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Cleaning Carpets, Rugs And Floors After A Natural Disaster

Colorful carpet.It can be a scary experience evacuating the home in the wake of a natural disaster such as a flood or tornado. The cleanup that comes later also can be a challenge.


One of the most difficult parts of cleaning up a home or other property after a natural disaster is drying the flooring, especially if the storm water was contaminated by mud or dangerous chemicals. 


“My first recommendation is to contact your insurance company. Unfortunately, longer-term wetness and flooding usually ruins interior finishes and contents,” said Gina Peek, assistant director, Oklahoma State University Extension/Family Consumer Science program leader and associate dean for Extension and Engagement in the College of Education and Human Sciences. “But, if the structure has been wet for only a short time and you can start cleaning up immediately, then some of the flooring may be salvageable.” 


The easiest option is to hire a professional cleaner, but if that is not possible, there are some do-it-yourself options available to homeowners. 


After a home has been flooded, the first step is to decide if the flooring can be salvaged. Peek advises to remove the furniture, carpet and carpet padding. Since floodwater can contain contaminants, she said it is best to replace carpet and padding. 


In flooded homes with wood flooring, take out a board every few feet to reduce buckling as a result of swelling. If the flooring is tongue and groove, it is best to consult a professional.  


Remove vinyl flooring so the subfloor can completely dry out. Families with asbestos flooring should consult a professional for guidance. 


Subflooring that isn’t damaged can be cleaned with a water and bleach solution. It is possible some parts of the subfloor may be damaged beyond repair and need to be replaced. This may be especially true for plywood and oriented strand board (OSB).


“Begin repairing and reinstalling flooring only when the structure is completely clean and dry. Keep in mind the drying process could take several weeks” Peek said. “Putting flooring back too soon will cause mold and mildew, which is a health hazard.”


For more information about cleaning up after a natural disaster, contact the local OSU Extension office.

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