Has heavy rain or flash flooding damaged items in your home or garage? When you’re sorting through your wet belongings, it can be hard to know what’s worth keeping and what you should just throw away.

Here you’ll learn how to identify what can be saved, what stuff can’t bounce back from water damage, and how to be prepared for the next big downpour.

How to Save Water-Damaged Items

Old Family Photos

Water-damaged photos should be carefully rinsed in clean water and left to dry on absorbent paper towels.

Extreme weather can cause a lot of fear and uncertainty. When rainwater or floodwater makes its way into your garage or home, it’s best to act as quickly as possible to recover any damaged items.

With that said, the most important factor is your safety. Make sure your home is safe in terms of structural damage and other hazards before you enter. Once you know your safety isn’t at risk, you can take action to try and save your stuff.

Smartphone

  • Do not turn on your smartphone or plug into power.
  • Remove the battery and any other detachable items and place your phone in a sealed zip-lock bag filled with packets of silica gel (the little plastic balls found in a new pair of shoes or luggage – you can also buy them from craft stores). If you don’t have access to silica gel packets, uncooked rice is the next best thing to absorb any moisture lurking in your phone.
  • Store in a dry place for a couple of days.
  • Connect your phone to your laptop and perform a restore/reset. It should now (hopefully) be working fine. If not, take it to a phone repair shop and hope for the best.

Laptop

  • Do not turn your laptop on. This may cause it to short-circuit and reduce the chances of it ever working again.
  • Remove the battery and any wires/plugs, and leave it to dry for several days.
  • Your best bet is to then take your laptop to a professional technician. Even if the machine itself is unsalvageable, an expert might be able to save your data at least.

Clothing

  • Separate whites from colours as soon as possible to avoid dye transfer.
  • Rinse clothes gently with a hose to remove any mud or floodwater debris. Mud can build up in your washing machine and cause damage, so be sure to remove as much as possible prior to washing.
  • Disinfect your clothes while washing by adding a cup of chlorine bleach to whites and a cup of pine oil disinfectant to colours.
  • Hang in the sun to dry – UV rays can help kill any remaining bacteria.
  • To remove stubborn silt stains, add several tablespoons of bicarb to your wash.

Wooden Furniture

As moisture can make timber swell and warp out of shape, your wooden furniture may or may not be salvageable depending on the extent of the damage.

  • Remove surface moisture with a clean towel or rag.
  • Mould can be removed using turpentine or other solvents. Test on a small area first!
  • Leave in a well-ventilated area to dry. Do not place the item in the sun – this can cause the timber to warp even more.
  • Once the item is dry (this can take several days or even weeks), assess whether joints need to be reglued or re-screwed.

Appliances

  • Do not turn on any electrical appliances (microwave, washer, dryer). Doing so can cause further damage to the item or even render it inoperative. This can also pose the risk of electric shock or fire.
  • Hire a professional appliance technician to examine the item before use. Whether it’s a matter of replacing a damaged motor or wiring, it’s best to leave it to the experts and not risk breaking your items or sustaining an injury.

Photos

  • Carefully rinse photos in a sink of clean water. Do not touch the photo surface.
  • Place photos face-up on absorbent paper towels, away from direct sunlight.
  • Change paper towels as needed until photos dry.
  • To straighten out warped photos, you could try ironing them on a very low heat (through a few layers of cloth to prevent the print separating from the paper).

Books

  • If your books were damaged by floodwater, gently rinse mud and debris off in a sink of clean water.
  • Place a piece of paper between every 20-30 pages to absorb moisture.
  • Lay books flat to dry in a well-ventilated area. Having a ceiling fan or pedestal fans on in the room will help speed up the drying process.

What Needs to Go

Wet Teddy Bear

Stuffed toys that have been affected by floodwater should generally be discarded. However, a hot rinse and dry may be able to salvage precious teddies and other animals.

Unfortunately, there are a few household items that generally can’t be recovered after a flood. Be sure to take plenty of photos of any unsalvageable items to document the damage if you’re hoping to lodge a property damage insurance claim.

