woman plugging nose from mold odorUh oh! Just as you’re walking into your basement one day, you smell a foul smell and hear the telltale squelch of your footsteps that indicate a flood. Worse yet, you realize that the water flooding your home is sewage water! This unpleasant experience is unfortunately quite common as people deal with old plumbing infrastructure or natural disasters that disrupt the workings of your plumbing system.

Dealing with a black water or sewage spill in your home can be an incredibly daunting and nasty experience. Whether it’s due to a plumbing issue, a sewer backup, or a natural disaster, cleaning up such a mess requires careful handling and prompt action to ensure your safety and prevent further damage to your home. Below, we’ll walk you through how to safely address and clean up a sewage spill in your home.

What is Black Water?

Broken Sewage PipeBlack water, aka sewage water, is contaminated water that contains bacteria, fecal material, viruses, and other organisms that may cause disease. Black water typically ends up in your home from a clogged toilet, backed-up sewage pipe, or a flood.

Black water is extremely dangerous to deal with because just a few drops can contain millions of microorganisms that are capable of causing a host of diseases ranging from hepatitis to skin infections.  It can also carry fungal spores that can lead to severe mold infestations.  Black water also emits gasses that are poisonous to humans, making cleanup a tricky task.

Safety First

Before starting a DIY cleanup project or calling in the professionals, prioritize your safety and take the necessary precautions:

1. Evacuate the home: Black water poses a number of health risks if one comes into contact. Evacuate all people and pets from your home until the clean-up project is complete and it is confirmed to be safe to return.

2. Increase ventilation: Open windows and doors to increase airflow and reduce the concentration of foul odors and harmful gases.

3. Turn off utilities: If the spill is large, contact your utility company and ask them to shut off the gas, electricity, and water supply to your home. If the spill is small and it is safe to do so, turn off the power and water supply yourself. Be sure that the power distribution panel and main water valve are well above the water level if you plan on doing this yourself!

4. Wear protective gear: If you plan on attempting a DIY clean up project, protecting yourself while doing the job is essential. Wear protective clothing such as rubber gloves, boots, goggles, and a face mask to prevent direct contact with contaminated water and harmful pathogens. For the face mask, a N95 or a HEPA respirator mask is your best bet.

5. Rescue any unaffected items: Before you start cleaning, move any dry, uncontaminated items away from the affected area.

6. Notify your insurance company: Reaching out to your insurance company early on helps with the claims process. Before you contact them or start your clean-up job, be sure to take photos of the spill as well as the damaged sections of your home and affected personal belongings, as you will need these for your claim. When you reach out, let them know that your home has been affected by sewage water and provide the photos as proof.

Sewage RestorationSteps for Cleanup

If the affected area is small and you’ve determined that you feel comfortable handling the cleanup yourself, you should start the cleanup process as quickly as possible. In the case of a major spill, calling restoration professionals is highly recommended. They have the equipment and know-how to quickly and safely clean up spilled sewage water. However, if you do decide to move forward yourself, you must know exactly how to tackle the problem. Here are the steps you will need to follow for your clean-up project:

1.  Put on your personal protection gear: Protecting yourself is of the utmost importance when dealing with contaminated wastewater.

2. Assess the Situation: Determine the extent of the spill and identify the source of the problem. If the cause is a burst pipe or sewage backup, try to stop the flow of water by shutting off the main water supply.

3. Separate the affected area from other parts of the home: close the doors between the contaminated area and other rooms in the home to prevent tracking contaminated water and debris into unaffected rooms. It’s also easy for airborne sewage-contaminated dust to blow into other spaces – a door makes a good barrier to prevent this.

4. Remove Standing Water: Using a wet vacuum for smaller spills or a pump for larger spills, remove as much standing water as possible. Dispose of the water properly in accordance with local regulations for hazardous waste.

5. Clean up remaining debris: After removing the standing water, shovel the remaining debris into strong plastic garbage bags and dispose of them right away.

