Cleanup and health safety
Clean up after flooding
Flood damage can cause many health dangers. Be aware of the risks and take steps to protect your health.
Personal safety is always the highest priority when entering
buildings damaged by floodwater. Before re-entering your home or
business, check for structural damage and keep power off until a
private contractor or electrician has inspected for safety. If there
was damage to a gas line or connection, turn off the gas. Be alert for
gas leaks. Contact your utility provider for any questions or
According to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the CDC, here are safety tips for reentering a flooded home:
- Briefly enter to open doors and windows to let the house air out for at least 30 minutes before staying for a length of time.
- Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris, including broken bottles and nails. Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery.
- Wear long sleeves, sturdy shoes or waterproof boots, and plastic or rubber gloves during cleanup.
- Wash your hands often with soap and clean water or use a hand-cleaning gel with alcohol in it.
- Dry out your home as soon as possible to prevent mold. If you do encounter mold, consult a professional or use protective gear such as gloves, goggles, and an N95 face mask to clean up. To make cleaner, mix 1 cup of household bleach with 1 gallon of water. Remember to never mix bleach with ammonia.
The San Diego Air Pollution Control District has information on How to Protect Yourself from Asbestos Exposure.
Downed power lines and loss of electricity can occur during flooding. Individuals using equipment such as generators, charcoal and gas grills, and camping stoves indoors can be exposed to deadly carbon monoxide fumes.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is emitted when burning fuel.
Avoid using fuel burning equipment in indoor spaces including garages.
Always use fuel burning equipment outdoors and 20 feet away from windows and doors to avoid carbon monoxide coming indoors.
Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.
For more information visit: Frequently Asked Questions | Carbon Monoxide Poisoning | CDC.
Be aware of potential chemical hazards you may encounter during flood recovery.
Floodwaters may have buried or moved hazardous chemical containers of solvents or other industrial chemicals from their normal storage places.
Do not put debris near the curb during rainy weather where it can wash away and cause a hazard.
The County of San Diego Department of Public Works is picking up flood-damaged debris and items from homes in the unincorporated communities impacted by the 2024 flood weather permitting.
For pick up in the unincorporated area, call (858) 495-5700.
For additional storm recovery resources, call 2-1-1.
- Put all tree limbs, plant/grass trimmings, leaves and untreated wood in your curbside organic waste bin. OK to put wet materials in the bin.
- Should you need additional green waste recycling options, please visit WasteFreeSD.org or call 1-877-R-1-EARTH.
Scrap Metals & Appliances
- Includes metal car parts, metal fencing, refrigerators, washers/dryers and water heaters.
- DO NOT put these items in your curbside blue bin. For convenient recycling options, please visit WasteFreeSD.org or call 1-877-R-1-EARTH.
- Your waste and recycling hauler may offer bulky item collection for appliances or larger items. Contact them for more information.
- Includes plastic bottles and containers, metal and aluminum cans and foil and glass bottles and jars.
- Put in your curbside blue recycling bin or visit WasteFreeSD.org or call 1-877-R-1-EARTH for additional recycling options.
Household Hazardous Waste
- Includes batteries and electronics, materials that are toxic/corrosive/flammable, all automotive fluids, medications and propane and helium tanks.
- These items require special handling. DO NOT put them in the trash, recycling or organic waste bin.
- For proper disposal options, please visit WasteFreeSD.org or call 1-877-R-1-EARTH.
- For unincorporated areas only: The County will pick up hazardous items from flood-damaged homes and businesses. Call 2-1-1 to request pickup or if you have questions.
- Put items like soiled/wet clothing, cardboard, broken or wet/soiled furniture and mud/soil in your trash container.
- For more disposal options, please visit WasteFreeSD.org, call 1-877-R-1-EARTH or contact your local waste hauler.
Avoid floodwater if you can. Floodwater can contain many dangerous things, including:
- Household, agricultural and industrial waste
- Debris and other objects
- Downed electrical wires
If you are hurt, see a doctor as soon as possible.
