Many of us, especially those who were displaced during the storm, are anxious to start the cleanup process at home. Follow this guide for the best and safest ways to remove and discard debris.
Before You Start
Before you jump right into cleaning up your home, take some steps to prepare:
1. Make sure it’s safe. When returning home after a storm, be sure to first check with local authorities to make sure the area is safe, and inspect your home after you arrive. Once you feel secure, follow these tips to clean up debris.
2. Gather supplies. Make sure you have the right supplies to ensure clean up goes as smoothly and safely as possible.
- Camera, notebook and pen for documenting damage
- Water for drinking and washing hands
- Hand soap
- Bug spray
- Flashlights and batteries
- Battery-powered radio
- Long pants, long sleeve shirts, and long socks
- Rubber or plastic work gloves
- Snake proof boots, at least 10 inches high, and/or other sturdy, waterproof shoes
- Protective eyewear
- N-95 respirator, if available, or a dust mask
- Trash bags
- First aid kit
3. File a claim. If you have flood or disaster insurance, you’ll want to document any damage before you start the cleanup process. These are tips from FEMA for preparing to make an insurance claim:
- Document damage using photos and/or videos before discarding items.
- Keep samples or swatches of carpeting, wallpaper, furniture upholstery, window treatments, and other items where the type and quality of material might influence the amount payable on the claim.
- Take photos of appliances like washers, dryers, stoves, etc. Make sure to take a photo of their serial numbers. Do this before moving them outside for disposal.
- If possible, have receipts for appliances and any other valuable items available as these will be useful to the adjuster.
- It is crucial that you properly document your damaged property, so make sure you discuss your policy requirements with your insurance agent and adjuster.
When removing debris, always be aware of your surroundings. Watch for slippery floors, broken glass, and other hazards.
The interior of affected homes may be wet and moldy. When working in areas at risk for mold, be sure to take the proper safety precautions to prevent it from spreading, to save your belongings and protect your health. Remove and discard wet, mold-prone items right away. Absorbent items like these are most prone to mold:
- Drywall and insulation
- Carpet/carpet pad
- Processed wood products and paper
- Stuffed animals
Throw out all food (including canned goods), beverages, medicines, and containers that you suspect may have come in to contact with floodwater or mud. It’s also safest to throw out refrigerated food that could have spoiled in a power outage.
Remove branches from streets so that emergency and utility vehicles can pass safely.
If you have a damaged tree, you have a few options. If the tree is young or if only one or two main limbs are damaged, you can prune the damaged limbs back to the trunk. Wait to see if it recovers and watch for signs of decay. If the main upward-growing limb is broken, or more than half of the branches are damaged, it’s best to have the tree removed.
Disposing of Debris
When it comes to disposing of debris, methods vary by state. Some materials can be hazardous if they’re disposed of improperly, and every state has different methods of debris disposal. Burning any type of debris isn’t recommended and is often prohibited, so check with your state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Burning is never allowed for items requiring special disposal, including:
- Pool chemicals
- Car batteries
- PVC pipe
- Explosives (ammunition, black powder, reloading equipment, or fireworks)
- Metal or plastic fuel containers
- Pressurized gas cylinders/tanks (acetylene tanks, propane tanks, or refrigerant containers)
- Containers of petroleum-based liquids, solvents, chemicals, etc.
- Large household appliances like refrigerators, freezers, stoves, washers, dryers, etc.
- Off-road gas-powered equipment (lawn mowers, tractors, other lawn equipment, chainsaws, 4-wheelers, etc.)
- Lawn and garden chemical supplies (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.)
- Radioactive waste
- Industrial/commercial hazardous waste
- Medical waste
- Electrical transformers
When disposing of debris curbside, FEMA recommends sorting materials into six categories:
- Electronics: televisions, computers, stereos, phones, DVD players
- Large appliances: refrigerator, washer/dryer, air conditioners, stove, water heater, dishwasher
- Hazardous waste: oil, batteries, pesticides, paint, cleaning supplies, compressed gas
- Vegetation: branches, leaves, logs, plants
- Construction debris: building materials, drywall, lumber, carpet, furniture, plumbing
- Household garbage: bagged garbage, discarded food, paper, packaging
Tips for debris placement:
- Place debris no more than 10 feet from the curbside.
- Do not block roadways.
- Do not place debris near or on trees, poles or other structures, like fire hydrants and meters.
When disposing of debris, make sure any hazards are out of the way and out of reach of animals or children. Contact your local officials to determine the best way to dispose of debris in your area.
We wish you the best in your cleanup process! Check out our other resources:
After The Storm: Safety When Returning Home
After The Flood: Outlets And Switches
How To Care For Your Home’s Gas Systems After A Flood