6. Move affected items: For items in the affected area that have NOT been soaked with contaminated water, move them to an area with a floor that can be easily sanitized afterward (like tile or concrete). These items will still need to be thoroughly cleaned once the immediate spill has been fixed.

5. Dispose of Contaminated Items: Immediately dispose of heavily contaminated porous materials such as carpets, upholstered furniture, flooring, wall paneling, baseboards, and insulation that cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.

repair floor after flood with mask and gloves m16. Clean and Disinfect: First, scrub all hard surfaces (walls, floors, furniture) with a solution of bleach and water (1 cup of bleach per gallon of water) or a commercial disinfectant approved for sewage cleanup. Rinse thoroughly with clean water. Then, follow this with an additional cleaning using household detergent and water and rinse again. Pay extra attention to the floors, as it has had the most contact with the contaminated water.

Note: do not use ammonia when cleaning. Mixing ammonia and bleach can create toxic vapors.

7. Dry and Dehumidify: Open windows if the weather is dry and sunny, and use fans and dehumidifiers to thoroughly dry the area. Proper drying within 24-48 hours of the incident helps prevent mold growth, which can occur rapidly in damp environments.

After Cleanup

1. Check for Repairs: Assess any structural damage and arrange for repairs. Ensure that the plumbing or sewer issue is resolved to prevent future spills.

2. Wash all affected items: this includes furniture and appliances and any other item touched by the contaminated water. Use antibacterial cleaning products to clean them, rinse well with clean water, and if possible, take them outside to dry in the sunlight and fresh air. For upholstered furniture, rugs, or carpets that were only slightly affected by the contaminated water, they can be taken to a professional to be cleaned. For clothes or other washable fabrics, add a small amount of bleach to each laundry load to ensure proper disinfection.

3. Ensure food and water safety: Use only bottled or disinfected water until you are sure that your water supply is safe. If food has come into contact with contaminated water in any way, discard the food immediately. This includes fridges and freezers that have taken in contaminated water. If the power in your home was out long enough for the food in the fridge or freezer to thaw, discard this food as well.

2. Inspect the affected area for mold: a flood increases the moisture in a space and makes it easier for mold to thrive. In the days, weeks, and months following the incident, be sure to monitor the area for mold. If mold is found, check out our Guide to Clean up Mold

Flowie Water Flow Sensor

2. Professional Inspection: Consider having a professional inspection to ensure the area is completely clean and safe for habitation. Having a professional visit your home to check the electrical and plumbing systems can also be beneficial.

3. Take Preventive Measures: Take steps to prevent future sewage backups, such as regular inspections, maintenance of plumbing systems, and installation of backflow prevention devices.

9. Monitor Health: Monitor yourself and others for any signs of illness or discomfort following exposure to sewage. Seek immediate medical attention if any symptoms arise.

Call a Restoration Professional

You are always better off calling a professional restoration company when your home has been affected by black water due to the risk of bacteria and illness. A professional companies help is absolutely necessary in these scenarios:

  1. A large portion of your home has been affected. If the spill is greater than just one room, call in the professionals.
  2. The contaminated water has been sitting in your home for over 24 hours. This applies also if the water has been present in your home for an unknown amount of time.
  3. The spill is the result of a sewer of septic tank backup
  4. The contaminated water has come in contact with your home’s AC system (or if there is any possibility that it has)
  5. You or a family member has health concerns that may be aggravated by the contaminated water.

When you have a black water issue that is too big to tackle on your own, Certified Restoration is here to help. We are available 24/7 to respond to a black water spill in your home. We have the equipment and expertise to quickly and safely clean up contaminated water and get your home back to normal in no time. Our professionals do the job right, providing peace of mind that your home is clean and moisture-free.

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Dealing with a black water or sewage spill is undoubtedly a challenging task that requires caution, proper equipment, and we strongly suggest professional assistance. Remember that if you decide to attempt this task on your own, prioritize safety throughout the cleanup process. Don’t hesitate to seek expert help to ensure the thorough and safe restoration of your home if you feel that the job is too big or overwhelming.