Sanitizing boots post-flood
May 28, 2015 10:18 AM   Subscribe

I have a pair of boots that I like (thanks to AskMe). They recently weathered a flood in which I had the singular pleasure of watching porto-potties float by like boats. I have zero regrets about replacing them if that's the best option, but would rather not do that if I can get them clean inside and out. So I'm asking for the best way to do that, or if there is a good way at all.
posted by adamrice to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Were they fully submerged in floodwater? I vote toss. Floodwater is nasty, disgusting business.
posted by backwards compatible at 10:34 AM on May 28, 2015

Is it sunny and warm now? Put them out in the sun to dry them thoroughly. Or set them up by a fan in such a way that air is blowing inside them until they're dry. Improvise some kind of frame out of metal coat hangers maybe to keep them open to the air flow. If they have laces remove. You might also want to spray some sanitizing spray inside them, maybe something like this. If they're leather then use some leather treatment on the outside, neatsfoot oil or something like that.
posted by mareli at 10:40 AM on May 28, 2015

Here's some info that suggests using a fan and stuffing shoes with tissue (but not drying in the sun, at least if it's leather).
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:45 AM on May 28, 2015

Response by poster: They were fully submerged, and yes, the floodwater was nasty.

I'm not concerned about getting them dry—I know how to do that. I'm concerned with getting them clean enough that I don't need to wear latex gloves (and socks) every time I put them on.
posted by adamrice at 10:50 AM on May 28, 2015

What are they made of? And fwiw, sunlight really is at least somewhat of a disinfectant.
posted by mskyle at 11:09 AM on May 28, 2015

What's your insurance situation? My first solution would be to replace them, especially if your claims are being processed sympathetically (I replaced several pairs of shoes after a mold disaster, thanks to USAA renters insurance).

After that, I'd make a bleach solution with as little bleach as you can get away with (bleach is the best/only option for removing fecal pathogens up to and including norovirus), swab every affected surface, and follow with water or whatever you'd normally use to spot clean or polish.
posted by witchen at 11:19 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

If these were mine, I would try washing them in a washing machine on gentle with bleach in the water and seeing what happened, because I would want to have a lot of water involved to completely saturate/rinse the linings of the shoes. Otherwise I'd be thinking about how whenever I sweated and the shoes got damp, the parts of the interior lining that had been saturated with flood water and then air dried would be getting redampened and leaking yuck onto my feet. Worst thing that would happen is that you still need to replace them.
posted by Frowner at 11:23 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, if you're. the type that can get over the "ewww, toilet water" mental factor, maybe try this shockwave stuff or available equivalent which says it works on porous things, mix up a bucket using the dilution on the label, WEAR GLOVES, soak per instructions, lots of squishing the disenfectant solution through the foamy bits, scrub, rinse and dry thouroughly, recondition the leather if applicable. Then decide if you think they're gross.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:29 AM on May 28, 2015

With absorbent fabrics, it's really hard to be assured that they are completely clean without treating them so harshly as to damage them beyond utility. Dirt and muck can also really reduce the effectiveness of cleaning agents.

Probably the best way to ensure a sterile kill is wet heat, autoclaving. Failing that there, are a bunch of chemical solutions that can be used listed here. The simplest is bleach, at about a 1:9 dilution. Rinse first to remove as much dirt as you can. Soak for 20 to 30 minutes to sterilize. Even then, with a sculpted fabric boot, it would be hard to be certain that they're perfectly safe.

That treatment is really harsh, and your boots will likely be damaged. In my world when we get exposed to contaminants like you experienced, SOP is simply to chuck the boots. There's little upside to trying to treat them.
posted by bonehead at 11:41 AM on May 28, 2015

sunlight really is at least somewhat of a disinfectant.

Really not recommended for sterilizing porous surfaces. UV is fine for hard surfaces, but a bad idea for fabrics.
posted by bonehead at 11:43 AM on May 28, 2015

I vote bin. Sorry, you would have to boil wash them before I'd go near them, and even then I would feel icky. It's the insoles I'd be worried about - you could get the uppers clean but anything spongy or with padding is going to be saturated with poo water, which is gross.

FWIW when our town flooded, all contaminated textiles had to be disposed of: carpets, rugs, upholstery, curtains, you name it. I would include boots in with that.
posted by tinkletown at 12:30 PM on May 28, 2015

If you're willing to replace them, I'd 2nd running them through the washer but I'd use a tbsp. of anti-bacterial soap and a few drops of tea tree oil . I'd be afraid the bleach would damage the dye on your boots. If they came out okay, I'd use liquid leather or some kind of conditioner on them after they thoroughly dried.
posted by stray thoughts at 12:33 PM on May 28, 2015

Check with your insurance company. After this flood, my insurance company told me to throw out anything that got wet.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:51 PM on May 28, 2015

If those were my favourite boots, then before I chucked them I'd dry them out completely (which would probably take about a week), then give them an overnight soak in a bucket full of hot water and nappy sanitiser, then dry them out again, then soak them overnight in clean water, then dry them out again, then warm them and treat all the leather with dubbin to help it recover from the water insult.

The organisms you're trying to kill will have ended up in every little pore in the boots where water could carry them, so you want your antimicrobial treatment getting into every one of those places as well; the way to accomplish that is to make sure there's no existing water in there already to get in the way.

Boots are not sterile things at the best of times, and yet by and large they don't manage to make us sick. The main precaution I'd personally take to minimise disease risk from boots that had been exposed to sewage: avoid licking them.
posted by flabdablet at 11:40 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

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