BE SAFETY-CONSCIOUS WHEN CLEANING UP ‘AFTER THE FLOOD

When heavy rains send overflow waters into homes, leaving residents with the unpleasant job of “after the flood” cleanup, it’s important to keep safety in mind when doing so. Many residents may find that some damaged home furnishings are indeed salvageable, said two Texas Agricultural Extension Service specialists.

“Wet wiring, electrical fixtures and appliances are hazardous, so be cautious. Don’t trust wiring and appliances until a building inspector says they are safe to use,” said Dana Porter, Extension agriculture engineer. “And don’t ever use electrical appliances standing on a wet floor — be sure the floor has dried thoroughly first.

“If you have to use a generator or temporary cook stove — such as a camping stove — inside the house, make sure there is adequate ventilation. These devices can generate carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can be lethal at high concentrations. Devices designed for outdoor use should only be used outdoors.”

Flood waters contain microorganisms that cause disease. If your private water supply (well) was contaminated by flood water, disinfect it and have the water supply tested for bacteria before using it, she said.

Canned goods and other foods in sealed containers may be salvageable after they are thoroughly cleaned. Inspect the package carefully and discard any food that has come in contact with flood water, she advised.

“Furniture, clothing, carpeting and walls should be cleaned, disinfected and dried quickly to limit the growth of mold and mildew. Exposure to molds and some fungi can trigger allergies, asthma and sometimes cause serious respiratory illness, so be sure to wear gloves and a face mask when cleaning up mold and mildew,” Porter said. “You can dilute laundry bleach with water to make a good disinfectant, but don’t mix cleansers containing ammonia with bleach — doing so will produce dangerous fumes.

What to keep and what to throw away can be overwhelming, said Pam Brown, Extension consumer science specialist. Consider each item separately, and base your decision on the replacement cost compared to the cost of cleaning and restoration, and its value to you, the specialist said.

“Tackle one item at a time. After cleaning and disinfecting, store these items in a dry, well ventilated place. Antiques that have only suffered light damage can often be cleaned, reglued and refinished at home,” Brown said. “Most solid wood furniture can be restored, too, unless it is heavily damaged. Veneered wood is more costly to repair unless only a slight amount of regluing is required.

“Salvaging upholstered furniture is costly and time-consuming, but it can be done. Consider the cost of supplies and time before choosing to upholster. It may be cheaper to simply replace it.”

Carpets, clothing, linens and curtains will require immediate attention after the laundry equipment is cleaned and disinfected. Add a cup of chlorine bleach or three-fourths cup pine-oil disinfectant to hot water as the washer fills, then run the longest wash cycle and rinse cycle, she said.

Unplug the dryer and wash all surfaces of the drum and door with disinfectant (two tablespoons of bleach in one cup hot water). Rinse the entire dryer with a clean, damp cloth — one that isn’t dripping wet. Leave the dryer door open until all surfaces are completely dry. “You’ll also have to disinfect laundry baskets, counters and containers to avoid contaminating clean clothing,” Brown said.

The cost of cleaning and renovating damaged mattresses is usually prohibitive. Replacement is probably the best option. Pillows, however, are another story.

“It depends on the damage. Heavily soaked pillows should be discarded. They will harbor mildew and odor. Slightly soaked feather pillows should be machine- or hand-washed,” the specialist said. “If the outer ticking is badly damaged, transfer the feathers to a muslin bag larger than the ticking. Stitch an open end of the ticking to the open end of the bag, shake the feathers into the bag and stitch the bag closed. Discard the ticking and wash the muslin bag in warm water for 15-20 minutes — adding a disinfectant. Rinse several times in warm water, squeeze or spin off the excess water and dry in a dryer or on the line.

“Polyester fiberfill pillows should be hand-washed in warm water with a low-suds detergent and disinfectant. Rinse several times, and squeeze or spin off excess water in the washing machine. Then dry them in the dryer or on a line. You can wash foam or urethane-filled pillows the same way, but they should be line dried — away from heat and light.”

Porter said a good reference for cleaning up after flood waters is available on the Internet at: http://www.extension.umn.edu/Documents/K/A/afterflood.html.

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