Claire Thompson
April 16, 2021

Here to help after a flood | easyStorage

Sadly, flood repairs can sometimes take months to complete, depending on the extent of the flooding, structural problems and availability of builders or appropriate work people. But when disaster strikes, there are more things to consider. And a flood is a nightmare for the flooded. So I took a good look at some of the sound advice on the Internet for you, and pulled some of the best for you.

Traditionally it was said that the main reasons for needing self-storage are ‘Death, Displacement, Disaster and Divorce’. We know from experience that people’s reasons for storing go way beyond this, but we recently took a look at how we can help when someone dies and when people divorce.

So it remained for us to look at ways we can help in the case of displacement (having to leave your home) or disaster. In case of displacement (having to move), our service is simple: easyStorage will collect and store your belongings and return them when you’re ready, even helping pack if needed.

But when disaster strikes, there are more things to consider. And a flood is a nightmare for the flooded. So I took a good look at some of the sound advice on the Internet for you, and pulled some of the best, basic advice together for you.

Everyone’s situation will be different depending upon where they live, how many people were flooded at the same time, what caused the flood, whether you live in your own home or rented accommodation, and insurance arrangements / all of which will also determine what temporary living arrangements you’ll need to sort.

If you were evacuated, you may well have been taken to an evacuation centre run by your local council. They usually provide food and bedding and have helped with pets. People running the centres are trained to give you support and advice and can often help you through the stress of a flood and prepare you for what to do afterwards. This, obviously, is where we can be of most use to you. Keeping goods safe and sound is our speciality.

Sadly, flood repairs can sometimes take months to complete, depending on the extent of the flooding, structural problems and availability of builders or appropriate work people.  

For that reason. we’ve limited our advice to the clean-up stage. (If you are uninsured, the local council may be able to direct you to sources of help). We did the research for you in a spirit of helpfulness, but remember we’re a storage company, not flood specialists, so do follow any professional advice from specialists before ours.  

After a flood, many belongings will be dirty, smelly and sodden, maybe even totally ruined. But to avoid making a bad situation worse, there are some really important considerations.

Most importantly, don’t re-enter the property until the mains are switched off by a qualified person and if you’re wading through water, don’t touch any sources of electricity or electrical goods. If you have gas or oil central heating, it should be checked by an engineer, but can be turned on for drying. (Don’t be tempted to heat blast, set the thermostat to around 20-22 degrees centigrade to dry steadily).

Flood water can contain all kinds of chemicals and effluent from the sewers, so make sure you protect yourself well before going in to rescue belongings. Exposure to mould can cause allergic reactions and respiratory symptoms, even in people who are not prone to allergies, and reactions can be delayed, so you won’t necessarily know immediately. So grab your wellington boots and waterproofs, including gloves, and a facemask before you get started.  

The building

Water can be removed using a pump and generator, which should be outside in the open air to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning – which is a silent killer, with no taste or smell. To reduce the risk of structural damage, only pump out water when flood levels outside are lower than inside.

Any mud should be evenly shovelled away from both sides of any affected walls to keep pressure even on both sides and avoid any structural damage. A garden hose can be useful for washing down areas that are really dirty - but not a high pressure one as that may help embed dirt and germs and case further damage. It seems counter-intuitive to add more water at this stage, but it can make the cleaning job quicker.

Some buildings may have to be gutted before repairs can begin. Local councils can usually provide skips and extra rubbish collections but check with your insurance company before you throw things away. They may want to see them or send an assessor.

It takes time to dry out properties. If you personally are drying the property naturally, doors and windows should be open as much as possible. If you are using a dehumidifier, close them.

But despite the value of bricks and mortar, it’s the things inside that make a house a home. When you get home, seeing what, if anything, can be salvaged can feel like a mountainous task.  

The best way to prevent anything from ruining is to clean up as soon as possible. The faster you can dry the air, the higher the chance of salvaging your furniture.

Furniture

Inspect your furniture and separate what can be salvaged from what cannot.  

Excess moisture in the air can cause as much damage to furniture as sitting in water, so prioritise getting dried out, as much for the furniture as for the building structure.  

Upholstered furniture

Easily absorbs contaminants from floodwaters. Whilst upholstered furniture can sometimes be salvaged, if it was saturated with water, this may prove impossible.  

To give it the best chance, get it to a clean, dry place and dry it out completely as soon as possible to prevent mould and mildew. If you tilt upholstered furniture to allow dry air to circulate, this may speed things up.

Dry off as much excess you can with cloths. Once dry use a vacuum to get out any excess dirt. Letting the furniture air in dry outside air can help remove any smells. Sprinkled on baking soda, vacuumed up after an hour (repeated several times if needed) can apparently completely remove odours.

