Fire Recovery Realities

Follow These Safety Rules When Cleaning Up A Flooded Basement

by Matthew Fields

If your basement is filled with water after a natural disaster or a burst pipe, cleaning it out can be a monumental task. However, with all of the work that's ahead of you, it is essential that you do not lose sight of the importance of safety. There are so many risks involved with cleaning out a flooded basement, from the risk of electrical shock to that of bacterial infection. Follow the safety rules below to ensure that you and your helpers don't end up in the hospital following your cleanup efforts.

1. Be 100% sure the power is turned off before you enter.

If the flooding was due to a natural disaster, there may be a power outage currently. However, the power could turn back on at any time, so you should never, ever enter a basement filled with standing water unless the power is completely shut off (not just due to an outage). If you can reach the breaker box without wading through water, turn the power off at the box. If, as in most homes, your breaker box is located in the basement, you will have to call the power company. Ask them to turn off service to your home until you notify them otherwise. After you get off the phone with them, test your lights to ensure power has, indeed, been turned off before you proceed into the basement.

2. Wear tall boots or waders.

Flood water from a natural disaster could be carrying all sorts of bacteria and other pathogens with it. Sewage water is surely contaminated, and even water coming from your fresh water pipes can become dangerous if it picks up things like waste from a litter box, trash from a garbage can, or even bacteria from the walls as it flows into your basement. It's important to do all you can to minimize skin contact with the water so you do not end up with an infection. Start by wearing waders or tall boots so your feet and legs don't get wet. Buy some from a local hardware store if you do not own them already. 

3. Keep the pump outside.

You'll need to rent a gas-powered pump to remove the water from your basement. (Using an electrical one is just not safe with all that water around). Do not, under any circumstances, put the main pump apparatus inside of the home. Doing so may allow deadly carbon monoxide to build up inside the home, poisoning you and your helpers. Always keep the pump outside and then run its hoses down into your basement. Even still, it is best to keep a carbon monoxide detector near the basement so you are alerted if this gas starts flowing into the home.

4. Throw away any food.

If you had any food stored in the basement, throw it away -- even if the packages appear not to have been penetrated or affected by the water. It only takes a splash of contaminated water to contaminate the food. The one exception to this is sealed cans. You can sanitize them with a bleach and water solution; the food inside should then be safe.

5. Take a shower when you're done.

When you are done cleaning for the day, take a shower at a friend's house or wherever you are staying. Wash yourself carefully with soap. No matter how careful you were to avoid contact with the water, there's a good chance you got some of it on you, and the sooner you wash away any contaminants, the lower your risk of illness and infection will be. 

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