Flood-Damaged Furniture, Appliances, Flooring: What Can Be Saved?

Quick Action Key To Salvaging Cherished Valuables

By Clete Campbell

All is lost.

The natural feeling of every homeowner after a flooding disaster is understandable. Water has just ravaged your greatest investment and rocked and soaked your family’s American Dream to the foundation. The reassuring news is many valuable and essential household items, and priceless, sentimental family treasures, even partially water-damaged items, can be salvaged.

For some family items you can’t put a price tag on.

“We always hear about dollar-amount damages (with home flooding), but often the losses that affect us the most are the ones to which a dollar amount cannot be assigned,” Lori Foley, administrator of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, told Consumer Reports. “What do you own that you’d miss terribly if you lost it? Photographs of loved ones in frames, albums or shoeboxes? Books and paintings passed down through generations? Grandma’s recipe box?”

So what items can be saved? The Heritage Emergency National Task Force, co-sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Smithsonian Institute, has developed guidelines for how to salvage what you want and dispose of what can’t be saved.

  1. Prioritize: Focus on what is important
  2. Air-Dry: Gentle air-drying works best.
  3. Handle with Care: Handle delicate items with extreme caution.
  4. Clean Gently: Loosen dirt and debris on fragile objects with soft cloths and brushes. 

The most important rule to remember when salvaging flood-damaged items: Remember, you are on the clock. Left unchecked, mold moves in swiftly into flood-damaged homes. Mold is the grim reaper lying in wait for unattended flood-damaged homes.

“Saving your valuables can be a race against the clock – mold can form within 48 hours,” Consumer Reports’ Mary Farrell stresses. Speed, House Logic notes, is key to giving you “the best possible outcome.”

As The Spruce’s Abe Abbas notes, “determining what, if anything, can be salvaged is a daunting task.” But it’s well worth it. 

Ensure a Safe Salvage

Remember, your personal wellbeing is the most important aspect of every home flooding salvage project. Before re-entering your home post-flood to see what can be saved, conduct this essential FEMA Flood Item Recovering Safety Checklist:

  1. Check for structural damage before entering your home to avoid being trapped in a building collapse.
  2. Keep power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety.
  3. Turn off the gas and be alert for gas leaks.
  4. Look before you step for dangerous debris like broken bottles and nails.
  5. Take photos of any floodwater in your home and of damaged items for insurance purpose
  6. Call your insurance agent to file a claim and report the damage as soon as possible. Remember, homeowner insurance usually covers losses caused by wind, storms or broken water pipes, but not surface flooding.
  7. Rescue the most valuable items, but never attempt to salvage belongings at the expense of your own safety.
  8. Wear long sleeves, sturdy shoes (preferably steel toe shoes) or waterproof boots, and plastic or rubber gloves during cleanup.
  9. Wash your hands often with soap and clean water or use a hand-cleaning gel with alcohol in it.

Project: Salvage

Remember, water is acid, a liquid kerosene, to the functionality, quality and salvagability of appliances furniture, so speed is of the essence. Home floodwaters generally fall into three categories of severity:

  • Category 1: Clean Water-The best case scenario for salvaging items, this water typically comes from supply lines in your home’s plumbing system. It doesn’t pose a health risk.
  • Category 2: Grey Water-Grey water has some form of contaminants, either chemical or biological agents. It’s not going to kill you, but you sure don’t want to ingest or get it in your eyes.
  • Category 3: Black Water-This is the No-Go, Do-Not-Dare Enter stuff. Black water is comprised of raw sewage and floodwaters from a nearby river. This water can make you very sick. Do not attempt to re-enter your home if you notice the water is black.

When analyzing water-damaged furniture, decide what pieces are worth saving. Base your decision off these four keys to Flood Item Salvage:

  • Extent of the Damage
  • Cost of the Article
  • Sentimental Value
  • Cost of Restoration

Here’s a good general guideline on which furniture can be saved:

Solid Wood Furniture can usually be restored, unless damage is severe. Wood furniture will need to be cleaned, dried and re-glued. Blistered finishes will need to be done. A strong cleaner for water-damaged furniture is Murphy Household Cleaner Oil Soap. 

Wood Veneered Furniture is, as a general rule, not worth the cost and effort of repair, unless it is very valuable.

Upholstered Furniture, alas, is a water sponge. They soak up contaminants from floodwaters and should be cleaned only by a professional. Obtain a cost estimate to see if upholstered furniture is worth saving. The bummer news on water-damaged upholstered furniture is that in most cases it should be discarded unless they are antiques or extremely valuable. 

For Wood Floors, any flooring soaked for days will likely have to be replaced. If water recedes quickly, you may be able to replace some solid-wood boards and refinish the rest if you dry the wood out quickly. Use fans in every room to speed up the drying. If weather permits, open windows and doors so air can circulate. 

Composite Flooring, which is made of wood, filler and glue, will become pulpy post water damage and is most likely ruined. 

Again, follow the 48-hour Salvage Rule. Any furniture left unattended 3-4 days post-flood is likely a lost cause and should be thrown out. 

For appliances and photos:

Appliances: This is a wait-and-see approach. If water has flooded a room and appliances have come into contact with water, the best approach, Consumer Reports stresses, is “to wait until the water recedes, then disconnect the appliances from power sources.” Do not reconnect appliances until a qualified technician has inspected them. Manufacturer help lines can answer specific salvation questions on specific models. 

Photos: Clean photos by rinsing them carefully in clean water. Air dry photos on a plastic screen or paper towel, or by hanging them by the corners with plastic clothespins. 

Flood Damaged Items Likely Not Able to Be Salvaged

Here’s a No-Go List of Flood-Damaged Items That Are Goners:

  • Mattresses: Trust us, you don’t want to try sleeping on a floodwater-logged mattress.
  • Carpet: If covered in floodwater, toss.
  • Clothes: No matter how stylish, nothing kills clothes’ cool factor like floodwater.

Returning to your home following chatosphic flooding is one of the worst days of a homeowner’s life. But don’t write off saving the items you and your family hold most dear.

“Standing floodwaters make us want to pitch everything, but don’t react so quickly,” the Houston Chronicle’s Diane Cowen cautions.

For after a home flood, all is not lost.

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