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Cleaning Flood Damage - How To

A good innerspring mattress should be sent to a commercial renovating company. Renovation is too difficult to do at home. Ask about the cost of such work. It could be less expensive to buy a good reconditioned or new mattress. If mattress must be used temporarily, scrape off surface dirt and expose it to sunlight to dry as much as possible. Cover mattress with a rubber sheet before using it. If you decide to keep any flood-soiled mattress, it should be sterilized. This must be done at a sterilizing plant--a mattress company or a state hospital. Ask your local public health department for information on mattress sterilizing plants in your area. Have mattresses as dry as possible before taking them to a sterilizing plant. Crop drying fans or household fans may speed up the drying process.


Feather pillows If ticking is in good condition, wash feathers and ticking together.

  1. Brush off surface dirt.
  2. To circulate water through pillows, open a few inches of the seam in opposite corners of the pillow, turn edges in, sew loosely with strong thread, or fasten with safety pins.
  3. Wash in machine or by hand in warm (not hot) suds 15 to 20 minutes. Use a disinfectant in the wash cycle. If using an automatic washer, do not wash more than two pillows at a time.
  4. Rinse at least three times in clear, warm water.
  5. Spin off water or gently squeeze out as much water as possible. Do not put pillows through a wringer.
  6. Dry in an automatic dryer at moderate heat setting, or dry in a warm room with a fan, or across two or three clotheslines. Put several bath towels in dryer with pillows to speed up drying. Allow at least 2 hours. Shake up feather occasionally to hasten drying.

Washing feather and ticking separately. If ticking is not in good condition, or if pillow is badly soiled, wash feather and ticking separately.

  1. Find a muslin bag which is two or three times larger than the ticking.
  2. Open one edge of ticking.
  3. Sew the open edges of the ticking and the bag together.
  4. Shake the feather from ticking to muslin bag.
  5. Close seam of bag.
  6. Wash bag of feather in lukewarm, sudsy water and disinfectant.
  7. Repeat if necessary.
  8. Rinse in lukewarm water, changing water several times.
  9. Squeeze out as much water as possible by hand. Do not use a wringer.
  10. To air-dry, hang on line by two corners. Change positions end to end and shake feather occasionally to speed up drying.
  11. Finish drying pillows by laying them on a flat surface or pinning them to a clothesline to dry in the open air.
  12. Wash the ticking. With a sponge, apply a starch solution to the inside of the ticking.
  13. Transfer clean feather to the clean, sanitized starched ticking, using the same methods as for emptying.
  14. Close seam of ticking.

If pillows have been badly soaked, it may not be possible to remove all objectionable odors.

Polyester Fiberfill Pillows

  1. Brush off surface dirt.
  2. Wash by hand in warm water and low-sudsing detergent. Add a disinfectant to the wash water. Flush water through pillow by compressing it. (Twisting and wringing will tear filling). Change water and repeat if necessary.
  3. Rinse three times in clear, warm water.
  4. Spin off water in automatic machine. Tumble dry in dryer at moderate setting with several bath towels, or press out as much water as possible by hand, and hang on line outdoors to dry.

Foam Rubber or Urethane Pillows

  1. Remove cover. Brush off surface dirt.
  2. Follow manufacturer's directions if they are available. Otherwise, soak in cool water; then wash in warm suds by hand. Use a bathtub or large sink. Then wash by pushing down on pillow, releasing, and pushing down again. Rinse the same way. Pillows can be machine-washed on gentle cycle with lukewarm water plus a disinfectant.
  3. Rinse well in lukewarm water.
  4. Gently squeeze or spin out excess water. Blot with towels.
  5. Dry away from heat and sunlight. Do not dry in dryer unless on an air only setting. Pillows may dry very slowly in the air.

Blankets, Quilts and Comforters:

Wash only one blanket, quilt, or comforter at a time.

