Natural Disaster Cleanup 101: Gear Checklist, Safety Rules, and Tips

Natural calamities like floods, hurricanes, landslides, and beyond always cause havoc where they occur, making cleanup an essential part of disaster response. It’s crucial to note that performing the cleaning after such an emergency is far from the regular chores you’re used to and can even be dangerous. We invite you to read this guide to familiarize yourself with the possible risks of disaster cleanup and useful tips to make it more efficient.

What Are the Risks Associated with Disaster Cleanup?

A couple looking at the consequences of a natural disaster

Disaster remediation and cleanup involve potential exposure to hazardous conditions, such as:

  • Contaminated floodwater
  • Downed electrical power lines
  • Mold
  • Tree-trimming
  • Debris removal
  • Power generators and carbon monoxide
  • Construction activities
  • Unsanitary conditions

Therefore, it’s vital for people engaged in post-disaster cleanup and recovery to be aware of these risks and take adequate safety precautions. If possible, it’s highly recommended to seek qualified assistance from disaster cleanup companies or specially trained volunteers.

Disaster Cleanup Safety Tips

Piles of hurricane debris in a residential area

It’s of utmost importance to prioritize safety when doing cleanup after a natural disaster. If, for some reason, you can’t avail of disaster cleanup services, use the following guidelines to ensure a smooth process:

1. Use Proper Gear

The first step to your safety during disaster cleanup implies equipping yourself with protective gear, such as:

  • Hard hat
  • Goggles
  • N95 mask (or a respirator with a higher protection level)
  • Heavy-duty work gloves
  • Waterproof boots with steel toe and insole 
  • At least 2 fire extinguishers (with UL rating of at least 10A)

If you’re working with noisy equipment, make sure you have protective headphones or earplugs.

For situations in which you have to be dealing with sewage, bring the following equipment:

  • Goggles
  • Rubber gloves
  • Rubber boots

2. Have Basic Cleaning Supplies at Hand

A wooden broom

We’ve created a general checklist of items you are likely to need during disaster cleanup. Keep in mind that an emergency-specific list of cleaning supplies can contain additional specialized equipment.

Make sure you have the following supplies at hand when dealing with the consequences of a natural calamity:

  • Heavy-duty trash bags
  • Detergent
  • Bleach
  • TSP (if allowed in your area)
  • Shop vac or canister vacuum
  • Sponges
  • Buckets
  • Rubber gloves
  • Mop
  • Broom
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Carpet knife

3. Know the Safety Rules

When doing disaster cleanup, you are likely to be exposed to an environment you’ve never experienced before. Thus, following the safety protocol is essential at all times. Here are some fundamental rules to keep in mind:

  • Don’t move heavy and bulky objects alone. To avoid injuries, avoid lifting heavy or large items alone - have other people help you. The weight distribution should be approximately 50 pounds per person.
  • Pace yourself. Performing cleanup after a natural disaster can be time- and energy-consuming, so make sure you have enough rest, prioritize the tasks properly, and get enough support from professionals as well as your friends and family. All these measures will help you avoid getting overwhelmed with this process.
  • Be cautious when using tools. Chances are that you would need to use a chainsaw or other tools to help you during cleanup. If so, read the instructions thoroughly and wear appropriate protective gear before you get started.
  • Perform cleanup only in suitable weather conditions. It’s best to avoid working in hot weather, as well as during rain and heavy snowfall. 
  • 4. Be Aware of the Cleaning Techniques

    There’s a wide array of disaster cleaning environments you may find yourself in, depending on the location of the area that suffered from an emergency, the type of natural calamity that happened, as well as other factors. Thus, there is no universal disaster cleanup technique that would match all those unique situations. That’s why it’s crucial to be informed about dealing with various types of damage.

    Water Damage

    An apartment in the aftermath of a flood

    Water damage that occurs due to a flood or in the aftermath of a fire is unsanitary and can be very dangerous, as items that haven't dried thoroughly can produce mold.

    Here’s how to address water damage:

    • Remove any water that remains by pumping it out and drying out waterlogged surfaces.
    • If there’s water in the basement, you have to pump it out gradually to avoid structural damage. Draining approximately 1/3 of water a day is an optimal solution to prevent the basement walls from collapsing.
    • If drywall and insulation had contact with floodwater, remove them.
    • Dry soft items outdoors in the sunlight, if possible.
    • Get rid of the items that absorb water to the point that they can’t be cleaned or disinfected. These often include toys, mattresses, and cosmetics.
    • Try to remove vinyl floor coverings and tile to allow the substructures underneath them to dry.
    • Use fans and keep the windows open to speed up the drying process. Another option is to keep the windows shut and use dehumidifiers.
    • If there’s any mold that has formed, clean it with a 1:1 mix of bleach and water while keeping the windows open and wearing protective equipment.

    Tackling the consequences of water damage can take weeks or even months, so be patient and thorough to ensure the property’s structural elements are fully dry before replacing elements like drywall, floor coverings, and carpets.

    Smoke Damage

    Signs of smoke damage on the walls and ceiling

    Smoke odors and soot, present after a property suffers from a fire, are difficult to remove and should be handled by professionals. Yet, there are some steps you can take to eliminate the traces of fire at home. Here are some useful tips:

    • Don’t touch soot, as it smears easily and will leave black stains everywhere.
    • If you have a shop vacuum at hand, remove soot with it carefully, not letting the nozzle touch the surface you are cleaning.
    • Use ventilation to remove smoke odors. Keep the windows open and run fans, especially in insulated areas. 
    • Hot soapy water does a great job of removing smoke-related odors and dirt from hard surfaces. Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is another option you can utilize.
    • When it comes to soft, washable items, like clothing and bedding, first determine the things that are worth keeping, as getting rid of the consequences caused by smoke will require multiple wash cycles without letting the items dry in between.

    Useful Resources for Disaster Cleaning Information

    A professional disaster cleanup crew at work

    Having read the information above, you have a solid knowledge base you can implement in disaster cleanup. Yet, it’s always better to be aware of the local regulations, as well as government-issued guidelines regarding disaster remediation. 

    Here are some official resources you might find useful:

    Remember to research information thoroughly, consult professionals before taking any action, and always prioritize safety.