After a flood caused by fire hoses, what can be kept? What can't?
August 10, 2013 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Firefighters put out a fire 2 floors above my apartment this week. Thankfully the fire didn't spread but my apartment suffered some water damage from the fire hoses. The water was smelly and brown, and got on some possessions. What can be cleaned and kept? What should be thrown out?

Affected possessions:

Towels-- I used about 6 towels to try to contain dripping water in different rooms. These towels are now brown and smelly, but the smell isn't sewage. My instinct is to throw out and buy new. I don't have a washer or dryer so if the answer is 'run through washer/dryer several times' it's probably cheaper just to buy new ones.

Various pots/pans which were drying on a dish rack, I didn't have time to move them before the water started- My instinct is to wash in weak bleach solution. I don't have a dishwasher if that's relevant.

Plates on dryer rack (stoneware) - same as pots/pans?

Plastics on dryer rack (spatulas, colander, etc.) - really not sure about these, I know plastic is more porous than metal/stoneware.

Wooden spoons- I probably should throw these out?

Toaster - not sure about this, I'm not really sure how to clean a toaster, it's not like I can throw it in a bucket of bleach

Food processor- plastic, I would rather keep this if possible but obviously would throw out if that wasn't going to be safe

I have renters' insurance but my deductible is $250 so don't plan on filing a claim. I doubt the total cost to replace the damaged stuff would be over that amount, and I don't want my rate to go up, which I would guess it would if I filed a claim. I would be willing to spend up to that amount to replace my stuff, but the less I have to spend (and the less I have to put in a landfill) the better.

(I am extremely grateful that the fire was contained quickly, no one was hurt, etc. I know how much worse it could have been and I know that a couple wet things is pretty much a best-case-scenario for there having been a fire directly above my apartment.)
posted by matcha action to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Plates and plastics: keep and wash well. Toaster and wooden spoons are both cheap enough that I wouldn't hesitate to replace. Toaster replacement is a good time to consider whether a toaster oven is a better fit for your current living and eating habits.

Try washing the towels once, and then decide.

Keep any eye out for signs of water intrusion over the next months: there may be more hiding in the structure and seeping around.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:13 AM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am a bit germaphobic where food items are concerned, so plates, plastics and pans I'd keep but wash well. I'd probably soak them in a dilute bleach/water mix then wash like normal. Wooden items I'd chuck, they are cheap enough to replace and should be replaced pretty often anyway.

Towels I'd try washing once on a good hot wash, I'd use some oxyclean in the wash or soak them in it before washing depending on the stains. If they don't clean up I'd get new.

Toaster I would ditch just because water can get in them so easy and who knows what the electrics look like.

Food processor to me would depend how wet it got. Just the outside plastic parts got wet but nothing got in the electrics then I would wash well like the plates etc. If the electrical components got wet too I'd be looking at replacing it. If it didn't get too wet just a little damp and money is an issue you could maybe dry it out and give it a trial run on an electrical circuit with a safety trip switch just to see if it works, I'd be worried about wires etc rusting though and causing problems later. I am not an electrics expert though so others might have a better idea on this.
posted by wwax at 9:48 AM on August 10, 2013

Best answer: Keep in mind the brown of the water is probably dust and crud from inside the walls made of large particles that will not leach into your items, especially if they didn't get a chance to soak. Any idea what your building construction is like or its age?

For most everything, washing well, possibly in a diluted bleach solution, is the most you need to do. Try running the towels through the laundry once (heavy cycle if possible) and if they're still smelly, replace them.

Toasters are pretty simple electronically, as are food processors, and unless they were running when the water came through, enough of the circuitry was unenergized that they should be fine. Wash any part that comes in contact with food, and make sure you allow plenty of drying time before testing the electronics. Motors are enclosed, and toasters are pretty much wires with resistiveness to heat up. If these items work, the electronics are safe to continue using.

If it makes any difference, I am an electrical engineer who has taken apart more than her fair share of kitchen appliances.
posted by bookdragoness at 9:56 AM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

For the electric stuff-I have found washing well and drying in front of a fan very effective for lots of doused electronic gear. Dissassemble as far as you can without tools, wash/soak thoroughly and then put it out in the sun in front of fan if you can (the fan is more important than the sun). Frequently (every 20 mins or so) rotate and shake out the item to drain the item as good as you can. I have brought back air conditioners, keyboards, microwaves (had to use the garden hose on that one), vacuums and numerous small things back from a soaking this way (some in salt water). Drying fast is how you stop rust and of course if it doesn't work right away after the first try just throw it away.

Also, air out the towels on a line in the sun after washing will get rid of any odors better than any chemical treatment will in my experience.
posted by bartonlong at 9:58 AM on August 10, 2013

Best answer: The water is brown because pretty much everything oxidizes as it ages, and it's usually brown. Looks icky, probably not especially nasty. Clean what you can and make yourself feel better using weak bleach. Various pots/pans, Plates, Plastics on dryer rack (spatulas, colander, etc.), Wooden spoons, will all be fine if washed, especially if washed with bleach. Wood seems to not hold bacteria. But wooden spoons are cheap, so if you're squicked out, get new ones.