If you must stand or work in water colder than 75 degrees F (24 degrees C), protect yourself. Wear insulated clothes and insulated rubber boots. Take breaks out of the water often. Change into dry clothes when possible.
Floodwater can contain bacteria that cause diarrheal illnesses.
Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with floodwater and discard such food.
Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after contact with floodwater and before consuming food.
For infants, use only pre-prepared canned baby formula that requires no added water, rather than powdered formulas prepared with treated water.
Thawed food can usually be eaten or refrozen if it is still “refrigerator cold," or if it still contains ice crystals. To be safe, remember, “when in doubt, throw it out."
Discard any refrigerated or frozen food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture.
If floodwater is ingested it may cause gastrointestinal illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea.
Floodwater can cause skin rashes and infections if open sores or cuts are exposed to floodwater. If you have any open cuts or sores keep them as clean as possible by covering with a waterproof bandage, but if wounds are exposed to floodwater wash immediately with soap and water. If soap and water is not available, then use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean the wound.
If clothing is soiled or exposed to floodwater, it is best to launder clothing prior to wearing again.
If entering the floodwater is necessary wear items to protect your skin, such as rubber boots, rubber gloves, and googles.
The local health department is monitoring emergency room data and reportable diseases for any increase in, or unusual, trends.
For additional hygiene information, please see this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) link to more information: Hygiene in Emergency Settings | Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene-related Emergencies & and Outbreaks | Healthy Water | CDC.
A flood-damaged home needs special care to remove mold safely and effectively. Mold begins to grow on materials that stay wet longer than two or three days. The longer it grows, the greater the health hazard and the harder it is to control. So, as soon as it is safe to return, don’t delay cleanup and dry out.
Take photographs before cleaning up for insurance purposes, and get started. Do not wait for the claims adjuster to see it before removing wet and moldy materials. Most homeowners’ insurance policies do not cover mold damages or cleanup costs, but flood insurance may cover it.
Mold and Health
Some people are much more sensitive to mold than others, but long-term or heavy exposure is unhealthy for anyone. Mold can trigger allergic reactions and asthma attacks, may lower resistance to illness or have other effects. Young children, the elderly and the ill are most vulnerable. Some molds can make toxins that can be in live or dead spores and fragments. “Black mold” is a misleading term; many molds are black.
Mold testing is not usually needed and is rarely useful to answer health concerns. Some insurance companies and legal services may require sampling for evidence. Professional mold remediation contractors may test before and after cleanup to check the cleanup’s effectiveness.
If you hire a contractor, seek a licensed mold remediation contractor with special training and equipment. Get in writing the cost, methods and steps to be used. Compare their procedures with the following guidelines.
Do-it-yourself Mold Cleanup Steps
To clean up safely and effectively, follow these steps and refer to EPA’s A Brief Guide To Mold, Moisture, and Your Home or Mold Remediation In Schools and Commerical Buildings available online at www.epa.gov/mold or the CDC’s Mold Prevention Strategies and Possible Health Effects in the Aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita available online at Mold Prevention Strategies and Possible Health Effects in the Aftermath of Hurricanes and Major Floods (cdc.gov).
1. Wear Protective Gear during Cleanup: People are mainly exposed to mold by breathing spores and skin contact. Wear gloves, goggles and a respirator rated N-95 or higher. Some types have valves to make it easier to breathe.
2. Isolate Work Area and Ventilate to Outdoors: Disturbing mold colonies during cleanup can cause a huge release of spores into the air, so seal off the moldy areas from the rest of the house. Open windows, and don’t run the central air system during cleanup. Tape plastic over air grilles, and drape plastic in the stairwell if the second story is dry and clean. If power is on, put a fan in a window to blow out and exhaust mold-filled air to the outdoors.
Remove Moldy Porous Materials: Porous moldy or sewage-contaminated materials should be removed, put in plastic bags if possible and thrown away. To reduce the release and spread of mold spores, it is helpful to cover moldy material with plastic sheeting before removing it.