For cleaning loose covers and cushions, if using a washing machine, separate upholstery fabrics and other coloured items to protect the colours, following any manufacturer instructions. A specialist cleaner MAY take the items, but get them there as soon as possible.

If you do manage to save your upholstered furniture, have the body cleaned by a professional. This can prove expensive, because cleaning may involve stripping the furniture down to the frame, and springs and webbing may need replacing. But it will stop further issue later.

One warning though: once fabric come in contact with sewage, mould and bacteria can hide inside and grow again after even the smallest of spills. Because of this, it’s sadly often better to throw it away and replace it as your restoration efforts may be in vain.

Wood furniture

Is more easily saved than upholstered, especially if it wasn't sitting in water for too long. However, if not dried quickly, wet wood furniture can warp.

Remove excess moisture by blotting or wiping the wood dry. This helps to stop it absorbing more water. Remove any dirt and other debris using soap and warm water, which seems odd when we’re suggesting keeping things dry, but that dirt needs to come off as soon as possible. Once dry, use a vacuum cleaner or dustpan and brush, and get right into any corners where damage can misshape the piece.  

Moisture in wood furniture encourages fungus and mould growth, so drying the air in the room will help greatly. High-volume fans and dehumidifiers can be used to help dry. If you can move the furniture to a dry room, away from the flooded area, to dry it, even better. Open furniture doors and drawers in the furniture to help them dry inside. Don’t forget to put something underneath to catch any dripping water or falling dirt.  

There are all sorts of remedies for white mildew spots from mayonnaise to toothpaste, so do have a good ‘Google’ (other browsers are available!) for the ones you most trust.

If the wood has been exposed to water for a long period, the joints and any veneers may have to be reglued.

Creamy wood restorers with lanolin will help restore the finish on wood furniture.

However, wood substitute furniture made from manufactured surfaces (like MDF, veneers or plywood) will not normally fare as well as solid wood. Surfaces may curl off as the item dries. Unfortunately, you’ll need to dry it before knowing where you stand. However, lightly damaged veneers can usually be glued back on. That said, pressed wood, laminates, composites and particleboard usually deteriorate when wet, and water weakens the glue, making them fall apart. Unfortunately, in most cases, it’s best to just throw these items away.

Vinyl furniture

Vinyl or other synthetics are pretty easy to dry, clean and disinfect. However, vinyl that has been in water too long can bubble, or crack when drying, after which you are unlikely to be able to restore it.

Don’t be tempted to simply focus on the vinyl – check the structure as well.

Bedding

Mattresses are like upholstered furniture—fabric absorbs moisture and can allow mildew and bacteria to grow.  

If a mattress was exposed to clean floodwater for only a short time, it may be possible to salvage it. Cleaning the surface and put the mattress out in the sun to dry thoroughly, with the wet side up to dry as quickly and completely as possible. Resting it on blocks to allow air to circulate underneath can help drying.

However, most  experts recommend discarding any mattress that has had any kind of flood damage.  

If you do attempt to keep a mattress, be aware that any musty small is an indication of mildew. This will need to be handled by a professional to clean it properly, and if the smell doesn’t go away, the mattress needs discarding anyway.

Leather Furniture

Although leather is somewhat water repellent, drying leather furniture (or any other leather) can be tough as real leather tends to shrink and may go hard as it dries. For this reason, avoid using heat to dry it. But dry it you must if you are going to keep it: as a natural material, damp leather attracts mould and bacteria.  

I found a great little guide to rescuing it here: https://www.carlfriedrik.com/blogs/magazine/wet-leather-guide .

Just don’t forget what we’ve already seen: that the structure of the furniture is as important to address as the leather itself.

Books

With books, getting to them quickly, before they dry, gives you the best chance of saving them. The practicalities of saving them need space, so you may have to make some tough decisions about what to try and save. If books were submerged, pick up them up with both hands to keep the spine and binding stable. Coffee-table type books that are printed on shiny, thick, coated paper will be the hardest to save. The coating on the paper often sticks pages together as they dry out.

To give yourself more time, it’s possible to freeze them: wrap them in waxed paper, pack them tightly in something sturdy with the book spines at the bottom. Don’t put wet, damp or mouldy books in plastic bags if they won’t be frozen – this encourages mould growth.

Either way, keep soggy books closed until you're ready to work on them. You risk further damage by opening them and the pages’ own weight helps keep them from curling.

Place books in water-resistant container that the air can circulate through, like a milk crate or basket made of wire or plastic. Laundry baskets can work well. Take the books somewhere dry to work on them.  