  1. Shake and brush to remove surface dirt. Follow manufacturer's laundering directions if available. Otherwise, proceed as follows.
  2. Soak at least 15 minutes in lukewarm water. Turn two or three times during soak period. Several soak periods may be beneficial depending on the amount of soil lodged in fibers. Change water for each soak period.
  3. Use a mild detergent, disinfectant and lukewarm water. Immerse blanket and work suds in gently, using as little agitation as possible. If necessary change water and repeat.
  4. Rinse in several changes of lukewarm water.
  5. Gently squeeze out water. Hang blanket over two lines to dry so it forms an "M" shape or dry it in preheated dryer with several large dry bath towels. Remove blanket from dryer while it is still damp and hang over two lines to finish drying. Gently stretch blanket into shape.
  6. Brush blanket on both sides with stiff brush to raise nap, press binding, using synthetic setting on iron. Wash lightweight quilts following directions for wool blankets. Dry outdoors in sunlight, if possible, to remove unpleasant odors. You may need to take thick comforters apart, and wash cover and filling separately. Electric blankets are washed as you would normally.

Sheets, Towels, Linens

  1. Brush off as much loose dirt as possible.
  2. Rinse mud-stained fabrics in cold water to take out particles of soil lodged in fibers.
  3. Wash in warm suds and disinfectant several times if necessary. Do not use hot water since it will set red and yellow clay stains.
  4. If stains remain after several washings, try bleaching white cottons and linens with chlorine or sodium perborate bleach. Do not over bleach. Sun drying will aid bleaching. Bleaches may be used on some colored fabrics; follow directions on bleach package.

Books and Papers

Dry books and papers slowly:

  1. Place books on end with leaves separated.
  2. When they are partially dry, pile and press books to keep pages from crumpling.
  3. Alternate drying and pressing until books are thoroughly dry. This helps prevent mildew. Use a fan to hasten drying.
  4. If books and papers are very damp, sprinkle cornstarch or talcum powder between the leaves to absorb moisture. Leave powder for several hours and then brush off.
  5. When books are nearly dry, apply low heat with an electric iron. Separate the page to prevent musty odors. This is a tedious process which you may want to use only with valuable books.
  6. When books are thoroughly dry, close them and use C-clamps to help them retain their shape.
    Even if books and papers appear to have dried successfully, they may disintegrate rapidly because of materials in the flood water. Any important documents or paper should be photocopied as a precautionary measure.

Cooking Utensils

Before using any dishes, pots, pans or cooking utensils that were in contact with flood water, wash and sterilize them.

  1. Any piece of equipment that can be taken apart should be cleaned in pieces. Remove plastic and wooden handles from frying pans and saucepans. Clean parts separately.
  2. Wash dishes, pots, pans and utensils in hot, sudsy water. Use a brush, if necessary, to remove dirt.
  3. After sudsing and brushing, rinse in clear water. Place dishes in a wire basket or other container and dip them in a sanitizing solution. Use a solution recommended by local health authorities or use 1 1/2 tablespoons sodium hypo-chlorite bleach to a gallon of water. Or immerse dishes in boiling water for at least two minutes. An alternative method is to boil dishes for a half minute.
  4. Air-dry dishes. Do not dry them with a dish towel. If cupboards and food preparation surfaces were in contact with flood water, clean and sterilize them before storing dishes and utensils.

Floor Coverings


Water coming up from below will cause most damage to subfloor material. If a linoleum or vinyl floor covering is not under water many days, the floor covering may partially protect the subfloor material. Long submersion, however, will loosen adhesives and warp sub-flooring. If a plywood or hardwood subfloor is wet, you should probably remove the linoleum or vinyl and replace the subfloor material.

Removing Loosened Floor Coverings

Some floor coverings may crack or break when you try to loosen them. Contact a reputable dealer to find out what solvent will loosen adhesives with minimal damage to linoleum or vinyl. Heating with a heat lamp or propane torch may make the covering less brittle. How easily the covering can be lifted depends on the material and adhesive. If the adhesive is waterproof, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to remove the floor covering without considerable damage.


If the floor has not been badly soaked, you may not need to replace the subfloor. It is possible to re-cement loosened tiles of any type. Be sure the floor is thoroughly dry before trying to re-cement. Blisters may be left in linoleum tiles after warped wooden flooring has dried. Carefully puncture each blister with a nail. With a hand syringe (from store, force diluted linoleum paste through the hole, and weight the linoleum bricks.

