Saving Wet Walls and Floors

Patricia Skinner, Baker, Eugene, Reichel, Claudette H.

If your home was flooded, it must be disinfected and dried thoroughly to prevent mildew and future damage by wood rot. Areas wetted by clean rainwater, for instance from a leaking roof, may not need to be disinfected; however, all wet areas must be allowed to dry thoroughly. Please review the safety information.


  • For safety, wear protective clothing on legs, arms, feet and hands while cleaning up debris.
  • Wear rubber gloves while scrubbing flood-damaged interiors and furniture.
  • Beware of lead paint. Buildings constructed in the ’70s and earlier may have lead-based paint. Sanding or scraping this paint creates a serious health hazard. Read Extension Publication # 2564 before working with suspected lead-based paint.

Disinfecting solution is 1 cup of household chlorine bleach in a gallon of water. Apply with a garden sprayer. 


  • Remove wet carpets, carpet pads and rugs within 24 hours. Disinfect the slab. You may be able to clean the carpets and rugs,but replace carpet pads.
  • Remove vinyl flooring over wood subfloors if there appear to be water bubbles between the vinyl and subfloor immediately after the flood has receded. Disinfect the subfloor. Drying may take several weeks. If the subfloor is buckled, it may flatten out on drying; be patient.
  • For wood floors, carefully remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling. Leave open until the flooring is dry.
  • Check inside exterior walls for wet insulation. Remove all wet insulation, even if it means cutting into walls. Fiberglass and cellulose insulation should be replaced with new material other than fiberglass or cellulose. Using foam sheets will eliminate the need to replace insulation in the next flood. Wash the insides of walls with mild soap and rinse with clean water. Spray on disinfecting solution. Allow wetted areas to dry thoroughly before installing the new insulation. This may take four to six weeks.
  • Pry paneling loose at the bottom. Remove any wet insulation; wash and disinfect the wall cavity. Hold the bottom of the paneling away from the sill until the sill, studs and paneling have dried - about four to six weeks.
  • Remove loose plaster wallboard and wet ceiling tiles. Badly damaged plaster walls can be resurfaced with sheet rock or plywood. Repair damaged walls and ceilings only after the house is completely dry.
  • Remove vinyl wallpaper to allow supporting sheet rock or paneling to dry.
  • Open closet and cabinet doors.
  • Remove drawers from furniture for drying and to let air circulate. With care in drying, these may be reused, depending on the materials.
  • An air conditioner is the best dehumidifier. If you don't have one, open as many doors and windows as possible and use fans to circulate the air.

Cleaning Walls

Cleaning flood-damaged walls is a challenge. Not all surfaces can be adequately cleaned to avoid remodeling, but many can.

  • Cleaning should begin at the bottom. If you start at the top, cleaning solution will run down across the soiled area at the bottom, making streaks that are impossible to remove. The ceiling should be done last.
  • For most walls, when the floodwater deposited a layer of dirt on the wall, allow the dirt to dry and brush it off before starting to wash the wall. For the cleaning itself, use sponges - separate ones for washing and rinsing. Have separate buckets for wash water and rinse water.
  • If you decide to finish the wall (with paint, plaster, paper or paneling), be sure to disinfect the wall with a dilute chlorine solution or a commercial disinfectant and let the wall dry thoroughly. Drying may take up to two months. When planning permanent repairs, consider using flood-resistant materials or floodproofing your house.

For more information, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service office listed under local government in the telephone directory.

3/17/2005 2:02:56 AM
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