To work on soaked books, lie them flat on a clean surface covered with something absorbent like towels, tea clothes, blotting paper, paper towels. absorbent material such as paper towels, towels, Avoid anything printed like newspapers or magazines as the ink can transfer, running you efforts to save the book.

Put something absorbent in sheets between small groups of pages. Don't be tempted to try to do the whole book at once as that will ‘open’ the book and warp the binding. Change the absorbent sheets carefully once they’re wet, remembering that wet paper is very fragile. Replace the sheets, but in a new location between different pages. This will help separate the pages and speed up the drying.

If you did decide to try to save a coffee table style book, use sheets of wax paper between the pages instead of something absorbent.

Never try to speed-dry books in an oven or microwave, with a hair dryer, or by ironing.  These are likely to do more harm than good.

If books are only damp or part wet, stand them on the driest edge with the pages as fanned as possible. If you’re using fans do dry the property, keep the books away from them as you don’t want them to dry too fast to avoid damage. You can put the absorbent material between groups of pages as before if warranted.

Once the books are almost dry and cool to the touch, close them and lay them flat on their sides. Put something on top to weigh them down, leave them to dry. Don’t be tempted to rush this: it’s possible to remove mould from books, but it can also damage them further.

Photographs

In a World full of digital images, it’s easy to forget that many of us have irreplaceable photographs. Work quickly to prepare to save them. As pictures dry out, their surfaces can stick together, meaning they can’t be salvaged. And if you don’t get them dry quickly, mould may damage them.  

Handle wet photographs carefully, by their edges.

To try and save them, rinse them in clean water and dry face up on a clean surface (in a single layer). Keep them out of direct sunlight. If they curl as they dry, a photo restorer might be able to flatten them out when dry, or to make copy shots.

Lying them all out needs a lot of flat surface. You may want to leave any photos that you have negatives to reprint from and work on the strictly irreplaceable ones first.

If you have too many to work on at once, rinse them with clean water and seal them in a bag made of plastic. Ideally, put pieces of wax paper between each picture. Freeze them until you are ready to work on them, and when ready defrost, separate and dry as above.

Artwork

Heirloom type pieces and antiques should really go to a restoration specialist as soon as possible. It's best not to attempt these yourself – leave it to the experts.

Other artwork in frames should be taken out and allowed to air dry, flat and individually, like the photos.  Use the instructions for whatever the frame is made of to try and save the frame as well.Paintings on stretchers should remain on them whilst drying.

Kitchens

Kitchens are one of the hardest areas to address.  

Dishes, pots and pans  

Wash dishes, pots, pans, in non-contaminated, clean, hot, soapy water, certified safe to use. A stiff brush can reach awkward corners. All detachable parts (like blades, handles, and plastic covers) can be cleaned the same way.

Empty, clean and sanitise the sink after each sinkful, and rinse afterwards in non-contaminated, clear, hot water.  

Then sanitise. Sanitising solution can be made by mixing one tablespoon of chlorine bleach (unscented) per gallon of warm (not hot) water. Hot water renders bleach less effective. Or boiling any appropriate cookware as an alternative.

Completely immerse all of the cleaned pots, pans, dishes, glassware, and utensils in the sanitizing solution for 10-15 minutes. Then remove and allow them to air dry in a clean, also sanitised dish rack. Don’t use a tea towel to dry – it could re-contaminate them.

Anything made of absorbent porous materials including wood, such as bowls, chopping boards, containers and cooking utensils should be thrown away, especially if it’s going to be used for food preparation or serving. Dishes, serving bowls and anything else with cracks, chips, or scratches should also be discarded.

Counter tops

Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and hot water. Rinse and sanitise (as above) and allow them to air-dry.

Iron Items

To clean items made of iron, like pots, pans and utensils, wash them with soap and water, and scour if necessary (scouring pads, steel wool, etc).

Any rust can be ‘oiled’ away. Rust removers are available in many shops, but be sure to follow instructions carefully.

Once treated, wash a second time in hot, soapy water and then rinse in clear, clean water. Make sure you dry thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth that hasn’t been used for anything else.

To avoid further problems, season the iron. I found what looks like a great little guide to seasoning, here.

Stainless Steel, Nickel, Copper, Nickel, Chrome-Plate and Metal Alloys

Wash these things thoroughly (clean, warm soapy water) and polish with a fine-powdered cleaner. If any base metal is exposed and rusted, wipe it with kerosene, wash, dry and wax each time you use. Although this is the advice I found online, it sounds like a health hazard and a lot of work to me. Unless there’s a good reason to keep them, I’d personally be looking for replacements for anything damaged or chipped.

