Extreme weather conditions can cause moisture levels to rise in places with limited airflow. Whether the cause is harsh rain or extreme heat, enclosed spaces such as basements are prone to moisture, which can lead to mold development. Molds release allergen–laced spores into the air that can cause numerous health problems. As revealed in a 2004 report from the Institute of Medicine, mold exposure has been linked to respiratory problems and coughing symptoms.
Fortunately, there are ways to combat mold formation and ensure a safe and healthy home environment, regardless of outside weather patterns. In situations that could give rise to an uptick in mold, action must be taken within 48 hours to prevent the bacteria from taking shape. Floods, for example, will often leave mold in their wake. This is due to the overabundance of germ-ridden water that dries into walls, furniture, carpeting and assorted objects. Out of all the enclosed spaces in which mold is likeliest to form, basements are among the most vulnerable.
Though it’s best to get professional help when flooding occurs, it’s important to know how to prevent mold in a flooded basement, how to prevent mold after water damage and how to clean up a flooded basement, as well as other flooded house cleanup tips.
How to Clean up a Flooded Basement
Follow these steps to safely and thoroughly clean up a basement that has been flooded.
Shut off the electrical power. Before setting foot in a flooded basement, it’s crucial that the electricity in your house be shut off. Few things are more dangerous, domestically speaking, than submerged power outlets, electric cords and active appliances. If you step into such waters, the jolts could be fatal, especially if anything in your basement was plugged in and running at the time the flooding occurred. In order to find your way around in the newly darkened basement, bring a battery-powered flashlight with LED bulbs.
Have the water pumped from your basement. The water in your basement will need to be removed as quickly as possible before there’s time for mold to formulate. This can be accomplished with a gas-powered water pump, which will lower the water level to about an inch or less. At this point, you can enter your basement and begin the cleanup process. Remaining water can be eliminated with either a wet/dry vacuum – providing you remove the filter – or a sump pump. A sump pump should be equipped with an alarm/text-alert feature that will inform you if and when water levels rise too high.
Remove all saturated items. Anything in your basement that’s capable of absorbing water must be removed to a ventilated area where it can dry out naturally, preferably within two days of the initial flooding. This would include any old clothing you have stored in cardboard boxes, as well as old books, magazines, antiques, upholstered chairs, and wooden desks or tables. Some of these items might be damaged beyond usefulness, but that’s beside the point in the immediate aftermath of a flood. The first priority is to have everything taken outside or moved to a garage, shed or makeshift storage area to dry before mold takes shape. In all likelihood, more than one person will be required for the heavy lifting.
Wash the walls. During the course of a flood, lots of dirt is liable to get thrown up by the rising water levels. This dirt will then stick to the walls and leave even more germs, in addition to any mold development. Therefore, the walls of your basement will not just need to dry – they’ll need to be cleaned first. To make this possible, fill a tray with warm, soapy water and give the walls a good wipe down with sponges or gloves. Once the tray water gets dirty, fill it anew with clean, soapy water and continue. When there’s no more dirt coming off the walls, you’ll know that your basement is ready to dry in a much cleaner and more sanitary condition.
Dry out the carpets. In the aftermath of a flood, basement carpeting can be a mold magnet. If your basement has carpeting, pull it up and set it outside or in an outhouse to hang dry. Same thing with the underpadding, which can act like a sponge for all the worst elements that floods bring into existence. Uproot the padding and dry it alongside the carpet, with both preferably positioned to allow air to reach the top and bottom sides.
Air out the basement. An enclosed, flooded area contains lots of mold-causing moisture. Once the water has been drained, the moisture will remain unless you get the air to circulate. The most powerful circulation device for basements is an industrial blower, but if this is beyond your budget, fans can also work wonders. Position two or more fans along the basement floor and set them running at high speed. To eliminate moisture even more effectively, place a dehumidifier in the basement, but be sure to change the water bucket constantly to keep it from overflowing.
Remove baseboards. The presence of baseboards can slow the drying process, especially if your basement interior consists of drywall. While you can’t see behind the baseboards, they can remain soaked well beyond a flood if not given proper ventilation. Consequently, wall cavities can become havens for mold development. Even with fans blowing at full blast, the first few inches up from the floor could remain damp well past the 48-hour deadline by which all remaining floodwater should be eradicated from the premises. In order to keep things up to speed, baseboards and trimmings should be removed to make way for the passage of air. For an even more effective drying process, drill holes along the base of the drywall to let air pass through to the wall cavities.
