Water Damage: What to Salvage? What to Toss?

Water damage doesn’t have to be fatal. Here’s a guide to which items to keep and which to toss.

When it comes to mitigating water damage, every hour counts. Knowing what can — and can’t — be saved will speed cleanup and save money.

Salvage these water-damaged items

  • Concrete, cinder blocks, and plaster walls: Wash first with soap and clean water, then disinfect quickly with a bleach solution. (1 cup to 5 gallons water to clean and sanitize; 1 cup to 1 gallon water to remove mold.) Allow to air dry.
  • Linoleum and hardwood floors: These are salvageable if you can dry them quickly. Run high-powered fans.
  • Subflooring: Dry thoroughly to prevent warping. Remove floor covering and use fans to circulate air and mitigate water damage.
  • Drapes, linens, and clothes: Items that can’t be washed or dry-cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, should be air-dried in the sun and sprayed thoroughly with a disinfectant.

Toss these water-damaged items

  • Drywall, wallboard, and batt insulation: All hold water, so remove to prevent mold and decay.
  • HVAC ducts: Replace water-soaked, insulated ducts to prevent mold from spreading throughout the house.
  • Ceiling tile: Unless damage is minor, toss sodden soundproofing tiles.
  • Large rugs with foam backing: Wet backing often deteriorates and takes forever to dry. You may be able to save the rugs, but toss the pads.
  • De-laminated furniture: Soaked particleboard or pressed wafer board furniture probably is a lost cause: Re-glued laminate skins never look right.
  • Food and medicine: Anything that touched the water is unsafe. Throw out wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers.
  • Toys and play equipment: If they’re water-logged or you’re unable to disinfect them, throw them away.

Caroline Mayer is a former Washington Post reporter who specializes in consumer issues, most recently writing for AARP and other general-interest publications.