How to Clean Your Floors and Remove Water Stains After a Major Storm

Spoiler alert: The first 48 hours are critical.

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Hurricane season reminds us to consider the risk of flooding and damage to our homes, and those of us who live far from Hurricane Alley are not off the hook. Nearly all homes are subject to water damage, whether it's caused by the occasional frog-strangling storm or a disastrous water-pipe burst.

If your home is beset by water damage, the most important thing is to get rid of mold and stains. The CDC recommends discarding items you can't clean or dry quickly such as mattresses, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and paper products.

Carpeting and carpet padding should also go, but may be hard to remove after a storm, and wood flooring even more so. Here our experts share recommended natural cleaning processes and chemical methods for tackling water damage to wood floors and carpets.

The First 48 Hours

After a storm or water-damaging event, "The first thing you want to do is ensure your home is safe enough to stay in following the storm," advises Ariel Rothbard, TaskRabbit's Lifestyle Trend Expert. "Depending on the level of damage, you may need to bring in an expert to assess the safety of your space, as well as to support the cleanup process."

"Once you've determined your home is safe, you'll want to clean up and dry your home quickly after the storm or flood ends, ideally within a 24-to-48-hour window," says Rothbard. "Ensuring your home is dried out within 1 to 2 days maximum is critical in lowering the risk of long-lasting damage and preventing harmful mold. You can do this by opening doors and windows to air out your house, and using fans to speed up the process."

"Removing debris outdoors is also critically important, as you want to ensure the area surrounding your home is safe and that there's nothing blocking any entrances or exits, which could be a fire hazard," says Rothbard. "This can be pretty daunting, and it can be extremely helpful to lean on family, friends, or community members to support the cleanup."

Mold Intervention

Mold caused by water damage is not your friend, and can cause serious damage to your home and everyone in it. It's important to determine if a mold problem is something you can handle or if you need to call in the pros.

For a quick intervention if you see mold starting to grow on the walls shortly after a storm: 1) Mix a solution of one part bleach to three parts hot water, 2) Wear protective gear such as rubber gloves, goggles, and a mask, and 3) Scrub the affected area with a soft brush until all signs of mold have disappeared.

Removing Water Stains from Wood Floors

When it comes to removing water stains from a wood floor, look no further than your pantry or refrigerator condiment section for an effective remedy: mayonnaise. "Oil—a key ingredient in mayonnaise—will seep into wood, dislodge the water, and act as a finish," explains Rothbard. "Mixing equal parts vinegar and olive oil is another option. Whichever you use, you'll want to apply the oil to the water stain using a dry cloth and gently wipe the area until the water stain starts to lift."

Another home expert recommends steel wool for cleaning water-damaged wood floors. "Get the finest-grade steel wool that you possibly can because you don't want to scratch the floor," says Jen Stark, founder of Happy DIY Home, a leading gardening and home improvement blog. "Gently rub lemon oil into the wood using the steel wool, and make sure you work in the direction of the grain," she continues. "Work slowly so you don't go beyond the stain and start stripping away the finish."

Stark also recommends renting a hot air dryer to take care of your floor's water stains. "Use the hot air dryer and point it in the direction of the water stain on the floor," she says. "Turn it on a low setting and periodically move it around the stain. Doing so will help dry it without getting hot enough to damage the finish."

Removing Water Stains from Carpets

If you're looking to remove water stains from carpeting, Rothbard recommends the tried-and-true method of using vinegar as a cleaning agent. "Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a bowl and, using a cloth rag, gently apply the mixture to the water stains on your carpet by pressing down repeatedly until the stains start to lift," he says.

Alternatively, use classic carpet detergent to bring your water-damaged carpet back to life. "I find the most effective way to use this agent is to invest in a carpet-cleaning vacuum, which you can find at many popular retailers and hardware stores for a moderate price," says Rothbard. "They're also very easy to use, but if you decide to use your hands, mix one part detergent to 10 parts water in a bucket, and gently scrub the carpet with this mixture using a cloth rag or soft brush. If you choose to explore this route, just make sure you're wearing rubber gloves to protect yourself."

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