Clothing and household textiles that are wet and soiled by floodwaters must be cared for immediately. Three steps will help clean many washable textiles.
1. Remove muddy residue by hosing down, rinsing, soaking or prewashing.
Lori Scharmer is a North Dakota State University Extension service agent for Ward County.
Use cold or cool water and laundry detergent to remove as much mud as possible. Avoid hot water since it may set stains.
Separate wet items to keep clothing colors from running together, and sort out clothing that must be drycleaned.
Washing machines that have been flooded should be cleaned, dried out and checked by an electrician. Then disinfect the washer by running 1 cup of chlorine bleach through a cycle with no fabrics.
During flood, remember FACTS
The flooding event in the Souris Valley has been long term and a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. Citizens are tired, stressed and worried, but also amazingly strong, caring and willing to help each other.
There are ways to think and behave that help us cope and adapt to the challenges of this spring's flood successfully.
Here are five ways to help us cope. They're known as FACTS: Foster hope, Act with purpose, Connect with others, Take care of you and Search for meaning.
Foster hope, focus on the positive. Look for the positives instead of expecting bad things to continue happening. Visualize a future in which things are going well.
Acting with purpose involves making a plan. Identify problems, brainstorm solutions, evaluate the suggestions and choose the best options.
Connect with others by maintaining close, positive relationships with family and friends as a buffer against stress. Share thoughts and feelings, and draw comfort and strength from the support of others. Also accept the help offered to us and do what we can to help others.
Taking care of you means taking care of our body by eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep and staying physically active. When our body is functioning properly, we feel better and are more able to face challenges.
Search for positive meaning in the crisis or challenge. Think about how we dealt with it and what we learned about coping and ourselves. Remember what worked and what didn't. Keep strong and positive. Better days are ahead.
If a washing machine is available, use the prewash or prerinse spin-out cycle that includes a short soak period. If your washer doesn't have an automatic prewash cycle, manually set the controls to agitate and then spin. Don't dry these prewashed textiles in a dryer; the heat may set stains.
If it's impossible to complete this prerinse step immediately, wring out as much excess moisture as possible, even with soil in the fabrics. Lay the items out to dry, but don't use a clothes dryer. The heat will set the mud and other stains, making them more difficult to remove. Dry clothes on outdoor lines or indoors at air or room temperature with fans at cross ventilation, air conditioning or dehumidifiers.
Leaving wet clothes and other fabrics piled in a heap provides the moist, warm and dark conditions perfect for mildew growth. Mildew is a growing organism that can permanently damage most textile fibers, especially natural fibers such as cotton, linen, rayon and wool.
2. Pretreat stains.
A prewash soil and stain remover works well on oil-based stains like animal fats, body oils, cooking oils, cosmetics and motor oils.
An enzyme presoak works well on protein stains like blood, body fluids, dairy products and grass.
3. Wash and disinfect textiles.
Use plenty of water and small loads so clothes have room to agitate well.
Use hottest water safe for fabrics.
Use slightly more laundry detergent than recommended on the package. Liquid detergent dissolves more quickly, but granular or heavy-duty liquid is better at holding the dirt in suspension.
If clothing was contaminated with sewage, chemicals or other toxic materials, use a disinfectant in the wash. For colorfast or white textiles, add 1 cup chlorine bleach in the wash cycle. However, if there is a large amount of iron in soil deposits or in the water, chlorine bleach can cause rust stains to appear on fabrics. For fabrics that cannot be washed with bleach, add 1 cup of pine oil disinfectant such as Pine-Sol or 1 cup of phenolic disinfectant such as Lysol to the wash.
Wash the textiles as many times as needed before drying them. Don't dry in the dryer until you're satisfied with the results since the dryer can set stains, making them impossible to remove.
High temperature drying will also help sanitize clothing, assuming it is clean after laundering. Another sanitation strategy is pressing with a hot iron. This may be helpful for some cotton clothes and bed linens.
Drycleanable clothes, if worth salvaging, should be sent to the drycleaner. Air or line dry, then take to the drycleaner to see if they are salvageable. The chemicals in the cleaning process and the high-temperature steam pressing will sanitize them.
When you are faced with a decision about whether to clean flood-soaked bedding, consider the source of floodwater. If the water was from clean basement seepage, cleaning and sanitation is in order. If the floodwater was contaminated with sewage or fuel oil, discarding the bedding is best if it was heavily soiled because the bedding will continue to be a source of microbial growth.
For all bedding: Hang it out to air and dry thoroughly, then brush it to remove excess dirt and soil. Wear a dust mask and protective gloves.