Copper and Brass

Copper and brass should not be used for food preparation or service, so simply polish with copper or brass polish. A home remedy I found suggested rubbing with a cloth soaked in vinegar or with a piece of salted lemon (both acidic).

After using anything acid, or using polishes, wash any copper thoroughly with warm soapy water to prevent re-tarnishing.

Note that this does not apply to lacquered ornamental copper, which should only be cleaned in warm soapy water, rinsed with warm water and wiped dry, not polished or soaked.

Aluminium

Anything aluminium should be washed thoroughly with hot soapy water, and any unpolished aluminium surfaces should be scoured with soapy steel wool pads. Note that this does not apply to plated aluminium surfaces, as scourers can remove the finish.

All objects should be sanitised as above in a bleach solution (one tablespoon of unscented bleach in a gallon of warm, not hot, water).

To remove any dark stains from pans, another home tip I found is to fill the pan with water, and add a tablespoon of vinegar or two teaspoons of cream of tartar to each quart (quarter of a gallon) of water. Then boil for 10 to 15 minutes, scour with steel wool, wash with soap, rinse, and dry.

Flooring

Carpets

I expected to find in my searches that carpets have to be chucked out. Not so!

Whilst DIY options can be found online, your best option seems to be to get to the carpet as soon as possible (within 48 hours, but sooner if possible), and call in professional cleaners.

Wooden floors

As we’ve seen above, wood can be restored, but, again, it does need getting to as soon as possible. On a floor, however, the wood may need taking up to dry depending on what’s underneath. Warping can be an issue.

This is another case where you probably need to get professional help as soon as possible.

Children’s things

It’s heart-breaking, but you can’t take chances with any children’s things that have been in a flood.

All soft toys and anything absorbent, including bedding, need throwing away along with any baby bottles, teats and dummies that have had contact with water or debris from the flood.

Other toys can be treated and disinfected according to what they’re made of, as above. However, take them apart so no contamination lingers in hard to reach corners.

To be honest, if the flood was anything more than a washing machine, I’d probably not take any chances and dispose of everything in a way that others aren’t going to pick them up and use them.

Only you can decide, but make sure things are properly disinfected before children go anywhere near.

Once Possessions are Clean and Dry

In the case of a big flood, you will need to remove your possessions to allow any home repairs and redecoration. It may be that floorboards need taking up, pipes or electrics need repairing or replacing, and sometimes even windows, frames and doors will need replacing.  

Rehoming you and your everyday clothes is one thing. Rehoming your possessions in a warm dry place is another altogether, especially if you’re displaced for more than a few days.

Once they’re clean and dry, easyStorage is here for you. In the first instance, we can help with cheap, sturdy, good quality packaging materials.

And then we can store things for you. In the midst of the chaos, the last thing you need to be worrying about is van hire to move things. As we mentioned at the start, we come and collect for you. We can even help you pack. And then we’ll hold onto your belongings for as long as you need us to, and return them to your dor when you’re ready.

Our storage is around half the price of traditional self-storage, which is a Godsend at an already expensive and difficult time. You can get a no obligation quote for storage near you here: https://book.easystorage.com/

We’re sorry you need us, but our friendly, efficient teams will do their best to make at least the storage part of your experience as painless as possible.

A few helpful notes

Speed is of the essence when dealing with a flood. Whilst you must follow any instructions from the authorities about returning to your property after a flood, the sooner you deal with things, the more likely you are to be able to salvage goods.

Don’t forget to take pictures of anything needed for an insurance company before getting started.

If the flood is simply a leaked washing machine or inlet pipe, the water is much easier to deal with than, say, a river flood or burst sewage pipe. For anything that’s been sewage infected, you may be best calling in specialists.

However, ordinary household products are usually good enough to clean and disinfect once things are dried out, rather than buy expensive specialist cleaners.

In the unlikely instance that you have a well, find specialist help to clean it before using the water. You will probably have to purge it.

And incidentally, if you are in a flood prone area, the Environment Agency offers sound advice on their website, including having a plan ready if you live in a flood prone area.

We wish you luck, whether you choose to store with us or not.

Claire Thompson

Claire joined the easyStorage family as a blogger in August 2020 and is loving it! Her passions include writing and learning, and with easyStorage she’s learning new things fast. When not tapping at a keyboard she can be found renovating an old cottage, despite having inherited a complete lack of DIY skills from her father. She has two children, now grown up, and a dopey, loving Vizler (dog), Chester, who steadfastly refuses to do the same. She claims he’s her soulmate!

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