Towels-- Take to laundromat, wash with some bleach - they'll get faded but will probably clean up well. If they're too stained, donate to an animal shelter.

Toaster - They usually have a crumb tray underneath - might help you figure out just how wet it got.

Food processor-
Clean all the parts well, in the mild bleach batch. Allow the motorized part to dry for a week or so, preferably in a sunny warm spot. Then test to see if it's okay.

I have renters' insurance but my deductible is $250. This should not be your expense. Your landlord should cover any expenses of replacement and cleaning. IANAL. Check the phone book for the tenant's rights or legal aid office in your area, and check with them.
posted by theora55 at 10:04 AM on August 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would check with your tenant's rights association - find out if any of this is covered by your landlord, although I doubt it. Also, what are they doing to clean up your unit? I am concerned about mould - have they put in blowers and hepa filters and so on? Did they provide mould prevention services? I would talk to the tenancy association and perhaps can an indoor air quality inspector from your local health board.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:19 AM on August 10, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the advice so far, it is all extremely helpful.

Building is brick (or at least the facade is), built in I believe the late 1930s. I don't know anything beyond that.

Unfortunately I don't have any kind of outdoor space so line-drying the towels is not a possibility. I did get some oxyclean though and will prewash with that, and wash and dry on hot as suggested before I (if that doesn't work) get rid of them.

Theora55- Thank you for the suggestion to donate them to an animal shelter if they are too stained-- I wouldn't have thought of that and it's a great idea.

Chaussette- As of now they are doing nothing to clean up the unit; they say they are waiting until it dries out. The super did already come by with an insurance adjuster from the building's insurance. I am worried about them doing an inadequate repair job (they usually do the bare minimum or less) and worried about mold in the walls/ceiling but I am not sure how to address that preemptively. Last time there was a flood from the upstairs apartment (on a much smaller scale) they literally just painted over it the first time and it wasn't until it flooded again that they actually fixed the issue. I will try to call a tenant's rights organization on Monday.
posted by matcha action at 11:42 AM on August 10, 2013

Toaster and food processor should be fine. Make sure they dry out thoroughly before you plug them back in.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:49 PM on August 10, 2013

I've been through this as well, and it rained brown water in our basement for a good 24 hours after the firefighters left.

- Clothes that could be washed were kept. If they smell of smoke, run them through the wash with a half a cap of Lysol liquid.

- Anything non porous was fine. Rinse, wash and then soak for a few minutes in dilute bleach water and then let air dry. If the stains are gone, you're good. (Even if they aren't, you are probably still good.)

- Anything porous was tossed. We had to dump a lot of books.

What I would recommend is to ventilate until everything appears dry (fans in windows blowing out), and then run some dehumidifiers 24x7 until they stop producing. It would also help to not run the AC, or even run the heat a little bit, to keep the temperature around 80 if possible. Nothing dehumidifies like warm, dry air. It will suck the moisture right out of everything. This will be fairly energy intensive, but you'll be amazed at how much moisture you get out of the building.
posted by gjc at 1:41 PM on August 10, 2013

Best answer: Definitely get a copy of the Fire Incident Report [pdf] to keep for your records. I don't know if this fire was investigated by a Fire Marshal. It will say if it was in the Incident Report. If it was, get a copy of the Fire Marshal Investigation Report.

As of now they are doing nothing to clean up the unit; they say they are waiting until it dries out.

This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. As someone pointed out above, it will not dry out without heavy duty fans going 24 hours a day, and even then, portions of the walls and floors will need to be removed to ascertain how much water damage there has been.

I am not sure how to address that preemptively.

Here is one idea. Say to the super:

"Hey, I know you had the insurance adjuster in here and you are going through your process, but I am concerned about the water damage to the walls and ceilings, like maybe they are not safe in case the fire department had to respond here for another fire."

"I spoke to the officer in charge of [local ladder company] and he told me to contact him to arrange an inspection if I was still concerned after speaking with you. He said an engine or a ladder company is assigned to conduct building inspections in our neighborhood every weekday between 10am-4pm and he could put my apt on the list."

You said the landlord usually does the minimum necessary, so he or she is probably very familiar with dealing with the city bureaucracy.

I can imagine the super replying to you that they have been in contact with the Fire Department and everything is all set.

You would then say something like:

"Oh, yeah, not the office in Metro Tech, like I said, I am talking about the actual ladder company that conducts inspections. You know, when the fire truck parks in front of a building and the firefighters take measurements and notes about a buildings inside condition. You probably know all this, but the officer told me they are very concerned after a fire that procedures are followed to ensure structural integrity."

"How are we going to handle this? Are there carpenters coming this week to open up parts of my ceiling and walls to check for water damage or should I have the officer put my apt on the list for an inspection first?"

Feel free to PM me for other suggestions.
posted by mlis at 1:53 PM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

You need professional restoration experts to dry the walls within three days of the flooding if you want to avoid mold. You can look for "flood restoration" on Yelp. They knock out drywall and put in heaters and fans to dry things out. But if you don't do it within three days, then it's potentially a much bigger job because it can then involve mold.
posted by Dansaman at 10:50 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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