What to do if your basement is damp or flooded

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — If the recent rain storms left your basement damp or flooded, it is important that you deal with the moisture soon to prevent mold and mildew from moving in, said Marjorie Zastrow, SDSU Extension Nutrition Field Specialist.

“The most important thing for homeowners to do now is to check for dampness or water seepage throughout potentially affected areas of your home, particularly storage areas and room corners. Remove items which are dampened/saturated with water or moisture,” Zastrow said.

Zastrow says homeowners can begin removing the water themselves using a wet vacuum. If the basement is carpeted, she says they may not be able to get all the moisture up unless they remove both the carpet and pad. She suggests hanging the carpet outdoors weather permitting; padding is often too dense to thoroughly dry without altering its integrity so it is often replaced.

If there was sewage seepage or back up refer to the SDSU Extension AnswerLine at 1-888-393-6336 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. CST for specific clean-up methods and precautions.

If the basement was flooded or water wicked up or ran down the wall(s), homeowners may need to remove a portion of the wall board and insulation to allow the wall cavity to thoroughly dry. It is generally recommended that the sheet rock be removed 12 inches above the saturation line.

“Once the water is gone, it is important that you do a thorough job cleaning and dehumidifying,” Zastrow said. “This may involve the removal of items such as flooring; trim boards, items stored in closets and dressers.”

Once items are removed, Zastrow says to thoroughly clean the walls and floor with an all purpose, non-sudsing or commercial cleaner.

“Cleaning not only removes the mold spores, but will remove the food (dirt, grim) which mold spores feed on,” she said.

When washing walls, wash and rinse from the bottom up.

If you choose, you can sanitize, but sanitation will not clean the area. To sanitize, use ¼ cup bleach/1 gallon water for areas which have been cleaned, and up to 1½ cups bleach/1 gallon water for areas which could not be cleaned. Be sure to test the bleach on the area to know that it will not damage the surface. The bleach water should remain on the area 15 minutes before removing. Lastly, never mix bleach with any product containing ammonia as a caustic gas can be formed.

In the days to come you may notice the growth of mold. Molds can be detected by sight, or a damp musty odor. It is generally recommended that if you see mold or have the damp musty odor that you expend your resources to deal with the mold, rather than specifically identify the type mold you have. “Whether it is black, blue, green, orange or yellow; mold can cause health issues for many,” she said.

40 to 60 percent humidity is ideal

After the area is cleaned, it is critical that it be dehumidified.

“Mildew will grow in an environment with 60 percent or more humidity,” Zastrow said. “The recommended range of humidity for living spaces is 40-60 percent.”

If you have a large space, or a number of rooms, you may need to operate more than one dehumidifier.

“You can operate fans to slightly circulate the air, but the fan itself will not remove moisture from the environment,” she said. Also, be cautious about opening windows, with the ground saturation there is likely more moisture outside than inside; so if you are operating a dehumidifier you are likely losing ground by opening windows.

As you replace items, be sure to allow for good air circulation.

“Having closets packed, or use of cardboard boxes for storage only contributes poor air circulation and holding of dampness which will contribute to mold growth. Also, keeping furniture away from the walls and opening up closet doors will aid in good air circulation,” Zastrow said.

If textile items were dampened or have a musty odor, it is recommended that they be washed to avoid mildew growth. Damp or wet items left in a pile provide an ideal environment for mold growth. Flood soaked or damp items generally can be washed.

“Be careful not to overload the washer, use a heavy liquid duty detergent and add 1 cup of liquid chlorine bleach per wash load if you choose to sanitize items,” she said.

When washing clothes, Zastrow recommends filling the washer first with water and using the hottest water safe for the fabric. Add the detergent and bleach to the water before the clothing. For fabrics such as wool and silk, or those with bright colors, use a non-chlorine bleach. Some clothing articles may recommend dry cleaning. For dry cleanable items, damp rinse the item with cold water and then take to the dry cleaner.

If clothes are wet or mud soaked, she says they should be rinsed in a bucket/tub before washing to remove any chunks of debris so the washer is not damaged. They may need to be washed two times.

“If a home washer is available, they can be rinsed and spun out, skipping the first washing step, then followed by a pre-soak and wash,” Zastrow said.

As you are cleaning your space which has been flooded or has had moisture seepage, you may also consider washing the wall décor items with an appropriate all purpose detergent and window treatments with appropriate washing methods. For fabric blinds refer to the care label for washing instructions.

She cautions homeowners from returning items to the basement too soon as it may take a few weeks to several months to dry your basement out and control the humidity.

“Moving all the belongings in too soon can inhibit the drying process and contribute to mold/mildew growth,” she said.

For more information on flooding clean up and contact AnswerLine at 1-888-393-6336 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. CST or visit iGrow.org.