Upholstered Furniture

If your couch, armchair or mattress has been inundated by floodwater, not only can the fabric become stained; the damp padding can actually produce mould and mildew. It’s also possible that the floodwaters contain harmful bacteria and contaminants that can remain in your upholstery and affect your health. If you want to save your upholstered furniture, you should strip it back to the frame to be disinfected, deodorised, dried out, and reupholstered.

Rugs

Like upholstered furniture, rugs damaged by floodwaters should usually be discarded for health reasons. The only real exception is if the rug has been soaked by pure rainwater (not floodwater). If the rug is special or expensive, the best way to get it back in top condition is to fork out for a professional cleaning.

Cardboard Boxes

Cardboard boxes that have come in contact with floodwaters should be thrown out. Once cardboard has been wet, it begins to disintegrate. Even once dried out again, it will have lost some of its strength. It will also house any harmful organisms and bacteria from floodwaters and potentially grow mould and mildew.

Toys and Stuffed Animals

If toys and stuffed animals have been contaminated by floodwaters, they should be thrown out for your child’s safety. Is your child’s favourite teddy drenched? You can try washing it on the hottest possible cycle, adding a cup of pine oil disinfectant. Next, put it in the dryer on the hottest possible setting – this will help to kill bacteria.


Where to Dispose of Damaged Items

Rubbish Skip

If you’re lodging a property damage insurance claim, you may need to keep your damaged items until the insurance assessors have examined them. Once that’s been taken care of, you’ll want to look at your options for disposing of your flood-damaged belongings.

Hire a Skip Bin

There are several rubbish removal services that can help you get damaged items off your property. Hiring a large skip bin is an effective way to get rid of all your unwanted stuff at once. They’re also delivered straight to your home and collected when you’re done, which is nice and convenient. Many skip bin hire businesses also offer the service of having professionals help load your things into the bin, so you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting yourself.

Take a Trip to the Rubbish Tip

If you’ve only got a few items to dispose of, taking a trip or two to the rubbish dump is an easy way to get them off your hands. Load up the ute (or hire a trailer) and make a trip to your nearest tip.

Find your nearest waste and recycling facility here:

Kerbside Collection

You can learn more about what you can and can’t put out for kerbside collection in this handy post.


How to Prepare Your Home for Heavy Rain and Flooding

Sandbags

Pile up sandbags like bricks to prevent shallow floodwaters from sneaking under your doors.

It doesn’t take long for heavy rain to turn from inconvenient to potentially dangerous. Being better prepared can help keep your home and your things safe from floodwaters and damage in the future.

Keep Things off the Floor

Valuables and important documents should be kept well out of water’s reach. If possible, keep these items in high cupboards or shelves in your garage or home. If you’re lucky enough to have warning of heavy rainfall and flash flooding, be sure to clear everything off the floor that you can to avoid water damage.

Water-Proof Your Belongings with Plastic Covers

If you’re not able to get bigger items to higher ground, sit them on waterproof tarps, wrapped upwards to protect them from below. Then cover them with plastic furniture covers to prevent contact with rainwater. Just be sure to remove the covers once the water has subsided and they’re not at risk of being damaged (because plastic covers can create high humidity and put your items at risk of developing mould and mildew).

Use Sandbags to Protect Your Home

Water can make its way through the tiniest gaps under doors. Create a barrier to prevent water entering under your garage door or the doors in your home with sandbags. Simply stack the sandbags snugly against each other in a line, then add another line of sandbags on top of those ones, like a brick wall. Stack tightly against each other to make sure no water can get through. This approach is ideal for deterring lawn runoff during heavy downpours or stopping shallow floodwaters from entering the home.

Clear Gutters and Drains

Clogged gutters and rain drains can increase the severity of flooding. Keep yours clear with regular cleaning and maintenance to guide heavy rain away from your house. Clearing your gutters and drains is as simple as putting on some gloves and removing the leaves and twigs that build up over time, then using a high-pressure hose to flush out any leftover debris.

Cleaning your home after a flood can be a draining experience – physically and emotionally. It helps to know how to save your damaged items and when to say goodbye to unsalvageable ones. Here’s hoping that, with a little preparation, you can stay dry through the next Big Wet that comes our way.