Inspect your basement for signs of mold. Now that several days have passed since the floodwater was pumped and the walls were cleaned, it’s time to double-check the basement for mold formations. Mold can be detected by sight as well as smell. If you spot any spores as you look the walls up and down, clean the infected areas with a bleach-soaked mop or sponge. Once all traces of mold have been cleared, you can go ahead and reinstall the newly dried carpeting and floor pads. Before you move the boxes and furniture back in, go over the carpet with a rug cleaner. This should wash away any last remnants of dirt or contamination from the floodwaters.
Keep the air circulating and dehumidified. With everything back to normal in your basement, you’ll still want to keep the air circulated to ensure a germ-free environment. Keep the dehumidifier active to ensure that moisture levels don’t rise to the point of mold development. Also, consider adding a HEPA air cleaner to your basement. This will suck up any residual spores that might develop and help keep your basement sanitary as either a storage space or an additional area for the family.
How to Prevent Mold After Water Damage
Keeping mold out of your house after water damage has occurred is important for the sake of your health and your home.
Look for the cause. Moisture can arise through multiple sources in enclosed, underground quarters that lack sunlight. Such is the case with the majority of basements, where ventilation is scant and atmospheres tend to be humid. Complicating matters is the fact that mold development often goes undetected for months, if not years, due in part to the lack of attention that basements receive from the typical homeowner. Mold growth is further enhanced by the amount of dust and dirt particles that accumulate inside basements over time. Of the structural elements that are commonly found in basements, materials such as drywall, insulation and various types of wood are particularly hospitable to mold development.
Condensation. In basements, the atmosphere is often a dichotomous mix of cold temperatures and humidity. The former is due to the paucity of heat exposure, while the latter is caused by the relative lack of ventilation. Condensation – or moisture – is the end result of this dual condition. The watery evidence of condensation is most commonly found on walls and cold metal pipes. Basement floors are also vulnerable to condensation, with or without carpeting. For homeowners who rarely check their basements, condensation is often left to fester for lengthy periods of time. Consequently, molds and airborne spores often result from this lack of maintenance. In houses afflicted with old home smell, mold stemming from condensation is a common culprit.
Floods. Once flooding occurs, basement mold can spread like wildfire in the aftermath. With all the water that pours into the underspace of a building or residential property, contamination of the floors and walls becomes likely as germs and dirt particles are kicked up and redistributed on everything the water touches. Once the water has cleared, the infestation of germs will only grow unless further action is taken to purify the basement area. One of the most toxic molds is Stachybotrys chartarum – commonly known as black mold – which rapidly grows on saturated materials in the wake of a flood.
Cracked pipes. If a water pipe cracks inside a home, chances are the water will make its way to the bottom. Therefore, the basement is the most vulnerable part of a house to the aftereffects of a cracked pipe, regardless of whether the crack occurs inside the basement or on a higher floor. The amount of water that manages to seep into the basement can all depend on how quickly the crack is caught and the steps that are taken to remedy the situation. In some cases, a rupture in the kitchen or bathroom might be handled locally, but with little mind to where the leaked water might have disappeared. Unfortunately, the water isn’t likely to just magically vanish without leaving lasting, germ-laden traces on its final destination.
Cracked floors. Underneath the bottom foundation of every house is the soil of the Earth, which generally sees its share of water passing through. When cracks form in a basement floor, water can makes its way inside from numerous sources, particularly if there’s a cracked water or sewage pipe running underneath. Even if there’s no such problem with the piping, dampness within the soil can lead to moisture in the basement. Therefore, a cracked floor can render a basement vulnerable to mold growth.
How to Detect Mold in a Basement
It’s important to find any mold in your basement, so you can remedy the situation as quickly as possible.
The smell. The telltale sign of mold within an enclosed area is a rancid smell. Descriptions vary as to the smell of mold. Some say it resembles the stench of decomposition, while others liken it more to the smell of rotten eggs. Whatever the case may be, if you walk into your basement one day only to find it smelling much worse than it had been during your last visit, chances are there’s been a mold formation. Basements, in fact, are one of the easiest places in which to detect moldy smells due to the lack of ventilation and consequent air stagnation.
Mold testing. If mold is present, it’s likely to be located in areas that have incurred water damage from condensation or leaks. Places to check would include cracks in the floor, crevices on the walls, and along pipes, vents and ducts. Mold can also develop along any nonsynthetic materials, including wood, cardboard, drywall, insulation, rugs and most furniture. However, despite evidence of mold in the air, it’s often difficult to find where it’s located. When these situations occur, the best option is mold testing, which involves the sampling of air and surfaces for signs of mold spores. Though mold testing can be done with DIY testing kits, it’s best to have it done by a professional.
How to Prevent Mold in a Flooded Basement
Investing in prevention will result in major savings when it comes to cleanup costs.
