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Ask Dr. Harriet Burge

How Can We Help Our Clients Save Their Valuables After A Flood?
By Dr. Harriet Burge, EMLab P&K's Director of Aerobiology

This is an important question. Too many flood victims are told that they have to discard all their belongings, especially if they begin to develop visible mold. In fact, many things (perhaps most) can be recovered. Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Any hard ceramic, glass, plastic, or metallic surface can be washed.

  2. This means dishes, silverware, pots and pans, and anything else made of these materials (this includes CDs and DVDs but not VCR tapes). If the items have visible surface mold, add 1/4 cup of bleach to the wash water along with detergent, and rinse well. Always use detergent so that the spores will become wet and not be aerosolized.

  3. Clothing, linens, and carpets that can be sent out are readily cleaned providing this is done promptly after the water recedes.

  4. If it is at all possible, it is worth it to do this up front and bill your insurance companies later. It is often delays in insurance settlements that lead to gross mold growth that cannot be removed.

  5. Wooden furniture is readily cleaned providing, again, that this is done promptly after water recedes.

  6. Even if visible mold growth occurs on wood it is readily removed with a dilute bleach/detergent solution followed by rapid drying.

  7. Complex things such as pianos can be saved, but a professional will probably have to be involved.

  8. Pianos are primarily wood and metal, which are easily cleaned. However, they also have lots of felt in them, and this must either be dried very quickly, or will have to be replaced. Also, any piano should be dried quickly and as gently as possible to avoid cracking the sound board.

  9. Oil or acrylic paints done on a board surface (e.g., masonite) are easily cleaned by wiping with a damp cloth.

  10. Painting done on canvas with oil or acrylic also can be cleaned, although if mold appears on the exposed canvas a professional may have to be involved. Painting on paper (e.g., watercolors, drawings, pastels) are difficult to recover and, as for books, the attempt should be made only if the object is especially valuable.

  11. Mattresses, box springs, and upholstered furniture usually cannot be cleaned.

  12. Mattresses and box springs should be replaced. Upholstered furniture with solid, well-made frames can usually be re-upholstered at a cost considerably less that purchasing new furniture of equal quality.

  13. Only the most valuable books are worth saving.

  14. In order to rescue soaked books, one must use the services of an expert. These experts usually freeze/dry the books and then carefully clean each page.

  15. Electronic equipment may or may not be salvageable.

  16. I am not an electrician and am not qualified to comment on this subject.

Hopefully these examples will provide information that can be applied to other specific items that I haven't mentioned. Major floods are devastating experiences, and it is often difficult to imagine that things will ever be back to normal. With your advice and help, this can be a less difficult time for your clients.

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Indoor Environment Connections. Reprinted by permission.

Dr. Harriet Burge   About Dr. Harriet Burge
Dr. Harriet Burge is EMlab P&K's Director of Aerobiology and Chair of EMLab P&K's Scientific Advisory Board. Widely considered the leading expert in indoor air quality (IAQ), Dr. Burge pioneered the field more than 30 years ago. She has served as a member of three National Academy of Sciences committees for IAQ, including as Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Health Effects of Indoor Allergens. View Dr. Burge's Curriculum Vitae.

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