How to Deal With Porous Materials After a Flood

after a flood

There are a lot of issues to confront after a flood. Where damage inside a house is widespread, one of the major questions to resolve is what to keep and what to discard. From particular building materials to furnishings to personal possessions, choices must be made about how to manage important items after contact with floodwater.

The decision-making process after a flood depends largely on whether items are porous (water-absorbent) or non-porous. Per the Environmental Protection Agency, floodwater is toxic to humans. Porous items that have absorbed floodwater may, therefore, be considered hazardous to occupants—even long after a flood recedes. Also, porous absorbent materials form a breeding ground for toxic mold contamination typically triggered by exposure to floodwater.

  • Drywall. The gypsum material in drywall is porous and very absorbent. Drywall also becomes structurally unstable when wet. There’s no effective method to disinfect drywall after exposure to toxic floodwater. In addition to potentially hazardous contamination, the wet drywall may collapse at any time after a flood.
  • Insulation. Whether fiberglass batts or absorbent cellulose, common home insulation materials stay wet for an extended period after a flood and retain toxins. Wet insulation also spawns mold contamination that spreads throughout the house. Replace with new material.
  • Carpeting, rugs, and padding. Unless items have great sentimental or monetary value, specialized cleaning and disinfecting carpeting or rugs after a flood may not be worth it given the labor and cost involved. Discarding wet carpet and padding is often the most efficient option.
  • Mattresses. Once a mattress has been a giant sponge containing toxic floodwater, you won’t ever want to sleep on it again, anyway. Get rid of it.  
  • Clothing. Clothes or other fabrics contacted by flooding should be placed in plastic bags, then washed ASAP in hot water containing bleach or other disinfectants.
  • Books, documents, and photographs. Wet paper forms a mold-friendly environment after a flood. Unless items can be dried and decontaminated within 48 hours, mold growth may permanently damage paper. One alternative: Freezing wet paper items, including photographs, interrupts the mold growth process, buying time until items can be properly treated and dried.  

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