No one is immune to the calamitous force of water, no matter how much people try to control its various entry and exit points throughout a home. Bathtubs overflow. Water heaters leak. Snow and rain … sometimes just find a way in. And no matter how it gets in, all that water can be deleterious to your home.
If your basement has been flooded, you will need to take some specific steps to clean it up and prevent any long-term damage. Here are some tips on how to clean a flooded basement:
1. Remove any furniture or other items from the basement that may have been damaged by the water.
2. If the water was contaminated by sewage or other hazardous materials, you will need to wear protective gear and take appropriate safety precautions before entering the basement.
3. Use a wet/dry vacuum or a mop to remove the water from the basement.
4. If the water was contaminated by sewage or other hazardous materials, you will need to disinfect the basement before you can start to rebuild.
5. If the basement has been flooded for an extended period of time, you may need to hire a professional to help you rebuild and restore the basement.
The three types of floods
In flood remediation, water is divided into three categories:
- Clear water: This is the clean kind that comes from a burst pipe, a leak in a hot-water tank, or a forgotten and overflowing tub.
- Gray water: This category includes liquid that has been contaminated with soap or detergent, such as from a shower or a washing machine.
- Black water: This term refers to any kind of water that’s contaminated with fecal matter or any number of other biohazards.
When it comes to black water from, say, a sewage-pipe backup, we recommend going with a professional rather than trying to tackle the situation yourself. (Just make sure your professional is licensed, insured, and approved by your own insurance.) “The average homeowner doesn’t have the correct PPE to work in that environment,” said PuroClean franchise owner Nelson Rivera. “The procedures and tactics taken for black water are completely different than clean water.”
Pete Marrero agreed but said that a small amount of black water from sewage-pipe flooding is likely okay to take on yourself with the proper PPE: rubber boots, N95 masks, safety goggles, and rubber gloves. Be sure to completely cover any open wounds and to thoroughly wash yourself and any surfaces the black water touches. “You would absolutely want to call in a professional, or at least consult with one, if the exposed area is greater than 3 square feet,” he said. But use common sense, too: If even some small pooling smells or looks particularly foul, play it safe and call an expert.
Water damage from flooding caused by natural disasters such as a storm surge or floodwaters that leak into a home should always be considered hazardous black water, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping out of it entirely if you can, since there’s no way of knowing what the water has been contaminated with. If your home has taken on floodwater, ideally you’d be able to wait for a professional. But that isn’t always possible, and when we ran that scenario past the experts we spoke to, they said to follow the steps we outline here to prevent damage and the potential for microbial growth but to make sure you’re wearing all the same PPE (as described above) for sewage water.
Know your house
Understanding the mechanics of your home is crucial. Many of the experts we spoke to remarked on the number of people they’ve come across who are unfamiliar with even the most basic inner workings of their house. Ideally you’ve been able to familiarize yourself with the location of your home’s water shutoff and breaker panel before the moment of crisis.
With water damage, you should know how to turn off your home’s electricity, although as Nelson Rivera pointed out, “Usually the breakers trip when there’s an issue.” But if you have to pass through standing water to get to your breaker box, and the electricity is still on, call a professional. “It can be like stepping into something that, you know, changes your hairstyle,” PuroClean’s Darren Hudema said. “It’s better to just stay out, without putting yourself in harm’s way.”