How to Clean Up a Flooded Basement


Stains on The Walls or Ceilings

If you’ve never had the terrible misfortune and annoyance of having your basement flood, you might not know how to clean up a flooded basement. In this article, we’ll walk you through the immediate steps you need to take with a flooded basement, what you can do to clean up and minimize damage, and how to help prevent further floods.

Immediate Steps to Take for a Flooded Basement

There are a few immediate steps that should be taken in the case of a flooded basement.

First, cut off the power. Because water conducts electricity, a flooded basement can potentially put you in danger of electrocution. If you can’t access your circuit breaker for any reason, this is the time to call an electrician. Don’t ever go into a flooded basement before shutting off the power.

Next, protect yourself. The water in the flooded basement may have been exposed to dangerous materials such as raw sewage or chemicals. Before descending to take a look at the damage, make sure to put on protective equipment such as waterproof boots, gloves, and protective clothing. If you think there is a risk that mold has started to form, don’t forget to protect your lungs by wearing an N95 or higher grade face mask.

Finally, start drying out the basement to prevent mold, rot, and further structural issues. This is the time to bring as many items up out of the basement as can be salvaged, and dry everything thoroughly. Mold can begin to form in as little as 24–48 hours, so it is crucial to begin drying out the space with a pump or wet/dry vacuum and a dehumidifier. Don’t forget to remove any carpet, which can hold onto moisture. 

Understand The Different Types of Floods & Act Accordingly

You might not have known this——but there are actually 3 different types of indoor floods. They’re shockingly different, and require different responses. Each refers to the different contaminating materials that may be present in the flooded water. Here are the 3 types of indoor floods and the essential response to each.

1. Clear Water

Think clear water, clean water. This is any water that is exactly as it would come out of your tap, clean and filtered. Of course, just because you don’t have to worry about contamination doesn’t mean you don’t need to act fast. Even Clear Water floods can begin to grow mold in your basement in only 24 hours.

2. Grey Water

Grey Water refers to water that might have been slightly contaminated with less-hazardous materials, like chemicals. It might come from a drain from a shower or washing machine, containing soap and other chemicals. Grey Water floods are more potentially dangerous to people, and might require you to evacuate temporarily. They are also more destructive and take longer to clean up.

3. Black Water

The most dangerous type of indoor flooding involves Black Water. In this case, the water has been contaminated with biohazards such as from sewage. While you might be able to handle a flood with just a small amount of Black Water (with the proper PPE), you would be best off calling a professional when biohazards are involved. Indoor flooding from natural storm flood waters should always be considered a Black Water flood.

Document The Damage Before Starting the Restoration Process

Before getting started with the restoration process, you should document all the damage caused by the flood. This doesn’t just mean a picture of the water level: you should be documenting thoroughly with picture and video every flooring, wall, furniture piece, etc that has been affected by the flooding. 

The more thorough you are as you document, the smoother the process can go when making your insurance claims. It’s especially important to record the source of the flooding, as many insurance plans do not cover natural disasters.

Remove Water With a Pump

The first step to clean up your flooded basement is to remove the water. Depending on how much water is present and how bad the damage is, you’ll need to use different tools.

For a small flood, only an inch or two of water, you’ll probably be fine using a wet/dry vacuum (also known as a shop vacuum or shop vac). You can rent or buy these at most hardware or home supply stores. They hold about 3–6 gallons of water, meaning you’ll need to empty the vacuum frequently as you work in the flooded areas. For an even smaller flood, you might even be able to get away with just using a mop, towels, or scooping water out with a shovel or dustpan.

For a larger flood, more than a few inches, you will more than likely need to use a sump pump, or submersible pump. These are generally installed to prevent flooding, but are still helpful during a flood. When using a sump pump, you have to go a little bit slower depending on how much water is present and what the source of the flooding is. 

Over the course of several days, pump out ⅓ of the water present each day and mark the water line. If the water line continues to rise day to day, you have not yet found the source of the flooding. When the source of the flooding has been dealt with, finish pumping out the water, ⅓ at a time.

The reason you must go so slow is to keep an eye on the pressure of any water in the soil outside your basement. If there is enough water in the soil outside, the pressure can shift the house foundation or collapse the basement walls if the water is pumped out too quickly.

