Tips for Cleaning Up After a Flood

Compiled from FEMA Guidelines by Assemblyman Pete Lopez
September 16, 2011
Cleaning equipment, masks, gloves and other assistance will be available at FEMA POD sites beginning September 2, 2011.

When cleaning your home, please wear masks, gloves, and other protective gear as needed (for example, wear waders or waterproof footwear) to keep yourself protected from contaminants, hazardous household waste, mold and bacteria, and unexpected health hazards (such as rodent feces or asbestos).

As always, when using household cleaners please be careful about mixing chemical cleaners or disinfectants! Check warning labels for hazards and be sure to keep your home well-ventilated to protect yourself and loved ones from toxic fumes, which can lead to injury and even death.

Disinfect Using a Bleach Solution
2 Teaspoons of Bleach Per Gallon of Water

(or use another disinfecting household cleaner)

As a general rule, if floodwaters touched it, it needs to be discarded or cleaned. Including the walls, floors and ceilings of your home, closets and shelves, appliances and fixtures and heating or cooling ductwork, as well as any personal items such as furniture, kitchenware, clothing, toys, books, memorabilia and décor.

If you have to remove all or part of walls or floors, lead or asbestos-containing materials (such as paint, plaster or pipe wrap) could be disturbed and cause lead dust or asbestos fibers to be spread around your home. Lead is highly toxic, especially for children, and can cause many long-term health effects. Asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma (a cancer of the chest and abdominal lining). If you know your home contains lead-based paint or asbestos lining, contact the NYS Department of Health at 1-800-458-1158.

General Garbage Storage, Collection & Disposal:

Garbage invites insects and rodents, particularly since floods destroy the normal food sources these pests rely on. Store garbage in watertight, rodent/insect-proof containers with tight-fitting lids. Use plastic liners, if possible. Pile garbage away from your well or other water sources, including standing water*, which is a breeding ground for insects and should be drained as soon as possible.

Household Hazardous Waste:

Household Hazardous Waste is considered to be used or leftover contents of consumer products that contain chemicals that could be considered Chemically-reactive, Toxic, Flammable or Corrosive.

Examples include:

  • Household cleaning products
  • Latex and oil-base paints
  • Cleaning solvents
  • Gasoline
  • Oils
  • Swimming pool chemicals
  • Pesticides
  • Propane gas cylinders

Household Hazardous Waste should be segregated from other types of debris and may be required to be removed by EPA. Ask your trash collector for specific information and proper disposal requirements.

Flush Toilets:

If flood waters are covering your septic tank and leach field, you should not use any flush toilets attached to the system until flood waters rescind and your septic system can be examined for damage by a professional.

Food, Containers and Utensils:

Flood waters include a variety of contaminants. DO NOT EAT ANY FOOD THAT HAS BEEN SPLASHED WITH FLOODWATER. Canned foods can be used unless the cans are swollen, rusted, seriously dented, or the contents cannot be identified. Wash off all cans that are still sealed and disinfect them for 5 minutes in a bleach solution BEFORE opening. Discard food containers with lids that can be screwed or pressed on (such as soda and beer) and throw away food in any resealable containers (i.e. Tupperware or other storage containers).

All kitchen tools, utensils, plates, cooking pots and pans, etc. should be disinfected using a bleach solution with the exception of sterling silver tableware (the bleach will cause silver to tarnish). Disinfect silver pieces by putting them in boiling water for at least two minutes.

Drinking Water:

Assume all sources are unsafe until approved by your local health department. Until your water service has been restored and is safe to drink, please only drink bottled water or water distributed by a health department-approved tank truck.

If your drinking well has been covered with floodwater, it should be disinfected before use. Contact FEMA or your local authorities for more information about restoring your drinking well BEFORE using the water.

Cleanup to Protect Air Quality Inside Your Home – and Your Health:

Flooding causes a variety of long-term indoor air quality problems, including airborne bacteria and mold as well as allergens. Make sure to:

  • Keep your home well-ventilated
  • Remove all personal items that are damaged, damp or wet
  • Remove all standing water* and excess moisture (including getting rid of damp furniture, clothing and personal items)
  • Make use of dehumidifiers and fans as much as possible to further “dry out” your home

Drying out your home can take several weeks of continual work – however, the growth of mold and bacteria will continue as long as humidity is high. A musty odor, which you may not notice for months, is a sure sign that your home has bacteria or mold.

Removing personal items is a particularly difficult process, especially when there is historical or sentimental value attached to an item. However, keeping items that are or were soaked by floodwaters is unhealthy to you and to others. As a general rule, materials that are wet and cannot be quickly dried out and thoroughly cleaned should be discarded immediately (for example, anything with upholstery).

Insulating materials (fibrous insulation), fiberboard and disposable filters should be replaced, especially if they are in your heating or air conditioning systems or came into contact with water. If a filter was designed to be cleaned with water and reused, and was ONLY in contact with RAIN WATER, then you can thoroughly clean it and reuse it – however, if the filter was in contact with floodwater, it must be disposed of.

*All standing water should be removed as quickly as possible, with the exception of water with oil floating on top in a flooded basement. In these situations, please contact a professional who will first remove the oil and then the water and can help make sure your oil tank is reaffixed without further damage to yourself or your home.


Please consult resources on FEMA’s website: or or call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362.


For ANY help, please contact Assemblyman Pete Lopez and his staff at any of his offices or by emailing

113 Park Place, Suite 6
Schoharie, NY 12157

45 Five Mile Woods Road, Suite 3
Catskill, NY 12414

21 Liberty Street, Room 207
Sidney, NY 13838

429 Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248