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Flood Clean-up Tips

While Milwaukee is not generally subjected to area wide flooding, circumstances such as sever storms can cause flooding of basements. In some instances, sewers may be unable to handle the load. Sump pumps may be unable to remove water fast enough. This may result in flooding or sewer backups. The following tips are offered to assist property owners or tenants in handling such situations.


  • Floodwater may be contaminated with sewage and should be treated as such.
  • Minimize skin exposure by wearing rubber boots and rubber gloves during clean up.
  • There is a hazard in utilizing electrical equipment (i.e. sump pumps, furnace motors, etc.), which is wet. It can produce severe shocks and endanger human life as well as burn out the equipment. Make sure all electrical equipment is dry before use

  • Check gas and oil furnaces as well as gas hot water heaters for escaping gas and ensure that pilot flames are lit. If gas is escaping, do not light a match until the gas supply has been shut off. If you are unfamiliar with this procedure, contact your local gas company or a professional heating contractor.

  • The area may be extremely slippery. Walk Carefully.

Cleaning and Sterilizing Basements after Flooding

  • The sewer will generally return to normal function after the heavy rains have stopped. If they do not, it could be due to materials clogging the drains or an inoperable sump pump. Check all floor drains to ensure that they are clear of debris. In unusual circumstances it may be necessary to rent a pump to remove the flood waters from the basement before proceeding with the clean up.

  • Rinse all contaminated surfaces with clean water and sweep or squeegee the floor(s) to remove contaminated water and sediment

  • Mix 1/2 to 3/4 cup of household bleach with one (1) gallon of water. Use this solution to wash all contaminated surfaces. Provide adequate ventilation. Allow surfaces to remain damp with this solution for thirty minutes, and then rinse with clean water. The bleach solution is necessary to kill the bacteria, which may have been left by the floodwaters. Be very careful in handling concentrated bleach since it is a sever irritant to the skin and eyes and will readily eat through clothing. Wear protective equipment (i.e. goggles, gloves, etc.).

  • The bleach solution may eliminate odor problems left by the floodwaters. Additional deodorizers may be necessary in very unusual cases.

Cleaning of Clothes, Bedding, and Other Similar Items

  • Since harmful bacteria can remain alive for long periods in and on fabrics, care in laundering clothing, bedding, and other similar materials is essential.

  • First brush off all dirt and if mud-stained, rinse in cool water until as much mud as possible is removed. Then wash per directions for that type of material using enough detergent to keep soil from re-depositing on fabrics.

  • The use of a disinfectant in rinse water is especially recommended to destroy bacteria. Check label instructions regarding use of these types of products

  • Mattresses or other large similar items soaked with floodwaters will probably have to be discarded; since reconditioning is too difficult to be done at home. However, if the mattress or pillows are made of foam rubber, it may be possible to wash, disinfect, and air-dry these items.

Cleaning of Cooking, Eating, and Other Small Utensils

  • Carefully wash all cooking and eating utensils using warm water and soap. Use a brush, if necessary to remove dirt.

  • Rinse everything thoroughly in clean water and then disinfect by immersing for two minutes in a chlorine solution made up of 1/2 to 3/4 cup of household bleach with 1 gallon of water.  Rinse afterward with fresh water.

  • Dispose of any paper or plastic eating/cooking utensils exposed to flood waters.

Dealing with Food Items, Medicines, and Cosmetics Which Were Exposed to Flood Waters

  • Due to potential bacterial contamination, and the difficulty of decontaminating items exposed to flood waters, it is recommended that all packaged and unpackaged food items, medicines, medical supplies, and cosmetics that were exposed to flood waters be discarded.extreme caution must be practiced in salvaging food items exposed to flood waters.

Personal Hygiene

  • Remember that floodwaters may carry bacteria and other substances, which may be harmful to your health. Precautionary measures must be taken when working in flooded basements.

  • DO NOT smoke or eat while working in a flood-contaminated area. DO NOT put your hands to your face when they are contaminated with floodwaters.

  • Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling contaminated articles.

  • Properly protect any existing cuts, scraps, etc., so as not to come into contact with contaminated floodwaters. If you receive a puncture wound when working in a contaminated area, see your doctor immediately.

Additional Information

If you need additional information, please call the Milwaukee Health Department’s Disease Control & Prevention Division at 286-3521.

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