Bedding may be cleaned in a commercial laundry, using the large front-loading machine. Do not overload a washer or dryer. Large or heavy loads need space to move freely in the washer and dryer. Use a full water level, a heavy-duty detergent and as hot a water temperature as appropriate for the bedding's fibers. These efforts keep the soil from redepositing into the fabric.
Here are tips for reclaiming flood-soaked bedding, all with emphasis on thorough sanitation:
Blankets: Put wool blankets through a dry-cleaning process. Shrinkage and thorough cleaning make wool blankets difficult to wash. For blankets that are washable (rayon, acrylic, cotton), put them through two complete washing cycles. Air-dry or use an automatic dryer at appropriate temperature settings for the fabric.
Sheets and pillowcases: Put through two complete washing cycles. Bleach using diluted liquid chlorine bleach to help kill germs. Dry in an automatic dryer at the highest setting that is appropriate for the fabric.
Quilts and comforters: Wash or dry-clean depending on the fiber content of the bedding. Usually, washing cotton quilts is best. Wash repeatedly until you are satisfied with the outcome. Don't place a quilt or comforter in an automatic dryer until it is cleaned satisfactorily. Dry it in an automatic dryer at the highest setting that is appropriate for the fabric.
Pillows: Pillows, while washable, usually should be discarded if soaked with contaminated floodwater. Their porous nature tends to trap microbes and be a continuous source of contamination.
Mattresses: Regular mattresses should be discarded. Foam rubber and urethane-foam mattresses are mildew-proof and odorless. They can be machine-washed. However, most experts recommend discarding that type of mattress.
Reconditioning of other types of mattresses is too difficult to do at home. Check with a nearby commercial renovating company to see if a good inner-spring mattress is worth reclaiming. Check the cost of renovation against the replacement cost. As a general rule, inexpensive mattresses are not worth the expense of reclaiming and should be discarded.
Upholstered box springs may not be worth the cost of new covering and padding materials. Decide if you can replace this padding yourself if the wooden frame is not too warped. If re-covering and repadding need to be done professionally, consider the cost.
Floodwater damage to wire bedsprings can be handled at home. After the springs have been cleaned thoroughly, leave them out in the sun and air to dry until the odors are gone. Rub the clean, dry metal with a cloth moistened with paraffin oil. After that has dried completely, coat the metal with a suitable paint. Look for a paint that prevents rust.
The same treatment me-thod will work for other metal furniture that may rust as a result of floodwater or dampness in storage buildings.
When to discard, clean or call a professional
When faced with flood-damaged carpeting and rugs, your options will depend on the source of flooding. If floodwater consisted of clean basement seepage or lawn runoff into a sub-basement, drying and cleaning is an easy decision. But if sewage-contaminated floodwater has covered your carpeting, you should discard it for health safety reasons. You can assume the water and the carpet contain infectious organisms. Washable throw rugs usually can be saved with proper cleaning.
Wall-to-wall carpeting, most large area rugs and any rug with foam backing should be discarded if flooded with contaminated water. Except for valuable rugs, the time and expense of professional cleaning generally is not worth the effort or the health risk.
If you are determined to salvage carpeting soaked with contaminated water, consult a professional cleaning company that services carpets at its own cleaning and drying facilities. A steam-cleaning (hot-water extraction) method is preferable.
A wall-to-wall carpet soaked by clean rainwater can be salvaged. Have it professionally cleaned or clean it using the directions below.
Washable throw rugs usually can be cleaned adequately in a washing machine.
Cleaning rain-soaked carpets
If the carpet has been soaked for more than 24 hours, replace it. If the carpet has been wet for less than 24 hours, you may clean it or have professional cleaners come in to address the need. Check with your insurance company to be sure you respond in a manner that will be covered.
Cleaning basement carpeting indoors is not a good idea in summer because you are adding even more moisture to an already wet area. If the carpeting is installed with tack strips, you may be able to remove it, have it cleaned and reinstalled. Padding is nearly impossible to clean, so it should be replaced.
If you can't remove the carpeting, dry it as quickly as possible to minimize mold growth. If possible, use a wet/dry vacuum system and circulate the air with an air conditioner, fans and open windows to inhibit mold growth. A dehumidifier can help remove moisture from the air, but keep windows closed when using a dehumidifier.
When the carpet is thoroughly dry, vacuum the area. Shampoo and repeat the drying process. Keep in mind that most modern carpeting is made of nylon and should not be treated with bleach. When dry, vacuum again.
Reduce a musty smell with the following process:
Sprinkle baking soda over the carpet, working it in with a broom or sponge mop.
Leave the baking soda treatment on overnight.
Vacuum the baking soda out. Vacuum twice, moving back and forth in a different direction the second time.