specific fiber or fabric in the textile item. Keep in mind that all cleaning products are not suitable for all uses. For example, a mildewcide product intended to remove mildew from wood is not formulated for use on textiles. Do not use products that are not intended to be used in the home for mildew removal, such as toxic products intended for outdoor use where human contact is not a constant concern. If a textile item or furniture piece is an antique or very valuable, you may wish to invest the time, money and energy required to save the item. In many cases, this is the time to consult with a professional cleaner or restorer of textiles and furniture.
Cleaning Salvageable, Washable Clothing and Household Textiles
If any washable clothing and household textiles are uncontaminated and salvageable, separate them from nonwashables. Be sure to wear protective gloves while handling these items. Take all of these articles outdoors. If any are dry, shake out dried mud and dirt. Hose off any wet, muddy items. Hang items on a line or spread them out to dry. Air and sun will help the fabrics dry quickly and will help stop mildew growth. Launder items as soon as possible. If your laundry equipment has been in the floodwater and is not safe to use, use a public laundromat or equipment at the home of a relative or friend. Laundromats have over-sized washers and dryers that will handle larger items, such as throw rugs, blankets and bedspreads. If clothes and other items need to be pre-soaked to remove more mud before machine washing, soak in a container of cold water. Do not pre-soak in the washer. Separate soiled articles into light-colored, dark-colored and hand-laundered loads. Follow these general guides for machine laundering articles.
care label says "Dry Clean Only", shake out loose dirt and
take the items to a professional dry cleaner. The solvents
used in dry cleaning, the flushing action and the steam used
in the finished process are effective in reducing bacteria
to safe levels. Coin-operated dry cleaning units do not provide
for use of the steam finishing process and should not be used
to clean flood-soiled clothes.
Storage of Clean Textile Items
Dry, clean clothing and other textile articles do not support mildew growth. However, if the storage area where you place your clean items is not also dry and clean, the textile items may gather moisture from the air and mildew can start to grow. So, if the closets, drawers and other storage areas in the flooded house are damp and humidity is high, do not store them there until the storage areas have completely dried.
Issued by Charlotte Crawford, Extension Educator Consumer and Family Economics (618)242-9310 Lois E. Smith, Extension Educator Consumer and Family Economics (618)692-9434 February 1995 Copyright © 1995 by University of Illinois Board of Trustees.
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