How to Salvage Furniture After Flooding

A woman cleaning wooden furniture
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Whether flooding occurs because of a seasonal spring thaw or is the result of an unexpected storm event, it can devastate your home and badly damage or destroy your possessions. In some cases, you can anticipate a flood and minimize damage to possessions, but in the case of a hurricane or other storm event, there is little time to do anything but get yourself and your family to safety. In the aftermath of flooding when you return to your home, determining what, if anything, can be salvaged is a daunting task.

 

Next, to the home itself, the next most valuable thing you own is likely the furniture inside, the value of which can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars. However, it may still be possible to rescue some of your furniture. If your possessions weren't insured, you might well be motivated to salvage as much of your furniture as possible. 

Before You Return to Your Home After a Flood

Post flooding, before you do anything else, make sure it is safe to re-enter your home and that you are dressed appropriately. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has guidelines regarding early steps to take in flood cleanup. The dangers of allergens and micro-organisms are very real when cleaning up a flood-damaged home, so make sure to follow recommended safety procedures regarding protective clothing and cleaning solutions. 

General Guidelines

It is best to survey and evaluate the damage as quickly as possible, as time is of the essence.

Bring a camera along to photograph everything, because you will need to file a report for insurance.

  • When it is safe to do so, you must inspect your furniture and separate what is salvageable from what cannot be saved. Be aware that water damage may not be restricted to furniture that has been sitting in water. Excessive moisture in the air can also cause damage to furniture.
  • To determine whether a piece of furniture is worth saving, you must evaluate the extent of the damage. Take into account the cost of the item in relation to the cost of having it restored. Also, take into account its sentimental value to you; you may want to keep and repair a family heirloom despite the damage.
  • Set aside furniture that is beyond repair for evaluation of insurance claims. Upholstered furniture that has been sitting in water for too long may be hard or impossible to salvage, as water can encourage the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew, all of which pose severe health hazards. Wood furniture that has become warped may also be difficult to save.
  • Move furniture to a dry area to facilitate drying. If it is too heavy to move, you should place aluminum foil or wood blocks under the legs to keep it separated from a damp carpet.

Upholstered Furniture

Upholstered furniture with fabric coverings or fabric cushions can sometimes be salvaged, but will more often be a total loss, especially if it was saturated with water. 

If there was only slight flooding and the furniture did not sit in water for too long, begin by separating upholstery fabrics and other colored items to prevent or stop any chance of color bleeding.

Dry it completely as soon as possible to prevent mold and mildew from forming, which is a likely occurrence if more than 20 percent of the fabric is wet. 

Unfortunately, by its very nature, it is easy for upholstered furniture to absorb contaminants from flood waters. Again, before investing a lot of money in it for restoration, get a cost estimate to evaluate if it is worth saving. In most cases, flood-soaked upholstered furniture should be thrown away unless it is an antique or very valuable.

If you do decide to keep your upholstered furniture, it is best to have it cleaned only by a professional—a process that can be fairly expensive, since the cleaning may involve stripping the furniture piece down to its frame. Even the springs and webbing may have to be replaced, depending on the extent of water damage.

Mattresses

Mattresses present the same problem as upholstered furniture—the fabric absorbs moisture and fosters the growth of mildew and bacteria. Given the health issues of mold and bacteria in a wet mattress, some experts recommend discarding any mattress that has experienced flood damage of any kind. However, if the mattress was exposed to water for only a short time and if the flood water was clean, it may be possible to salvage it. You can do so by cleaning the surface and putting the mattress out in the sun to thoroughly dry. Keep the wet side up to dry as quickly and completely as possible.

Resting the mattress on blocks to keep it suspended above the ground will help facilitate drying. A fan can also help speed up the drying process. If you notice any musty odor, it is an indication of mildew. Mildewed mattresses must be handled by a professional to sanitize it properly. If the odor persists after cleaning, the mattress should be discarded.

Unfortunately, if your mattress or boxspring has been submerged or has been sitting in water for a long time, there is no option but to replace it. Mold growth is inevitable on a soggy mattress, and there is also the risk that the mattress has absorbed contaminants that are hazardous to your health.

Wood Furniture

Wood furniture may fare better after a flood, especially if it hasn't been sitting in water for too long. Although furniture made from manufactured products such as plywood or MDF are probably total losses, it is usually possible to restore solid wood furniture unless it has suffered severe damage. Your solid wood furniture will need to be cleaned and dried at the very least. If it has been exposed to water for a long period, the joints or veneers may have to be re-glued.

With solid wood furniture, the first step is to clean and dry it so that you may be better able to assess the damage. Moisture in wood furniture can also encourage fungus and mold growth, so drying it is crucial.

  • For solid wood furniture that was lightly damaged, remove excess moisture by blotting or wiping the wood dry. White mildew spots may be cleaned with turpentine or a mixture consisting of equal parts household ammonia and water. Wipe dry at once.  Lightly damaged veneers can be glued back on. Cream wood restorers with lanolin will help restore the finish on wood furniture.
  • For heavily damaged wood furniture that was exposed to water for a longer time, expedite drying by removing all parts that can be easily disassembled, including back panels, drawers, and doors. Do not try to force the parts if they are sticking—you can take them apart later when the furniture has dried somewhat, and the wood has begun shrinking.

Hose off the mud and dirt and dry the furniture in a ventilated place away from the sun. Avoid direct sunlight, as this may cause the wood to warp. Be aware that wood furniture can take weeks or even months to dry out completely. Only when the wood furniture is completely dry can you begin to repair and refinish.