Harvey Recovery | Clean Up Process: General Tips

Items you should have on hand:

  • Safety shoes or boots

  • Non-vented goggles

  • Rubber gloves

  • An N-95 or higher mask, preferably with respirator

  • Pry bar

  • Shovel

  • Flashlight (with extra batteries)

  • Camera or video recorder (or your phone) to document everything for insurance/FEMA

  • Hand sanitizer and alcohol swabs

  • Potable water and chemical cleaners/sanitizers

  • Sponges

  • Buckets

  • Wiping rags

  • Packing supplies

  • First aid kit

  • Pen and paper

  • Tape

  • Scissors

  • Storage bags

Before you enter:

  • Check outside for structural and electrical damage. Determine whether the property is safe to enter.

  • Check for fire hazards and gas leaks.

  • Turn off the main electrical switch. Do not turn it back on until you are certain there has been no damage to wires or appliances connected to the system.

  • Flood water is likely toxic and there is an increased risk of infection when cleaning out a flooded home. If you have any open wounds, use waterproof bandages or adhesives to cover them. If you notice redness or swelling, get medical attention immediately.

  • Always wear protective equipment (non-vented goggles, an N-95 or higher mask preferably with respirator, gloves, boots, etc.).

If you are volunteering in someone else’s home:

People who are helping or volunteering on clean-up crews should take 5 minutes before they start to talk with the resident or homeowner, make a plan, and choose a coordinator for their crew who can be a point person for communicating with the homeowner. Remember to be sensitive towards the residents. You are going through the contents of someone’s life. Be respectful of what they want left alone, but remind them of the dangers of leaving areas uncleaned, etc.

As you enter, go slowly and watch for:

  • Weakened floors, walls or ceilings which might fall or collapse.

  • Watch for exposed nails and other sharp objects.

  • Wild animals (raccoons, snakes, etc.) that may have moved in to escape the floodwaters. Allow them to escape through an open window or door; do not trap or corner them. You can also leave and call animal control (713-229-7300 for Houston city limits, others here).

  • If you smell gas or suspect a gas leak, leave immediately, call 911 and notify the gas company. Warn neighbors of the potential problem.

  • Be sure sewer lines are intact before turning on the water or using the toilet.

  • If mold is present, wear a mask that can filter spores (an N-95 or higher mask preferably with respirator).

Bacteria Risk

Bacteria is a big concern in homes that were flooded. Symptoms of an infection could include respiratory problems, any sort of swelling, redness on their skin, or a bad headache. If anyone on your clean-up crew experiences these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

Lead Paint

If your home was built before 1978, it could have lead based paint and asbestos containing materials; the older the home, the more likely the hazard. Disturbing such materials can create a much greater health hazard than existed before.

If the tear-out process didn’t follow lead-safe work practices, it’s not too late to do a lead-safe clean-up. Wear personal protective gear, including an N-100 respirator. Do not use a typical vacuum cleaner, since they blow fine dust into the air. Use a HEPA filter vacuum and damp wipe methods. Learn more in the at Hire only EPA Lead-Safe Certified contractors to help.


You should apply mildewcide on all exposed framing, all flooring and slab areas to eliminate mildew.

Electrical Safety

  • Use battery-powered light sources.

  • Do not use electrical appliances which have been in contact with floodwaters.

To clean appliances:

  • Clean and dry the submerged household appliance before starting.

  • With the electricity or fuel turned off, unplug and open as much as possible to rinse or wipe clean and let dry.

  • Tilt to drain and aid quick drying. Three days to a week is necessary for drying.

  • Appliance repair professionals should inspect before reconnecting. Many appliances can be saved.

Food Safety

Food: Undamaged, commercially-prepared foods in all-metal cans or retort pouches can be saved if you remove the labels, thoroughly wash the cans, rinse them, and then disinfect them with a sanitizing solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of potable water. Finally, re-label containers that had the labels removed, including the expiration date, with a marker. Food containers with screw caps, snap lids, flip caps, twist caps and home-canned foods should be discarded if they have come into contact with floodwater because they cannot be disinfected.

Utensils: Discard flood-contaminated wooden cutting boards and wooden spoons, plastic utensils, baby bottles, nipples, and pacifiers. Thoroughly wash metal and ceramic pans, utensils, and dishes with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them or by immersing for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tsp chlorine bleach/quart water.

Food Assistance

The Houston Food Bank can assist with food and applying for SNAP. SNAP has been approved to cover hot and prepared foods in Texas until September 30.

Next step: Muck Out Process


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