seal  Purdue News

July 8, 2003

Receding floodwaters leave soggy mess for homeowners

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Recent rains are wreaking havoc in much of central Indiana, causing rivers and streams to flood and sending homeowners toward higher ground, but Hoosiers may face their toughest challenge in the weeks ahead when cleanup begins.

Carroll County flooding
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There are several steps homeowners should take to protect themselves from the bacteria, mildew and structural damage that flooding can cause, said Cathy Burwell, a Purdue Extension specialist in residential environment.

"Water damage needs to be cleaned up within 24 to 48 hours," Burwell said. "After 48 hours mold can begin to develop, especially in hot, humid weather. It's crucial that people not let water sit anywhere."

Mold and mildew can produce a variety of allergic reactions, Burwell said. Common problems associated with mold exposure include itchy, watery eyes, sore throat, coughing, dizziness, skin irritation, headaches and fatigue.

"Molds also trigger asthma," Burwell said. "And, some molds produce toxins that present a greater health hazard, especially to those with weakened immune systems."

After making sure the power is turned off, homeowners with water damage should take all furniture and movable articles to drier ground as soon as possible. Homes should be completely dried and dehumidified following a flood to reduce mold and mildew exposure.

Wet carpeting and rugs should be removed from the subfloor, dried and disinfected with a detergent solution within 24 hours, Burwell said. Carpet padding should be replaced because it's difficult to completely dry.

Homeowners who have vinyl flooring over wood subfloors should remove the vinyl if water bubbles appear, Burwell said. The subfloor should be disinfected and allowed to dry, which may take several weeks, especially in humid conditions.

For homes with wood floors, Burwell suggested removing a board every few feet to reduce buckling. The boards can be replaced after the floor is dry.

Mold and mildew also will grow in the walls of recently flooded homes. Burwell said it's necessary to dry all wet insulation and remove it if it cannot be completely dried. The insides of the walls should be washed with a mild soap and rinsed with clean water. It's important to let all areas dry before installing new insulation.

Burwell said it's also a good idea to remove loose plaster and wet ceiling tiles, as well as vinyl wallpaper, to allow complete drying.

She also said that opening closet and cupboard doors and removing drawers from furniture will aid drying.

Most importantly, get air moving through the house because mold and mildew are prolific in stagnant air, Burwell said. The air movement also will also help the drying process.

After any flood there also are structural concerns. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Web site, homeowners should check for loose power lines, gas leaks, foundation cracks or other damage before entering their home. If damage is noted, a building contractor should check the structure before anyone enters.

Additional information on dealing with floods is available at the Extension Disaster Education Network Web site. The site and links to other land-grant institutions include tips about drying furniture, photos and other household items, as well as checking the structural integrity of a home after a flood. There are also tips about looking for a building contractor.

The Purdue Extension hotline, 888-EXT-INFO, also can direct calls to appropriate experts.

Writer: Kay Hagen, (765) 494-6682,

Source: Cathy Burwell, (260) 854-2309,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Related Web sites:
Federal Emergency Management Agency flood page


Rivers throughout central Indiana overflowed their banks, and several homes, such as these along the Tippecanoe River in Carroll County, were flooded this weekend. Water damage inside homes should be cleaned up within 24 to 48 hours to avoid the development of mold, which can trigger a variety of health problems. (Agricultural Communication Service photo/Tom Campbell)

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