Natural Disasters and Severe Weather
Environmental Health Division
Clean-up for Home or Business after a Disaster
Re-enter when it’s safe
If you left the building, wait to re-enter until a professional tells you it’s safe, such as a city building inspector. Damaged buildings can have structural, electrical, or other hazards. Consult your health care provider if you have questions about your health. People with lung conditions or weakened immune systems may be more vulnerable to contaminants or have breathing problems when wearing a N-95 respirator.
Wear an N-95 respirator, rubber boots, rubber gloves, long sleeves and pants, and eye goggles when you clean or disturb materials. Mold, bacteria, and viruses may be present in flooded or water damaged buildings.
Take pictures of damage
Take pictures of the building and contents before you start cleaning. Pictures help with insurance claims.
Clear out the area
Remove water and as much mud and muck as possible. Remove any items you may keep (like solid wood furniture if it can be cleaned). Also, remove items you will discard, like flooded upholstered furniture.
Throw away absorbent materials
Take out and throw away porous items that touched the flood water or have visible mold growth. Wallboard, wallpaper, insulation, carpeting, seat cushions, mattresses and pressed wood furniture are examples. they are difficult to clean and dry and can have mold and other hazards on the inside and backside.
When in doubt, throw it out!
Clean all hard surfaces
Check hard materials that are “nonporous” and "semi-porous", to see if they are structurally sound. This may include concrete, countertops, metal, glass, tile, solid wood (such as studs), and appliances. Scrub and clean with soap and safe water.
Rinse with safe water
Scrub and rinse with safe water before using a product to treat the surfaces. Products like bleach work better on surfaces with minimal soiling. Quickly remove the rinse water so materials stay wet briefly.
Apply product to kill residual germs
Apply diluted (½ cup household bleach per gallon of water) for about 30 minutes and then rinse again with safe water. Other products may work for this treatment step to kill germs (follow any regulatory requirements for your business). Do not mix bleach with other products. Bleach may damage certain materials so test it in a small area first. Ventilate the area to reduce inhalation of chemicals.
Dry out the building
- Open doors and windows, and use fans
- Use dehumidifiers in enclosed spaces
- Dry from the inside out
Monitor for mold growth
If the materials are dry, mold should not grow. If materials remain damp for several days, mold may start to appear. Check for mold growth as the materials are drying. There may be other moisture problems that become apparent (leaks, drainage problems), and these problems should be repaired as well. If mold growth appears, repeat cleaning and drying steps above.
Re-build if dry and no mold appears
Install new materials (drywall, carpet, insulation, etc.) and paint only when materials, such as concrete and studs, are dry. It could take weeks or months for materials to be fully dry. Building too soon can trap moisture and lead to hidden mold growth.
Use fuel powered tools safely.
Always use combustion powered (fuel burning) tools outdoors, never indoors.
Some examples are gasoline or diesel engines used to pump water or make power (portable generators), power tools, and grills.
Use these tools away from enclosed spaces, garages, open windows or doors, or air intakes (at least 20 feet). They emit gases that can cause illness or death, such as carbon monoxide. Use carbon monoxide alarms indoors.
Be aware of the risk of electrocution
Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water. If it is safe to do so, turn off the electricity to prevent electric shock.
Simple, basic hygiene – handwashing – is the single most important thing you can do to protect your health when you clean up after a disaster.
Wash your hands thoroughly and do it often!
After you touch any surfaces or objects that may have been in contact with debris or other contaminated material, wash your hands.
Wash your hands before you work with food, before eating or drinking, after using the bathroom, or after touching your skin, face or hair.
How to wash your hands
- Wet your hands
- Apply soap
- Rub your hands for 10 to 15 seconds
- Rub soapy hands together for 20 seconds
- Rinse your hands
- Dry your hands
- Keep hands clean
The entire process must last at least 20 seconds.
What if there is no running water?
Transport and store clean water in clean plastic containers or use a beverage cooler equipped with a spigot filled with safe water for handwashing.
What if the water is contaminated?
If the water might not be safe, boil or use bleach as described in EPA’s instructions for Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water.
Be careful with Asbestos
Dry asbestos fiber can enter your lungs when you breathe. It can cause cancer. Wet asbestos is less likely to be in the air.
If the building has asbestos in it:
- Look for an asbestos label
- Asbestos can be in flooring, walls, ceilings, and heating systems
- Call an MDH licensed asbestos abatement contractor to take it away safely
- Call the MPCA (651-296-6300) to find out where to take it safely
Salvaging household items
If you have wet carpeting
- Pull up waterlogged carpet immediately, to prevent any further floor damage
- Carpet pads cannot be saved - they must be removed and discarded
- Attempt to save carpets or throw rugs only if they would be very expensive to replace
- Clean and dry your floors (and sub-flooring) thoroughly before re-carpeting
If you have wet floors or woodwork
- Remove any moisture or debris
- Scrub floors and woodwork within 48 hours, using a stiff brush, water, detergent and disinfectant
- Allow all wood to dry thoroughly
If you have wet furniture
- Discard upholstered furniture if it has been exposed to water or contaminated material
- Clean, rinse and disinfect wood furniture
- Place wood furniture outside in a shady area so it will dry slowly
Fuel oil contamination
An oil spill is a potential fire hazard - Stay Away!
- Report the spill: Minnesota Duty Officer Program (BCA)
Discard items in soft packaging or screw-top glass bottles that may have touched floodwater or been in contact with contaminated material. Commercially canned goods in metal cans or rigid plastic can sometimes be saved.
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