The Dos and Don’ts of DIY Water Damage Cleanup


Water damage is every homeowner’s nightmare, and it can have so many sources — storms, burst pipes and flooding, just to name a few. If your home has suffered water damage, you might need professional help to repair it — if you fail to take the right steps immediately. Read on to learn how you should and shouldn’t clean up water damage.

DO Know What Kind of Water You’re Dealing With

Water damage restoration professionals place water into three categories: white water, gray water, and black water.

White water, also known as clean or potable water, is water that is generally safe to cook with or drink. It does not contain potentially harmful pathogens. White water comes from burst pipes, condensation and rain; however, once rain water causes a stream, river or other body of water to burst from its banks, it becomes floodwater, which is considered black water, the most dangerous type.

Gray water comes from clean toilets, burst pipes, kitchen and bathroom sinks, dishwashers, washing machines, showers and baths. This is what’s left after using white water for cooking, bathing, drinking, and other daily activities. Black water comes from flooding and sewage. It can contain dangerous pathogens and can be very dirty. Knowing what type of water is damaging your home will help you take the right safety steps in cleaning it.

DON’T Put Yourself in Danger

When any part of your house has flooded, you need to take safety precautions before beginning clean-up, especially if you have to enter a flooded area in order to clean it. First, turn off the electricity to your home; even if your neighborhood has lost power, you should still turn off power to your home. Shut off your natural gas, too.

Make sure you have the right protective gear for cleaning up water damage. If you are cleaning up white or even gray water, you probably don’t need protective clothing, especially if it’s a small leak. However, you may want to wear rubber gloves or, for entering deep water, rubber boots or hip waders. If you are cleaning up black water, you may need waterproof boots, rubber gloves, safety goggles, respirators or masks and waterproof clothing.

DO Stop the Flow of Water If Possible

If you can, stop the flow of water as soon as it is safe to enter the flooded area. If the water is coming from a burst pipe or leaking toilet, for example, shut off the water to your home to prevent further flooding and damage.

You may not be able to stop all sources of water from entering your home; for example, if rain water is entering your home through a damaged roof, you may have to wait until the storm passes to do anything about it. However, you should prioritize fixing the leaky roof so that additional rain water can’t get in.

DON’T Wait to Begin Repairs

Mold can begin growing in saturated flooring, drywall, furniture, insulation, textiles and other household items within 24 hours. Start clean up immediately.

DO Photograph the Damage

Snap some quick pics of the damage before you start water damage restoration. This will help you get reimbursed by your home owners or flood insurance carrier.

DON’T Leave Wet Items in the House

When a house is flooded, your first priority is to dry it out as quickly as possible. Leaving wet furniture and household items in the house will only contribute to the ambient moisture inside the house. Your first step should be to remove all wet furniture, household items, rugs, carpets and other items from the house. Some may be salvageable. Others will not be, but all should come outside right away.

Once you have emptied the flooded area of wet items, start assessing the extent of the damage to the structure and repairing or replacing damaged drywall, insulation, plaster, carpeting and carpet padding. If water has been sitting in a room for longer than two hours, you will need to replace the drywall and insulation in that room; saturated carpet and carpet padding will need to be replaced if it is flooded for any length of time, since mildew and mold can easily grow in these materials. Insulation, too, will need to be replaced if wetted, except for foam insulation, which can be washed and dried. Remove vinyl or tile flooring to allow the floorboards beneath to dry properly.

DO Start Drying Out the Interior Immediately

Once you have removed all items and stripped out all wet drywall and flooring, start drying out the house. Open the windows and set up industrial fans or dehumidifiers to start the drying process. Disinfect wall studs, wood trim, wood floors and non-porous items with a weak solution of bleach water.

DON’T Force the Drying Process

Drying out a flooded house or room takes time. Don’t try to force the process with heating or air conditioning units. This could damage the structure further.

DO Know When to Call the Pros

Flood waters can be extremely dirty. They can also cause extensive damage to pipes and electrical wiring, sometimes even stripping them out of your walls. If your home has been damaged by black water, especially if you think there has been damage to the plumbing, electrical system or HVAC system, it may be time to call in the pros. You should also talk to your insurance agent before beginning DIY repairs; your policy may require you to use a contractor instead.

Water is the number one threat to the structural integrity of most modern homes. Make sure you take the right steps immediately to clean up and dry out any water that enters your home, so water damage doesn’t put you and your family out on the street.

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