- Remove all flooded carpeting, upholstery, fabrics and mattresses right away. It’s best to discard them, but if you hope to salvage a valuable item, have it cleaned, disinfected and dried quickly outside the home. Never reuse flooded padding.
- Remove all wet fibrous insulation – even if wallboard appears to dry. Wet insulation will stay wet far too long, leading to the growth of hidden unhealthy mold and decay fungi inside the walls. Cut wall covering above the level that was wet; water can wick up above the flood level.
- It’s best to remove all moldy, porous materials, especially if there is heavy or long- term mold growth -- including gypsum wallboard, processed wood products, ceiling tiles and paper products.
- Plaster, wood paneling and non-paper faced gypsum board walls that dried, are in good condition and have no insulation in the wall can be cleaned and sanitized to salvage them. There is a risk of mold on the backside, however, that can release spores into the home through air leaks in the walls.
- Remove vinyl wallpaper, flooring and
other coverings of wet materials.
4. Clean and Disinfect: Surface mold can be effectively cleaned from non-porous materials such as hard plastic, concrete, glass and metal; solid wood can be cleaned. Cleaning should remove, not just kill, the mold, because dead spores can still cause health problems.
After cleaning, you may use a disinfectant to kill any mold missed by the cleaning. If there was sewage contamination, disinfection is a must. If you disinfect, follow label directions and warnings, handle carefully and never mix bleach with ammonia or acids. Many disinfectants kill molds, but do not prevent regrowth.
- Remove any sediment. Hose out opened wall cavities.
- Wash dirty or moldy materials with non- phosphate all-purpose cleaners, because phosphate residue is mold food. Rough surfaces may need to be scrubbed. Rinse, but avoid pressure spray that can force water into materials.
- Disinfect wall cavities and other materials after cleaning. Soil can make some disinfectants less effective. On colorfast, non- metal surfaces, you can disinfect with a solution of 1/2 - 1 cup household chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Do not use in the air conditioning system. Milder, less corrosive disinfectants include alcohols, phenolics and hydrogen peroxide.
5. Consider Borate Treatment: Having a professional pest control applicator apply a borate treatment to wood framing can provide resistance to termites, decay and mold. Other fungicides may also help inhibit mold regrowth during drying. Do NOT apply sealants to wood.
6. Flush the Air: After cleaning and disinfecting, air out the building. Use fans in windows to pull mold spores to the outdoors.
7. Speed Dry: Dry all wet materials as quickly as possible. Close windows and air condition or heat, run fans and use a dehumidifier, if possible. If there is no power, keep windows open.
8. Remain on Mold Alert: Continue looking for signs of moisture or new mold growth. New mold can form in as little as 2-3 days if materials stay wet. Wood and other materials that may look dry can still be wet enough to support regrowth. If mold returns, repeat cleaning and, if possible, use speed drying equipment and moisture meters. Regrowth may signal that the material was not dry enough or should be removed.
9. Do Not Restore until All Materials Have Dried Completely. Wood moisture content should be less than 20%. Do NOT use vinyl wallpaper, oil-based paint or other interior finishes that block drying to the inside.
Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice or make baby formula. You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
If you use bottled water, be sure it came from a safe source. If you do not know that the water came from a safe source, you should boil or treat it before you use it. Use only bottled, boiled, or treated water until your supply is tested and found safe.
Boiling water, when practical, is the preferred way to kill harmful bacteria and parasites. Bringing water to a rolling boil for one minute will kill most organisms.
When boiling water is not practical, you can treat water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets or unscented household chlorine bleach (5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite).
If you use chlorine tablets or iodine tablets, follow the directions that come with the tablets.
If you use household chlorine bleach, add 1/8 teaspoon (~0.75 mL) of bleach per gallon of water if the water is clear. For cloudy water, add ¼ teaspoon (~1.50 mL) of bleach per gallon. Mix the solution thoroughly and let it stand for about 30 minutes before using it.
