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Flooding and the clean-up process

18 March 2014

Flooding can be devastating. It’s intrusive, offensive and destructive, and doesn’t discriminate between the young or old, the rich or poor: all are equally affected.

Understanding the heartbreak and devastation of seeing your home decimated by flood water and sewage is incomprehensible for those fortunate enough to escape it.  However, for those of us who work in the specialist cleaning business; we have seen how bad it can get and know just how to fix it. 

Immediate risk

Before the clean-up can begin the first consideration on returning to a flooded property should be your own safety, so do not enter the building if you think it is unsafe. The most immediate risk comes from the water itself. Deep flood water obviously presents a drowning risk, whilst flood water in general conducts electricity, can destabilise buildings and can carry pathogenic 'disease causing' bacteria, so treat it with caution.

Pathogenic risk

In most cases of serious flooding, it’s safe to assume that sewage will have made its way into the water. Recent floodwater samples taken near the Thames and in the South West have been analysed with disturbing results. Analysis by the University of Reading showed faecal Coliform contamination and high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA. Other reports from the devastating floods experienced in the South West described how two sewage farms and all of the septic tanks from local villages had flooded, leaving raw sewage and other offensive waste washing up against the houses.  

It will come as no surprise to learn that floodwater containing sewage often contains high levels of pathogens including many types of gastro-intestinal, disease-causing bacteria. Other pathogenic components can include things like Tetanus, caused by the bacterium Clostridium Tetani. This is usually found in soil, dust and manure and is commonly found in floodwater, particularly in rural areas.


Another microbial hazard of flood water is Leptospirosis, better known as Weil’s disease, which is a continual threat in wet conditions. Leptospirosis is spread by many animals, particularly rats, which are well-known inhabitants of the UK’s sewers. It is entirely possible to become infected with the leptospira bacteria if contaminated water comes into contact with your eyes, mouth, nose or any open cuts in the skin, so plasters, rubber gloves, overalls and masks are essential, as is taking the utmost care to avoid splashing about when moving objects and cleaning. 

The clean-up and decontamination process

It is imperative that good hygiene practices are observed throughout the clean-up operation, and that those involved are wearing all the appropriate personal protective equipment to prevent the inhalation and ingestion of contaminated flood water. Once the water recedes the hygienic clean-up should commence. A two-stage approach is advisable, wherein the larger, physical debris and detritus is removed first, along with any faecal matter and sludge, and then a full-scale decontamination of the remaining items and property structure can take place.

Expert advantages

Some clean-up advice suggests that normal household cleaners can be used for de-contamination. However, given the risks involved, it is worth considering a professional who is an expert in hygiene’s most advanced products and techniques. These include employing a forensic, systematic and methodical approach coupled with ULV vaporisation fogging, Ozone technology and optional swab analysis that, together, can deliver unparalleled peace of mind that your home has been transformed from infectious hazard, to safe haven.

Whilst returning to your home or business after flooding can be a traumatic experience, it’s important to remember that help is always at hand. Whilst cleaning up after such an event can be a time-consuming process, with the right advice and professional expertise, even the worst-affected buildings can be returned to their former glory.


Written by Luke Rutterford, technical manager, Rentokil Specialist Hygiene