How to Clean Up a Flooded Basement

  • leaking basement
  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, if you’ve ever faced a major flood in your basement or any other area of your home, you’d know what a huge mess that soaking, sopping carpet can easily become.

    How to Clean Up a Flooded BasementTOM: And if that’s you, the next question is: can it be saved? Kevin O’Connor is the host of TV’s This Old House and joins us now with tips on how to clean up after the tide recedes.

    Welcome, Kevin.

    KEVIN: Ah, great to be here, guys.

    TOM: Now, we’ve told our listeners time and time again that carpets are a really bad idea for basements, for a whole host of reasons and this is just one. But if it does happen, what are the options?

    KEVIN: Well, the options are, first off, fix the leak.

    TOM: Yeah, good advice.

    KEVIN: Right? Stop the water from coming in. I mean but we can’t help ourselves, right? Because sometimes, the kids want to play down there, we want to make a living space where you put carpet down.

    So, if you’ve got carpet down and it gets wet, you’ve got to figure it out: are you going to throw it away or are you going to clean it? And here’s some things to think about in terms of throwing it away.

    If the carpet’s been submerged, you’re probably going to get rid of it. If the carpet has been saturated for, say, more than 24 hours, you probably want to get rid of that one, too. Because that’s the amount of time when mold can start growing. If it’s been saturated or wet for less than that and you can dry it out, you might be able to save your carpet.

    And then the last thing you have to think about is what type of water got on the carpet. Now, in a flooding situation, there’s lots of different kinds of water. The first one is black water and that’s sea water or from rivers and streams. And they can contain pathogens, so you want to throw away anything that’s been contaminated by black water.

    Then there’s something called “gray water” and this is discharge from your washing machine or your dishwashers. And gray water can be cleaned but it has to be cleaned quickly because after 48 hours, gray water becomes black water and then you’re throwing your carpets away.

    And then you have, well, the clean water. So this could be rainwater coming into the basement or a leak through the roof. Those things can be dried out and cleaned and you can then save that carpet.

    TOM: And of course, you’ve got sewage water and that is instant removal.

    KEVIN: Instant removal. If a pipe bursts, if there’s sewage backup, the carpet’s gone.

    LESLIE: And I imagine, regardless of what type of water it is, if that carpet pad has gotten wet or submerged in any way, you’d better just chuck it.

    KEVIN: Generally speaking, the carpet pads don’t fare very well, so those are the things that are going to be thrown away.

    TOM: So let’s say it does get wet, best tool to use, wet/dry vac?

    KEVIN: Best tool to use but actually the best thing you can do is take the carpet outside. So if you’ve got an area rug, that’s a great option. And sometimes, even the wall-to-wall carpets can be pulled up. They’re usually put down with a tack strip around the perimeter; you can peel that back. And if you can get the carpet outside to dry, you’re better off. If not, a wet/dry vac, some fans and some good circulation and a dehumidifier will be your friend.

    TOM: Now, despite the fact that we think that wall-to-wall carpet is a bad idea for a basement, there are types of carpets that are good. You mentioned area rugs. What about carpet tile?

    KEVIN: I just put carpet tiles down in my basement. It gives you that wall-to-wall look but it allows you to very easily pull up small sections. So I was concerned about leaking in my bulkhead. If I ever do take water in that area, I can pull up a couple of carpet tiles, they can be washed or replaced easily and you’re not talking about redoing the entire basement floor.

    TOM: Good advice. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    KEVIN: Thanks for having me.

    LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For your local listings, step-by-step videos on many projects, you can visit

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by The Home Depot. More savings, more doing. That’s the power of The Home Depot.

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