If your home has been damaged by a flood or hurricane, you’ll have to clean up once the storm passes. Before you survey the damage and get to work, follow these air quality tips.
During a hurricane, the biggest threat to safety and property is storm surge, or an abnormal rise of water that can cause extreme flooding in coastal areas and tides reaching up to 20 feet or higher. Once the storm passes, however, the danger doesn’t completely disappear, as post-hurricane flood waters may be filled with hazardous waste, contaminants and pollutants.¹ Before you start cleaning up, follow these air quality dos and don’ts to help protect yourself.
Wear the right protective gear — such as N95 respirators, goggles without vent holes and gloves — when handling building debris. If you know your home contains asbestos or lead, call in a professional removal team as these toxins may have been disturbed during the storm, sending harmful particles into the air.²,³
Clean up and dry out your home as soon as possible, ideally no more than 24 to 48 hours after the storm ends, to prevent mold buildup.³ Use fans, dehumidifiers, air purifiers — anything that can get air circulating or help filter out unwanted airborne particles.
Natural disasters can lead to water contamination. Ensure your water is safe before using it to clean. If it’s not safe or you’re unsure, use bottled, boiled or treated water.⁵ Combine hot water with laundry detergent or dish soap to wipe down all wet items and surfaces — flooring, concrete, countertops, appliances and sinks — to keep mold at bay. If you suspect molding has already occurred, clean it up with a mixture of 1 cup of bleach for every gallon of water. Don’t combine bleach with ammonia, as this can create toxic vapors.⁴
Toss items drenched with flood water that can’t be cleaned or completely dried out within 24 to 48 hours. Make sure to take pictures for insurance claims.⁴
If your electricity is working, use an air purifier while cleaning to help capture and trap mold and mildew particles from the air. Before you move back in, you should also replace your HVAC filter to ensure the air moving through the system is being filtered properly.
Watch for symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as nausea, dizziness and lightheadedness. Alternative fuel sources like generators can leak carbon monoxide into the air.⁶ Leave your house immediately if you suspect there’s been a carbon monoxide leak in your home.
Don’t enter your home unless you’ve been cleared to do so by a building inspector. Whether your home has experienced minor or significant damage, you’ll want to make sure the house is structurally sound and free from gas leaks, electrical hazards and other safety concerns.
Don’t clean with all your doors and windows closed, especially if you’re using bleach to kill mold and mildew. Natural ventilation keeps fresh air flowing through your home.⁴
Don’t use any gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning machines — namely generators — inside your home or near an open window. You should move at least 20 feet away from your house before operating these devices to prevent a carbon monoxide buildup.⁶
Don’t do anything that could spark a fire — such as turning on lights, lighting matches or smoking — if you smell gas or suspect a leak. Leave your home and call the local authorities immediately.
Don’t hesitate to call in a professional to help with hurricane cleanup in particularly hazardous circumstances, such as a home with asbestos or lead that may have been disturbed during the storm.