Using Sandbags for Flood Protection

Sandbags can be used to fill gaps in a permanent protection system, to raise an existing levee or to build a complete emergency levee.

Sandbags alone, when filled and stacked properly, can hold back floodwater, but they are most effective when used with polyethylene (plastic) sheeting.

The bags may be burlap or plastic. Plastic bags can be reused; burlap bags tend to rot after use.


Sandbags are inexpensive and are often provided by a community government free of charge. Filling, carrying and stacking them is hard, time-consuming work. When planning a levee, floodwall or other protection system that involves last-minute activity, think about how much time you have to get ready for the water. Some people have two days; some only two hours.

If you plan to rely on sandbags, stockpile sand on your property. It should be relatively free of gravel and covered to protect it from animals and erosion. If you're depending on the community for sand and sandbags, take your own shovel when you go to the distribution site.


  • Be sure you can install the system in the amount of time you have to prepare for a flood.
  • Keep the necessary materials on hand (sand, sandbags, a shovel, polyethylene sheeting, caulking).
  • Polyethylene sheeting will improve the performance of any sandbag barrier.
  • When trying to close an opening in a brick floodwall, stuff the grooves with caulking. Cotton caulking, like that used in wooden shipbuilding, will be fairly easy to remove after the flood.
  • A permanent or temporary floodwall or levee is not a complete protection system. You must take additional steps to prevent back-flow of floodwater through plumbing.
  • Even good systems leak; water seeps in underground; rain may fall inside your barrier. Have a pump to remove this water.
  • Before each flood season, have a practice run: find the materials; test the pumps.
  • Have an evacuation plan. Decide when you will abandon a flood fight and save your life.

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