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Disaster Cleanup & Repair For Your Home

Tips for reversing the damage done to your home during a disaster

Whether you rode out the storm at home, or evacuated to a safer location, taking the first look around your damaged home can be overwhelming. In addition to the other emotions you may be feeling, you may feel daunted by the size of the task and not know where to begin.

Every home’s needs will be different, and some damage can only be repaired by professionals. But if you and your loved ones will be tackling any of the work, these tips for cleaning and repairing your home after a disaster will help you get started safely and effectively.

Clothing & Gear


Cleaning up after a disaster can mean facing a wide range of hazards, from contaminated water, to animals and insects, to splintered wood and sagging ceilings. At minimum, everyone who helps you with clean up and repair should wear:

  • Long pants
  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Sturdy shoes or boots (no tennis shoes or flip flops)
  • Work gloves
  • You may also want to invest in:

  • Eye protection
  • Disposable masks
  • Hard hats
  • In addition, many disasters have unique hazards that require specific precautions. Please consult the Emergency Resource Library for information on a particular disaster.

    Basic Cleaning Supplies


    The specific damage your home has incurred will determine the exact supplies you need. However, this shopping list will help you get started:
  • Detergent
  • Bleach
  • TSP, if allowed in your area
  • Shop vac or canister vacuum
  • Sponges
  • Buckets
  • Rubber gloves
  • Mops and brooms
  • Shovels and rakes, if mud or other debris has entered your home
  • Carpet knife, if wall to wall carpeting will need to be removed
  • Heavy duty trash bags
  • Cleaning Up


    Now it’s time to begin working. It’s up to you whether you prefer to start by tackling the largest issues across the entire home, or by focusing on one or two key rooms where you can make substantial progress.

    You may have a lot to accomplish, so be sure to take breaks when the task seems overwhelming. Step outside, get some fresh air, and focus on the improvements you’ve already made. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it!

  • If this is your first visit to the home, follow our tips for checking your home’s structural elements and utilities and systems.
  • Open doors and windows. If the house was closed for more than 48 hours, air it out before staying inside for any length of time.
  • Remove any remaining water, large amounts of dirt/mud, damaged items and other trash.
  • Clean hard surfaces throughout your home (flooring, countertops and appliances) thoroughly with hot water and soap or a detergent. Then disinfect with bleach or a commercial disinfectant (be sure to follow directions on the bottle).
  • Dry soft surfaces (upholstered furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing) in the open air if possible, before cleaning
  • Throw out all food, beverages and medicine exposed to flood waters and mud. When in doubt, throw it out. This includes canned goods, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and containers with food or liquid that has been sealed shut.
  • Any appliances that were inundated by flood water should be checked by a professional before you use them.
  • Throw away wooden cutting boards, wood or plastic utensils, and baby bottle nipples and pacifiers that have come into contact with floodwater.
  • Use hot, soapy water to thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that have come into contact with floodwater.
  • Sanitize dishes by boiling them in a clean or properly treated water or by immersing them for 10 to 15 min in a solution of 1 tablespoons of unscented liquid of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
  • Water Damage


    Water damage, such as from a flood or in the aftermath of a fire, is not just unsightly and unsanitary – it can also be dangerous. From wallboards to rugs, items that are not thoroughly dried can sprout mold and mildew.

    Your first task in addressing water damage is to remove any water that remains. That means pumping out standing water and drying out waterlogged surfaces.

  • Pump out flooded basements gradually (about one-third of the water per day) to avoid structural damage. If the water is pumped out completely in a short period of time, pressure from water-saturated soil on the outside could cause basement walls to collapse.
  • Bring all soft items (such as sofas, clothing, bedding, and throw rugs) outside if possible – sunlight and wind will help them dry faster.
  • Throw out items that have absorbed water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected. This includes mattresses, carpeting, cosmetics, stuffed animals and baby toys.
  • Remove all drywall and insulation that has been in contact with flood waters.
  • Consider removing vinyl floor coverings and tile to allow the substructures beneath or behind them to dry.
  • Keep the windows open and run fans – or keep them shut and run dehumidifiers – to pull moisture out of wood floors and subfloors, beams, doors, etc.
  • Be patient. Depending on the level of water damage incurred, it can take weeks or months for your home’s structural elements to be thoroughly dried. Only then should you replace drywall, carpets and other floorcoverings.

    Smoke Damage


    Smoke odors and soot are difficult to remove, so the work may be best handled by professional fire restorers. However, there are some steps you can take to rid your home of these reminders of the fire.
  • Most of all: avoid touching soot. It smears easily and will leave oily black stains on everything it touches. If one is available, use a shop vac to remove soot, being careful that the vacuum nozzle doesn’t contact the surface you are cleaning.
  • If you have soot stains on your walls or hard surfaces, visit your local home improvement center to find a cleaner designed to address soot.
  • For smoke odors, ventilation is key. Open windows and run fans. Don’t neglect your attic and other insulated spaces, since insulation often retains odors.
  • Wash hard surfaces with hot soapy water. Consider using trisodium phosphate (TSP) if it is available where you live. Be sure to follow directions for safe use and disposal of TSP!
  • For soft, washable items, such as clothing and bedding, first decide if the item is worth keeping. Smoke is difficult to fully remove, and you may have more important things to spend time on. Multiple wash cycles – without letting the items dry in between – may be required.
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