Act quickly. Once flooding has occurred, it’s a race against the clock to pump the water from your basement, dry off all of your belongings, and dry and clean the basement interior before the onset of mold formation. In the event that a flood lasts longer than 48 hours, chances are you won’t have time to singlehandedly stem the development of mold in your basement. Therefore, the steps required for cleaning out a flooded basement should really only be handled by licensed flood relief teams or homeowners with experience in emergency maintenance.
Get help. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), situations where mold growth exceeds 100 square feet should only be handled by professional cleanup teams. In certain states, licenses are required for contract crews that handle flood cleanup efforts in commercial and residential properties. At the very least, anyone you contact for cleanup work should be knowledgeable about handling mold and also be able to provide references and liability insurance.
Use proper cleaning solutions. When it comes to cleaning hard surfaces after a flood, purification is best achieved with a combination of hot water and washing detergent. However, the EPA advises against the use of biocides such as chlorine bleach, unless the flooding has occurred in a home where one of the occupants has a weak immune system. If bleach is used, it should be diluted with water – the CDC advises one gallon of water per cup of bleach. Under no circumstance should bleach and ammonia be combined into a cleaning solution. The purpose of cleaning surfaces after a flood is to disinfect them so they can dry as soon as possible. Therefore, only minimal amounts of cleaning water should be used in this process.
Wear protective gear. Whether or not you encounter mold growth inside the basement or on items rescued from a postflood scenario, it’s crucial to wear protective gear when entering areas or handling items that could potentially harbor the germs. Vital gear for a basement cleanup would include a N95 respirator mask, gloves, boots and safety glasses, in addition to cleaning water, mops and/or sponges.
Flooded House Cleanup: What to Keep and What to Throw
According to the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH), items in the following categories should not be kept if they’ve been submerged, especially if they bear the mark of mold odor:
- Burlap chairs, velvet sofas and other upholstered furniture items
- Rugs or carpeting
- Microwave ovens, air conditioners, computers and other fan-operated electronics
- Books, magazines, comic books, letters and paperwork
- Food of any kind, including dried, boxed and even canned goods
The following items are salvageable, providing they’re clean and free of mold or water damage:
- Nonporous utensils, cookware, dishware, glasses and jewelry
- Solid wood furniture
- Certain electronics
- Clothing and artwork
- Books and other paper items spared of flood waters
Items in the second category should be stored in a garage or outhouse for several days after a flood in order to dry out completely. In addition to the basic cleaning gear, you’ll also need the following supplies on hand as you enter the basement to salvage your belongings:
- Large plastic containers. Alternately, cardboard boxes lined with Glad® or Hefty bags could also be of use.
- Large, strong Glad or Hefty bags by the bulk.
- A digital camera or camera-equipped smartphone to collect a visual record of the flood damage.
As far as clothing and linens are concerned, they’ll need to be washed as soon as possible. If your washing machine is indisposed, wash them at a friend’s house or take them to the nearest laundromat. After two washes on hot, heavy cycles, you can then determine which items are actually salvageable.
What to Do With a Flooded House: Take Action
Whenever flooding has occurred, you’re dealing with category C water: the most unsanitary water possible. Water under this classification consists of anything that possibly contains sewage, toxic overflow, liquid and hard waste, and river overspill. In other words, anything could be in this water, which means that anything in your basement could possibly have been in contact with germs from toilets, sewers and nearby rivers. For that reason, you can’t merely dismiss floodwater as a passing intrusion on your basement, nor can you simply allow the basement walls or stored items within to dry off naturally as if nothing has happened.
Another way to ask yourself about flood damage is this: Would you so eagerly flip through a paperback book if you knew it had been dropped in a toilet? Well, that’s the same sanitation of any book that has been submerged in a flood. Therefore, if you care about the things you’ve stored in your basement, you’ll need to have them sanitized within 48 hours. Furthermore, since you value a healthy, germ-free environment for your family, it’s necessary to part with flooded items that are unsalvageable.
Don’t wait until after an emergency has struck to Google a phrase like “how to prevent mold in the basement after a flood.” Arm yourself today with knowledge on what to do should the situation arise. More importantly, get help on the double. While it’s good to know what to do when flooding strikes, it’s best to have professionals at the scene to help restore your property.
House Flooded! Who Do I Call?
ServiceMaster of Lincoln Park is available 24/7 for restoration and cleaning at commercial and residential properties in the Chicago area. Regardless of how a flood may have hit your property, we’ll be at the scene immediately to provide water removal, sewage cleanup and water restoration services, as well as carpet, floor and upholstery cleaning. In addition to making your property look like new again, our highly trained and licensed staff will remove all traces of water odor and mold growth. If a flood has hit your property, contact ServiceMaster of Lincoln Park right now. Once we’ve finished, all traces of the flood will be history.