Sheet Linoleum or Vinyl

Water may have seeped under a loose section of vinyl or sheet linoleum. Carefully remove the entire sheet. Allow the floor to dry thoroughly before trying to re- cement the linoleum. Thorough drying may take as long as 6 weeks or more. Use a new sheet or lining felt before re-cementing the floor covering.

Cleaning Flood-Soiled Carpets

  1. Dry: It is very important to dry rugs and carpets as soon as possible to prevent mildew, a spreading gray-white mold that stains and rots fabrics. Pull up waterlogged rugs immediately to prevent further damage to the floor. If possible, dry small rugs outdoors in sunlight.To get air and heat to carpets, open windows if weather permits, or use household electric fans, crop drying fans or electric lights suspended in coat hanger "nests". Do not try to vacuum, sweep or shampoo carpets until they are thoroughly dry.
  2. Sweep or Vacuum: After the carpet is dry, thoroughly vacuum or sweep to get rid of dirt and debris. Move the vacuum cleaner slowly to pick up more dirt. Clean off as much crusted dirt and sediment as possible before shampooing.
  3. Shampoo: Some rugs may shrink when shampooed. Use a commercial rug shampoo or make your own shampoo by mixing 1/4 cup mild dry detergent and 1 cup warm water in a pail. Beat the mixture with an egg beater until it forms a stiff foam that looks like whipped cream.With a sponge, rub suds on a small patch of carpet (about 2 feet square) with a light circular motion. Use only the foam. (If foam disappears during the shampooing process, beat the mixture again.) Work suds in with sponge. Use a stiff bristle brush if carpet is deeply soiled.Dip sponge in a weak chlorine solution (1/4 teaspoon Clorox to 1 cup water). Wring out sponge and wipe suds off carpet. Rinse several times with clear water, wringing most of the water from the sponge each time. Change the rinse water as it becomes dirty. Use as little water as possible on the sponge since water will weaken carpet backing.
    Blot up remaining moisture with bath towels or other soft absorbent material. Apply lather to another small area, overlapping the first. (overlapping helps prevent streaking when the carpet dries). Rinse and blot dry. Continue until the entire surface has been cleaned.
  4. Dry After Shampooing: Dry rugs or carpets quickly. Hang rugs on line if possible, or lay them out flat in a warm dry place. An electric fan will speed up drying. Carpets and rugs should be thoroughly dried. Even though the surface seems dry, any moisture remaining at the base of the fiber tufts will cause mildew or rot. If you must walk on the carpet before it is dry, put down brown paper. Vacuum when dry, and brush the nap in one direction.
  5. Resize:Some types of machine-made pile rugs may need re-sizing to make them lie flat. To resize a rug:
    • Lay the rug face down on papers where it can remain undisturbed for several days.
    • Check to be sure rug is straight. Tack it down at intervals.
    • Dissolve 1/2 pound granulated glue in 1 gallon boiling water.
    • With a whitewash brush or whisk broom, brush hot glue over the back of the rug. Do not use so much glue that it will soak through the right side of the rug.
    • Let the glue dry thoroughly.


To get rid of the stench that often accompanies flooding, scrub all interior surfaces that were in contact with flood waters. Use hot sudsy water followed by a rinse solution of 2 tablespoons sodium hypo-chlorite (chlorine) laundry bleach to a gallon of water. Or use a liquid household disinfectant, following manufacturers directions. Repeat the scrubbing and rinsing if necessary until the odor is gone.

Upholstered Furniture

Upholstered furniture that has been submerged in flood water may be impossible to salvage if it has been badly soaked. If the piece seems worth the effort, however you will need to clean and oil the springs, replace stuffing, and clean the frame.

Stuffing and Covering

  1. Remove furniture coverings using a ripping tool, hammer, or tack puller, screwdriver, or chisel.
  2. Remove all tacks from the frame.
  3. Wash coverings as described for carpets.
  4. Throw away all cotton stuffing. You can dry, fumigate and reuse padding made of materials other than cotton.

