Advice for In-Home Cleanup of Sewage Spills and Flooding

Advice for In-Home Cleanup of Sewage Spills and Flooding

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The first priority when dealing with the aftermath of flooding or a large sewage backup is your customer’s safety. There is an important distinction between small backups due to a clogged pipe versus widespread flooding. Although the first impulse may be to start cleaning, you need to protect yourself from potential hazards. There are companies that specialize in cleaning and sanitizing after backups in homes that may be best for many property owners.   

In addition, recommend they contact their insurance company prior to beginning cleanup to determine if the policy has any coverage, and the corresponding requirements. If there was flooding and there is standing water/wastewater on the floor, the gas and electricity should be shut off. Also, the building’s structure needs to be evaluated to determine if it is safe, including evaluating the foundation, walls, electrical system and drinking water supply. 

Thorough cleaning of indoor sewage spills is necessary to protect people — especially small children — harmful bacteria and viruses. Cleanup should begin as soon as possible to reduce the risk of exposure to sewage. If there is standing water, it should be pumped out slowly. The following tips comprise a guide you can give to your customers to help with proper spill cleanup.   

  • Keep children and pets out of the area until cleanup has been completed.
  • Have a first-aid kit handy for minor injuries that may occur while cleaning.
  • Wear rubber gloves and boots along with a mask or goggles.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and launder clothes separately after completing the cleanup.
  • If there is standing water, use pails or pumps, then vacuum with a wet-dry shop vacuum cleaner. This water should not enter the septic system.
  • Shovel out mud and silt before it dries, and use a hose if necessary. (This water and debris should not enter the septic system either.)
  • Remove all furniture, loose rugs and so on from the area.
  • Saturated wall-to-wall carpeting (and the pad) usually cannot be adequately cleaned. They should be removed, wrapped in plastic and taken to a transfer station or sanitary landfill. If you decide to keep the carpeting, hire a licensed carpet cleaning company to steam clean and disinfect the carpet.   
  • All hard surfaces, such as linoleum, hardwood floors, concrete, wood moldings, wood, metal furniture, and so on, should be thoroughly cleaned with hot water and a mild detergent (dish detergent), and then rinsed with a bleach solution by mixing ½ cup of liquid household bleach to 1 gallon of water. Let the surface air-dry.
  • Upholstered furniture, loose rugs, drapery and so on should be professionally cleaned or discarded. Notify the cleaner of the problem.
  • Remove and replace plaster, drywall and lath that have been saturated and are soft to the touch. If the surface has been wetted, clean as you would a hard surface but do not saturate the plaster.
  • If your well was inundated with floodwater, it likely will need to be disinfected. Find more information here:

About the author: Sara Heger, Ph.D., is an engineer, researcher and instructor in the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program in the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota. She presents at many local and national training events regarding the design, installation, and management of septic systems and related research. Heger is education chair of the Minnesota Onsite Wastewater Association and the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association, and she serves on the NSF International Committee on Wastewater Treatment Systems. Ask Heger questions about septic system maintenance and operation by sending an email to


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