Whenever a disaster occurs, maintaining good hygiene and sanitation can be a challenge. Since many disease-causing organisms thrive and spread under conditions where there is flooding, fire, or a lack of safe drinking water, it's important to take steps to protect your family's health and safety.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most important thing that individuals can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness is to wash their hands. Proper handwashing consists of the following steps:
While hand sanitizers can help kill germs, they are not as effective as handwashing at removing dirt and soil. It's best to wash your hands first with soap and water and then use a hand sanitizer.
When surfaces in homes are exposed to flood waters, fire, or other potentially harmful residues, they need to be properly cleaned and sanitized. To avoid pushing dirt or bacteria further into your home, always start the cleaning process where food is prepared and work outward into the rest of the home.
Surfaces should first be rinsed to remove visible dirt residue, then washed with a mixture of hot water and detergent. After cleaning, rinse the surface with clean, potable water and allow to dry. Sanitizing can be accomplished using a bleach/water mixture or other sanitizing agent specifically formulated to kill germs and bacteria. If using a bleach/water mixture, mix one capful fresh 5.25% household bleach per gallon of water, or add bleach until the chlorine concentration reaches 50 - 100 ppm.
Use care when cleaning specialty surfaces in your home such as granite countertops. These types of surfaces need to be cleaned and sanitized according to the manufacturer's instructions to avoid damaging the material.
Some products and materials in our homes simply can't be cleaned sufficiently to make them safe. For example, household furnishings such as mattresses that have been in contact with flood waters may be contaminated with mold or bacteria, so it's best to throw them out. Water-damaged furnishings such as carpets, stuffed toys and upholstered furniture should also be discarded unless they can be restored through steam cleaning or hot water washing and thorough drying.
Dishes and cookware that have been contaminated may be able to be cleaned and sanitized if they are made from heat-resistant materials. Wash the item in hot soapy water, rinse with potable water and then immerse the item in hot water that is at least 171 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 seconds. If a potable water supply has been restored to your home, you can also use the dishwasher's sanitizing cycle if the unit is certified to NSF/ANSI 184 – Residential Dishwashers.