Springs and Frame

  1. Wipe off springs and frame. Dry all metal parts and paint them with rust inhibiting paint. Oil springs.
  2. Store wood frames where they will dry out slowly.


Mildew may have developed on damp or wet furniture. Mildew is a gray-white mold that leaves stains and rots fabric unless it is removed promptly. To remove mildew or mildew spots:

  1. Brush with a broom to remove loose mold from outer covering. Do this outdoors if possible, so you won't scatter mildew spores (which can start new growth) in the house.
  2. Vacuum the surface to draw out mold. Dispose of the vacuum cleaner bag outside to avoid scattering mold spores in the house.
  3. If mildew remains and fabric is washable, sponge lightly with thick soap or detergent suds. Wipe with a clean, damp cloth. Get as little water on the fabric as possible, so the padding doesn't get wet.
  4. If mold remains, wipe the furniture with a damp cloth dipped in dilute alcohol (1 cup denatured alcohol to 1 cup water) or a chlorine bleach solution (1/4 teaspoon bleach to a cup of water).
  5. Dry the article thoroughly.
  6. Use a low-pressure spray containing a fungicide to get rid of must odors and remaining mildew. Moisten all surfaces thoroughly. Re-spray frequently if mildew is a continuing problem. Spraying rooms with an aerosol material will not eliminate mildew problems.
  7. If molds have grown into inner parts, send furniture to a dry cleaning or storage company for thorough drying and fumigation. Fumigation will kill molds present at the time but will not protect against future attacks.

Wooden Furniture

Wooden furniture damaged by floods can best be salvaged through slow drying and proper repair.

Submerged Furniture

  1. Take furniture outdoors and remove as many drawers, slides and removable parts as possible. Drawers and doors will probably be stuck tight. Do not try to force them out from the front. With a screwdriver or chisel, remove the back and push out the drawer from behind.
  2. After you have removed movable parts, clean off mud and dirt, using a hose if necessary.
  3. Take all furniture indoors and store it were it will dry slowly. Furniture left in the sunlight to dry will warp and twist out of shape.
  4. When furniture is dry, re-glue it if necessary. You will need equipment and clamps to reglue some pieces. Before you start, decide whether you have the time, equipment and ability to do the work. Consult an experienced carpenter if necessary. To re-glue loose joints or rungs, scrape out old glue so the area will be as clean and free of glue as possible. Use a white all-purpose glue, following directions on container. Hold part together with rope tourniquets or C-clamps. To prevent damage from ropes or clamps, pad these areas with cloth.

Damp Furniture - Removing White Spots

White spots or a cloudy film may develop on damp furniture that has not been submerged. To remove white spots:

  1. If the entire surface is affected, rub with a damp cloth dipped in turpentine or camphorated oil, or in a solution of 1/2 cup household ammonia and 1/2 cup of water. Wipe dry at once an polish with wax or furniture polish.
  2. If color is not restored, dip 3/0 steel wool in oil (boiled linseed, olive, mineral or lemon). Rub lightly with the wood grain. Wipe with a soft cloth, and re-wax.
  3. For deep spots use a drop or two of ammonia on a damp cloth. Rub at once with a dry cloth. Polish. Rubbing cigarette ashes, powdered pumice, or a piece of walnut into spots may also help remove them.
  4. If spots remain after all efforts to remove them, the piece should be refinished.

Veneered Furniture

If veneer is loose in just a few places:

  1. Press veneer back in place.
  2. Wrap area with a strip of cloth so as not to damage finish.
  3. Dry for about a week in warm, dry, well- ventilated place. Do not dry in direct heat or sunlight.
  4. When piece is thoroughly dry, remove cloth. If veneering doesn't stay in place, apply a good quality glue and wrap again.
    Repairing badly damaged veneered furniture requires special skill and tools. Unless you are an experienced woodworker don't attempt the job yourself. Take the furniture to a cabinetmaker, or have your dealer return it to the factory for repair. If insurance allows part value on flood-damaged furniture, it may be financially worthwhile to apply the money to new articles, rather than pay for extensive repairs.


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