What to Keep or Toss After a Flood | Items You Can Clean After a Flood
Flood Damage

What to Keep or Toss After a Flood: Items You Can Clean After a Flood

Floods can cause significant damage to the structure of your home and to the items inside it. You can clean and disinfect some items, while others will need to be discarded and replaced. Due to the risk of contamination from mold, bacteria, and parasites, you should begin cleaning up after a flood as soon as possible. This also increases the chances of saving items within your home. Learn what you can clean after a flood and what should be thrown away.

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Types of Flood Waters

The type of water involved in a flood affects whether an item can be saved. While most of us think of groundwater floods, there are several different types of flood waters.

  • Clean Water – Clean water floods are caused by supply line leaks or breaks. This can be a result of poorly maintained plumbing, a sink left running, or a frozen pipe burst. Clean water floods do not pose a risk of microbial contamination. Items affected by a clean water flood can almost always be saved.
  • Grey Water – A grey water flood includes some contaminants. This is usually caused by an overflowing sink or bathtub that includes soap and dirty or a toilet overflow that contains only urine. Grey water floods have a small risk of microbial contamination. You may need to throw away some items affected by a grey water flood.
  • Black Water – Black water floods include significant contaminants. This includes sewage backups, toilet overflows that contain feces, and groundwater flooding. Black water floods have a high risk of contamination and may cause illness. Expect to throw away many items after a black water flood.

If floodwaters sit, they can develop more severe contaminations over time. Mold can grow in as little as 48 hours. Bacteria, germs, and parasites will grow over time as well.

Items That Should Always Be Throw Away after a Flood

While you may need or choose to throw away certain items after a flood, you should always throw away food and medicine. Never consume food or medicine touched by floodwaters or sewage as they can harbor germs, bacteria, and parasites.


Discard all food that comes in contact with floodwaters. This includes fruits, vegetables, grains, pasta, and items stored in cardboard boxes. The same goes for pet food as well. However, there are two exceptions to this rule. You can eat canned goods and food items stored in airtight plastic containers as long as the containers are intact. Clean and disinfect the outside before using. If the power was out for more than 4 hours, you should also dispose of meat, poultry, eggs, dairy items, and other perishables inside. After 8 hours, you should dispose of all the items in your fridge.


Always throw away medicine damaged by flooding. This includes all over the counter medications, prescription medications, and cough drops or lozenges. For prescription medications, contact your doctor immediately to replace medications.

Items You Can Clean After a Flood

Floods can cause significant damage, but the majority of household items can be cleaned after a clean water flood depending on the damage. You will need to discard more items after a grey or black water flood. Use your best judgment. If an item looks damaged beyond repair, it probably is. It’s best to discard any item that is severely damaged, covered in mold, or that has a lingering odor. The same goes for items completely submerged in floodwaters or contaminated with sewage. They are just too hard to clean after a flood and virtually impossible to disinfect.


You can clean and dry drywall that is damp. However, water often breaks down drywall quickly. If it’s crumbling, bubbling, or warping, you will need to replace it. Cut damaged drywall four inches above the water line and dispose of it in heavy duty bags. Then dry the wall studs with fans and dehumidifiers. Clean with a mild detergent, then spray with a non-bleach disinfectant. Allow to air dry before hanging new drywall.

Hardwood Cabinets

Empty your cabinets first, discarding damaged items. Then dry hardwood cabinets with fans and dehumidifiers. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may need to sand and refinish cabinets to remove water stains and flood damage.

Composite or Laminate Cabinets

As with hardwood cabinets, begin by emptying the cabinets first. Due to the nature of composite and laminate materials, water can make them swell or crumble. If they are only slightly damp, dry them completely and inspect them for damage. If they are completely saturated with floodwaters, they will need to be replaced. For cabinets that can be saved, wash them with a mild detergent and then wipe them down with a non-bleach disinfectant.

Upholstered Furniture

Use fans or dehumidifiers to dry furniture thoroughly. Clean with an upholstery cleaner or a carpet cleaner with an upholstery setting. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions when using an upholstery or carpet cleaner. Wipe down wood, metal, or other solid parts with a mild detergent, then spray with a non-bleach disinfectant and allow to air dry. To deodorize, sprinkle with baking soda and allow to sit for a few hours before vacuuming. Repeat as necessary.

