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12 Tips for Cleaning Up After a Hurricane or Flood

Assess water damage, bring safety gear and save what you can

Frank Bruno speaks with members of the Texas A&M Task Force 1 Search and Rescue team in Fort Myers, Florida
Frank Bruno (far right) stands in floodwaters left by Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Returning home to assess property damage following a hurricane can be daunting—especially if your home was in a particularly hard-hit area in the storm’s path. You could face power outages, water and wind damage, standing water, plus mold and grime.

​Still, an effective cleanup is possible if you plan carefully. Here are suggestions for how to stay safe, limit further damage to your home and ensure you’re documenting property damage appropriately for when it’s time to sort out the poststorm mess.​

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​1. Don’t rush to return ​

​Head home to assess hurricane damage only when local authorities say it’s safe to do so. Wait until flood waters have adequately receded and roadways have been cleared of fallen debris and power lines. ​

​2. Come prepared with proper safety gear​

​Your home may not have electricity when you return, so pack flashlights or battery-powered lanterns and charge your smartphone beforehand. Also, remember when hurricane floodwaters enter your home, the water can bring with it “an unknown level of contaminants,” says David Ragsdale, a production manager with Servpro Industries. To protect yourself against potential bacteria and mold, pack plenty of N95 masks and gloves. Ragsdale recommends latex or nitrile gloves — or even simple dishwashing gloves—for cleanup.​

​3. Check the exterior for safety hazards and structural damage​

​Before entering the house, check for evidence of downed power lines, gas line leaks, large tree limbs that may have fallen on your roof, or other signs of major structural damage. If you note any of these safety risks, don’t enter without getting a professional opinion about your home’s structural safety. ​

​4. Document everything​

​Once inside, take photos of everything as it is—before you begin cleaning up. Walk through the house and photograph or video each room carefully, noting any damage to the house itself as well as your furniture, electronics and other personal property. Even photograph the insides of closets, cabinets and drawers. Don’t throw anything to the curb without photographing it first—if you do, it will be difficult to provide your insurance company with a complete damage inventory, says Jim Taylor, head of claims customer relations for Farmers Insurance. ​

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​5. Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible

​Don’t put off making a call to your insurance company’s claims hotline. “Once you get back to your property and you see what the extent of the damage is, that's the best time to notify your insurance company, and you would want to do that as soon as practicable,” Taylor says.​

More on Flood Restoration and Water Damage Cleanup

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Ready.gov site offer additional information on responding after a disaster.

​6. Address water damage​

​After major flooding subsides, clean up any remaining stormwater residue and dirt using a wet/dry vacuum or push brooms and mops. Open windows and use fans (if you have electricity or a generator) to help dry out soaked-in moisture in walls and floors. Remove and replace overly soggy or damaged drywall and insulation. “Those things are obviously going to take in water, and that’s the kind of stuff you need to cut out and get rid of,” says Connie McNamara, a volunteer with Team Rubicon, a veteran-led humanitarian organization that has responded to more than 1,100 major storms and humanitarian crises throughout the world, including Hurricane Ian. ​

​7. Clean and sanitize items that are salvageable​

​Depending on how long floodwater was in your home, you may be able to salvage cabinetry, wood and metal furniture, countertops and dishes with a bit of careful cleaning. Use products designed for wood to clean and restore wood furnishings, as long as they’re not overly warped. Use bleach wipes or other sanitizing products to clean and disinfect kitchen countertops, bathrooms and other solid surfaces. Wash soaked clothes quickly to avoid losing them to hard-to-remove mold or mildew stains, Ragsdale says.​

​8. Discard damaged items appropriately ​

​Unfortunately, there’s almost nothing you can do to save water-damaged upholstered furniture, electronics and appliances. When placing damaged property items at the curb, be sure to group them appropriately—placing home debris separately from organic matter like tree limbs and spoiled food, for example—so that they can be picked up according to your city’s municipal waste disposal guidelines, McNamara says. ​

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​9. Give heirlooms special attention​

​To salvage photograph albums and other special documents, either deliver them promptly—while still wet—to a remediation company that offers document restoration services, or attempt to dry them out yourself by separating the pages and laying them on towels or shelves to dry, Ragsdale says.​

​10. Seal off any home gaps caused by storm damage ​

​To make your home livable—and rainproof—until permanent repairs can be done, use plywood boards or plastic tarps to seal broken windows or other small siding or roof gaps. These steps are essential to “mitigate further home damage,” Taylor says.​

​11. Hire reputable cleanup crews​

​Don’t let yourself be taken in by scam artists hoping to capitalize on a natural disaster. If you plan to hire companies to help with debris removal or storm and water damage cleanup, vet them thoroughly. “Read company reviews and take the time to get multiple quotes,” suggests Mallory Micetich, a home expert with Angi. “Yes, it will be hard—since pros are going to be in high demand. But the more time you take to do that, the better outcomes you’ll have with your recovery efforts.”​

​12. Reach out for help when you need it​

​Remember that hurricane cleanup can be a long process. At various points you may feel emotionally and physically drained. In those moments, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from friends and family—even if it’s just to have a clean place to shower and enjoy a hot meal. Also, if needed, seek out financial and personal assistance available from FEMA and other agencies—like the American Red Cross—who specialize in providing disaster relief services.