Flooding - General Advice on cleaning up damage after a flood

The following advice to householders was prepared by the Directorate of Environmental Health at Northampton Borough Council following the Easter flood of 1998 in the town. It was revised on 24 April 1998.

Before Re-occupying Your Home after a flood

Obviously the best defense is to use flood damage prevention techniques in the first place, by using a variety of available affordable flood devices, orby moving items out of harms way of the flooding. However if flooding does occur then the floowing points should be remembered whilst you are trying to clean up after the flood damage.

The damaging flood water affecting your home or other property may have been contaminated with sewage and other contaminants. Although this would be very diluted and present a low risk there are a few precautions when dealing with the problem as below:

Cleaning Up The House After The Flood

Before you start cleaning up the flood damage cover open cuts and wounds on exposed skin with a waterproof plaster.

Remove all soft furnishings and fittings that are damaged beyond repair.

Remove all dirty water and silt from the property as much as possible, including out of the space under downstairs floorboards if you have these. This may require pumping out.

Wash down all hard surfaces with hot soapy water several times until visually clean.

Use a domestic disinfectant, following manufacturers directions as to concentrations, to wash over all hard surfaces after cleaning.

Food preparation surfaces and storage cupboards, refrigerators etc should be washed down with food safe disinfectants such as Milton, Dettox or similar.

Allow to thoroughly dry - this will also help to destroy any germs left behind by the flood.

Heating and good ventilation will assist the drying process.

Clothing And Bedding

Clothing, bedding and other soft/fabric articles including childrens toys etc should be laundered on a hot wash (60ºC and above) which will destroy any germs that may have been carried by the flood water. Other soft furnishings that have been contaminated and cannot be put in a washing machine will have to be professionally cleaned or if this is not possible may have to be disposed of.

Other Flood Contaminants

If the flood water contained oil, diesel etc this should in the main be removed with the floodwater and silt. Any remaining oil, diesel etc contamination in accessible areas can be removed by using a detergent solution and washing the surface down after initial cleaning has been carried out. In inaccessible areas such as under floorboards it may present an odour problem but is not necessarily a health hazard. Further advice should be sought from the Environmental Health Department at your City/borough/district council if the odour persists or if you are particularly concerned about it for other reasons.

Returning To Your Home After a Flood

It is recommended that you only fully re-occupy your home once the above flood cleaning has been carried out. There may be additional works to be carried out eventually as advised by your insurance company, housing officer, landlord, builder etc. If you decide to return to your home before this further work is completed you should:

try to have some heating on at all times, consider the use of a dehumidifier

ensure the property is well ventilated. Leave windows open as much as possible. Remember security though!

ensure that if you have air bricks to any under floor spaces that these are unblocked to give cross ventilation to these areas.

Food Preparation And Storage after a flood

Ensure all surfaces that food will come into contact with are sound and disinfected as above. If work tops and other areas show signs of damage, avoid food contact with these areas. Particularly make sure that shelves including in your refrigerator where food is stored are cleaned and disinfected.

Try to keep any opened food in an enclosed box or tin.

All crockery, pots and pans should be thoroughly washed with very hot soapy water before using. If any of these are badly chipped or damaged do not use. You could also use a food safe disinfectant eg Milton to sanitise them after cleaning.

Ensure the water taps are cleaned and disinfected before using them for the first time.

Take particular care in preparing food, always wash your hands before starting.

Other Health Issues to consider after flooding

If you follow the basic flood advice above you should not experience any additional health problems. It is possible that the "stress" caused by the incident may well make you feel unwell in some way. This does not necessarily mean that you are suffering from any infection or disease. However, if you are concerned - visit your own doctor, who can also arrange counselling for you. (City or County Social Services may also assist with requests for counselling.)

While in the property floorboards, walls etc will continue to dry out. Any loose material and dust resulting from this should be vacuumed up on a regular basis.

Very young children should avoid playing directly on timber floorboards or any damaged tiled floors if possible - be aware of the risk of injury from sharp edges on tiles or raised nails in the floorboards until these have been repaired.

Help for vulnerable and elderly people returning to their houses may be available from the Social Services Department of the City or County Council.

Tips to remember after flooding problems


Wash your hands properly if you have been in contact with flood water or silt. Take particular care when preparing or eating food.

Contact your insurance company (if relevant) and make an inventory list of all damaged goods, including food. If you can, take photographic or video pictures.

Put contaminated flood damaged food in black plastic refuse sacks, seal and put out when your next refuse collection is due. Check with insurers before disposal.

If you accidentally ingest (swallow) mud or contaminated flood water and you become ill contact your doctor and tell him your house was flooded.

Replace manhole covers dislodged by the flood.


Don’t be tempted to try and salvage damaged food as it may be contaminated with sewage or chemicals left from the flood water.

Don’t switch on electrical appliances, which have been in contact with the flood water unless a competent electrician has checked them. Your local electricity supply company will be checking mains supplies.

Don’t eat home grown garden or allotment fruit and vegetables that have been covered by flood water. Leave undamaged vegetables in the ground for at least another two weeks and then only use them after thorough washing and cooking.

Don’t let young children play on affected grassed or paved areas until they have been cleaned and restored to their normal condition.


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