Hardwood Furniture

As long as there isn’t mold, dry hardwood furniture with fans and dehumidifiers. Clean items with a mild detergent, then spray with a non-bleach disinfectant and allow to air dry.

Furniture Make of Composite or Laminate Materials

Furniture made from composite or laminate materials is likely to swell, warp, or crumble when they become saturated by floodwaters. Dispose of damaged or weakened items. As long as items are only damp, dry them with fans and dehumidifiers. Then clean and disinfect them as with other furniture items.


Dry wet carpeting with fans and dehumidifiers, then shampoo or steam clean carpeting. Spray a non-bleach disinfectant to prevent mold and bacterial growth. Use baking soda to remove odors. While you can dry carpeting, you should dispose of and replace the carpet padding. Review our dying carpeting after flooding guide for more carpeting drying tips.

Hardwood Flooring

Dry hardwood floors with fans and dehumidifiers, then clean with a wood cleaning agent like an oil soap. Then disinfect with a solution of bleach and water. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may need to sand and refinish the wood. You may need to replace warped or bent boards as well.

Vinyl or Laminate Flooring

For clean water floods, dry vinyl or laminate flooring in place. For any other flood, remove the flooring and dry boards separately. Clean and disinfect the subflooring and each board individually before replacing. Use a detergent recommended by the manufacturer to clean each board. Then use a non-bleach disinfectant to sanitize them. Depending on the damage, you may need to replace some boards.


Mattresses submerged in or saturated by floodwaters or sewage should be discarded. Use towels to absorb the water from a slightly wet mattress. Then use a wet/dry vacuum to suck out the remaining water before using fans and dehumidifiers to dry it completely. Spray with a solution of equal parts sterile 70% isopropyl alcohol and water to disinfect. Review our drying a mattress guide for complete details.


A professional repair technician should inspect all appliances submerged in floodwaters before use. This goes for large appliances like washing machines, dishwashers, and stoves as well as small appliances like mixers, microwaves, and blenders. Clean items according to the manufacturers’ instructions, then disinfect with a bleach solution. Discard items like toasters if they were contaminated by sewage.


Throw away electronics submerged in floodwaters or sewage. Have a qualified technician check electronics that are wet, but not submerged before use. Clean the outside of the unit with a mild detergent, then wipe with a disinfectant. For flat screen televisions, review the manufacturers’ instructions for cleaning the screen surface. You should discard and replace remote controls and video game controllers, as they are difficult to clean.


Wash plush toys thoroughly with regular detergent and a non-bleach disinfectant. Clean both porous and non-porous toys with a mild detergent. Then disinfect them with a solution of equal parts sterile 70% isopropyl alcohol and water.

Fabrics and Clothing

Wash clothing and fabrics with regular detergent, but avoid drying them until the odors are removed. You may need to wash items several times to remove odors. You can also soak items in a solution of water and baking soda prior to washing. Items covered in mold or contaminated by sewage should be discarded.

Drapes and Curtains

Depending on the type of material involved, you may be able to wash them as outlined for fabric and clothing above. Alternatively, you may need to have items professionally dry cleaned. Curtains covered in mold or contaminated by sewage should be thrown away.

Books, Documents, and Photos

As long as they are not covered in mold, books, documents, and photos can usually by dried and saved. Avoid opening books while they are still wet, as this may weaken the spine. Use a hair drier to dry paper goods and place photos in the freezer to dry.

Artwork and Heirlooms

Depending on the extent of the damage, artwork and heirlooms can be restored after flood damage. However, you should never attempt to clean and disinfect them on your own. Contact a restoration specialist or an art preservation company for assistance.

Flood Clean Up Services Near Your

Restoration Local is the nations largest network of water damage restoration contractors. If you need professional flood cleanup, we will connect you with a local water damage restoration company. You can find a water damage restoration company in your area now or call 1-888-443-3110 to talk with the on-call restoration company nearest you. Our on-call contractors offer 24-hour emergency services, 30-minute response time, and a free estimate.

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