Note: Treating water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets or liquid bleach will not kill parasitic organisms
More flood cleanup information
General Cleanup Information
After you have checked for the proper functioning of your utilities and have been cleared by a County damage assessment team, you can start the cleanup of your home and property. Start to create an inventory and take photographs of things that have been damaged from fire, smoke, water, or chemicals. Do not throw away any damaged belongings or make repairs until your have spoken with your insurance company. Keep detailed records of all cleanup costs including materials and labor to submit to your insurance company or for income tax loss deductions.
Inside Burned & Damaged Structures
Ash and debris inside burned and damaged structures may contain more toxic substances than forest fire ash because of synthetic materials present in buildings. In addition, be aware that older buildings may contain asbestos and lead. If you have a structure which contains these materials, do not attempt to clean it yourself. Dust masks will not protect you from these harmful materials. For more information on asbestos removal visit, the San Diego County Asbestos Web site at Asbestos Program Page, and view the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District's site at http://www.sdapcd.org
If you plan to rebuild, renovate, or demolish a structure that contains asbestos, you must also submit a notice of intention to the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District at least 10 days prior to starting work. For more information, visit Asbestos Renovations and Demolition Operations.
A more cautious approach should be taken in the removal of ash and other debris from inside burned structures, so make sure to keep the following in mind:
*You can also use the long wash cycle on your dishwasher to disinfect your wares as long as it is debris free, heats water to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit and has a heated drying cycle.
Additional Hazardous Waste and Recycling Resources
For more information on how to recycle and prevent water
pollution during construction or demolition, download
In addition, there are several permanent facilities accepting household hazardous waste. To find the closest location to you call 1-877-R-1-EARTH.
Department of Environmental Health (DEH), County of San Diego
Questions or concerns about household hazardous waste,
partially burned or exposed toxic substances visit:
California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control
To clean ash, remember the three C's, Control, Contain and Capture.
Control: Try to control the amount of ash particles that get re-suspended into the air. Avoid using any equipment that blows ash into the air such as shop vacuums or leaf blowers. Instead, use vacuums with HEPA filters.
Contain: Contain ash by gently sweeping indoor and outdoor hard surfaces followed by wet mopping with a damp cloth. Ash may be disposed of in regular trash receptacles or in plastic bags. You may also allow water from cleaning to drain into landscaping as ash will not hurt plants or grass.
Capture: Protect storm drains from ash and any cleaning chemicals used while cleaning by diverting away from storm drains or recapturing. Ash is highly acidic, which is harmful for people, the environment and aquatic life.
Fact Sheet: Protecting Public Health from Home and Building Fire Ash (Safe Cleanup of Fire Ash) (PDF)
The Department of Environmental Health has guidelines for the maintenance of pools impacted by smoke and ash contamination or fire damage.
In case of a declared disaster, the County of San Diego will remove cars, trucks, trailers, boats, or any other vehicle licensed or required to be licensed under California Vehicle Code that has been burned in a wildfire in an unincorporated area, free of charge.
Any DMV-registered vehicle damaged in the Lilac Fire is eligible to be removed through the County's abandoned vehicle program. Leave a detailed message with the Department of Planning & Development Services Code Compliance Division's complaint line.
858-694-2705 and email: PDS.CodeCompliance@sdcounty.ca.gov
Deceased Animal Disposal
If you have deceased animals on your property, it is your responsibility to remove them within 24 to 48 hours. For safety and health reasons animals must be buried,
Members of the public requiring removal of dead animals can call the County’s Department of Animal Services Emergency Dispatch at (619) 236-2341. Dispatchers will ask for the location of the animal, the type of animal, and number of animals to be removed.
For information on disposal services, cremation, and landfills accepting deceased animals, contact Solid Waste Local Enforcement Agency, (858) 495-5810.
For commercial livestock losses contact the County Veterinarian at (858) 694-2888.