Cleanup & Disinfect

Next comes everyone’s least favorite step: cleaning up and disinfecting. When a basement floods, there is inevitably going to be dirt, debris, and mud to clean up. In addition to removing any items that have fallen into the water or washed in, you’ll need to scoop out any mud (before it dries!) with a shovel.

After cleaning things up, disinfecting the area is also vital. When disinfecting, don’t take any chances. Wear protective gear such as waterproof boots, gloves, a face mask, goggles, and protective clothing. There is always a chance that the water in your basement was contaminated with a biohazard like sewage. 

Use a mixture of bleach and water to thoroughly sanitize every surface, and throw away any difficult to clean items like carpeting or upholstered furniture. Your safety is the most important priority when it comes to cleaning up and disinfecting a flooded basement!

Dry The Space

After removing any dirt or debris and disinfecting, you need to completely dry out the space. Remaining moisture can encourage mold and mildew to grow, some varieties of which, like black mold, are extremely dangerous to have in your home. In addition to wiping down surfaces with dry cloths and running fans, you can use a dehumidifier to help with the process. Keeping the dehumidifier on for at least 72 hours is a good way to minimize the risk of mold infecting your home.

Inspect for Mold & Mildew

Even when you do everything right, mold growth sometimes occurs after a flood. Microbial intruders like mold and mildew can lead to serious health risks, so it’s essential to inspect your basement for any signs of mold growth. Even the less dangerous types of mold that are found in houses can still cause structural damage and lead to degenerate asthma, cold symptoms, and fatigue.

Some of the telltale warning signs include a musty smell, discolored areas on the ceiling, walls, or floor, peeling wallpaper, or even spores in the air. Always be on the lookout for the presence of mold in your home for the sake of your property and your health.

Investigate After: What Caused The Flood?

After all the cleaning, disinfecting, drying, and inspecting is done, you must investigate to figure out what it was that caused the flood in the first place. Determining the exact cause for the flooding might help you to prevent it from happening again. 

Otherwise, if the problem never gets fixed…you can see that your home will still be at risk of flooding again. If floods are a persistent problem, it might be worth hiring a professional to inspect your home and evaluate what steps you can take to minimize risk.

How to Prevent Further Floods?

There are several things that you as the homeowner can do to prevent future floods.

Inside the house, there are several preventative measures you can take. Any cracks or gaps noticeable in the walls should be promptly sealed, either with caulk or with professional sealant. If you live in an area where flooding is prevalent, you may need to have your basement waterproofed.

Remember the sump pumps we talked about earlier? You can install one now as a preventative to help keep your basement from flooding. It will drain away water buildup beneath the basement floor before it has a chance to overflow inside.

Understanding and keeping an eye on your indoor plumbing system can also help reduce the risk of flooding, as many floods are caused by issues with plumbing-related pipes, drains, appliances.

There are several steps you can take to prevent flooding on the outside of the house too. In addition to sealing any cracks or gaps inside, make sure to protect your home by sealing any cracks in the outside of the house, in the foundation, and to seal all window wells.

Keeping the gutters (or eavestroughs, as they apparently call them in Canada) clean and intact is a key way to prevent flooding. Many floods are caused by clogged gutters leading to water runoff down walls and into homes.

The height of the ground around your property can also affect how much moisture pools around the house. If the ground slopes towards the house at all or has any low spots, water will pool there and can cause flooding. Instead, the ground should slope away from the house by at least 6 inches over about 10 feet.

Know When to Call a Professional

Sometimes, a flood is just a little too bad to be fixed by the homeowner alone. And sometimes, a flood is really really too bad to be fixed by the homeowner alone, and it’s an easy decision to call in a professional. When you’re talking about the safety of yourself and your family, there is never a wrong time to ask for professional help. In some cases, trying to DIY a fix can even cause more harm than good. For example, if a DIY homeowner cleans out a flooded basement by themselves but isn’t aware that the water has soaked behind the drywall, only a week or two later they’ll be dealing with rampant mold that could have been prevented by calling a professional.

Demarco Restoration has excellent professional water damage services. With over 20 years of experience, we specialize in residential and commercial water damage repair. We offer inspection, evaluation, repair, and insurance submission support. Our restoration experts are on-call 24/7, and when you call with an emergency flooding situation, our workers will be there within 90 minutes to get started on damage control and making a plan. When disaster hits, Demarco is there for you.

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