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Avoiding Contamination When Cleaning Up Sewage Backups

Posted January 21, 2023 by Mike Lewis under Tips

Avoiding Contamination When Cleaning Up Sewage Backups


Sewage backups can happen for a variety of reasons and often occur unexpectedly. When raw sewage enters your home, it brings health hazards with it. Proper cleanup is essential to remove contamination and prevent illness. This article provides tips on how to safely and effectively clean up after a sewage backup.

Protect Yourself First

When cleaning up sewage, your personal safety should be the top priority:

  • Wear protective clothing such as rubber boots, gloves, goggles, and coveralls. Pathogens can enter through your eyes, nose, mouth or breaks in the skin.

  • Wear a N95 face mask to avoid breathing in bacteria. Sewage contains high levels of disease-causing viruses and bacteria.

  • Work slowly and take regular breaks. Cleaning up sewage is physically demanding. Pace yourself to avoid exhaustion.

  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning. You don’t want to ingest any contamination.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after cleaning. Be sure to scrub well between fingers and underneath nails.

Contain the Sewage

Before cleanup can begin, you need to stop the sewage backup and contain any spills:

  • Turn off power to sump pumps in the basement to prevent more sewage backups. Wear rubber boots for this.

  • Place towels, rags or other absorbents onto the sewage spill. This will control the spread.

  • Cordon off areas with heavy sewage contamination to restrict access. Sewage spread can be tracked to other areas of the home.

  • Open windows and doors to increase air circulation. Improved ventilation will help dry out saturated areas.

  • Contact your local health department for guidance on containment. They may provide supplies like plastic sheeting and sandbags.

Disinfect Floors and Walls

Sewage leaves behind bacteria and viruses. Proper disinfection techniques are key:

  • Remove sewage solids first by shovelling or pumping. Be sure to wear gloves.

  • Scrub floors and walls with hot water and laundry detergent. Detergent helps lift contamination from surfaces.

  • Rinse cleaned areas with a disinfectant solution. A bleach and water solution is commonly recommended by the CDC.

  • Allow all disinfected surfaces to air dry completely. Remaining moisture promotes mold growth.

  • Repeat cleaning and disinfection as necessary. Sewage can penetrate porous materials like drywall and concrete.

  • Consider hiring professional remediation services for containment and cleaning. They have specialized equipment and methods.

Dry Out Thoroughly

Flooded areas need to be thoroughly dried to avoid mold growth:

  • Remove wet insulation, carpeting or furnishings. These absorb contaminants and take too long to dry.

  • Use dehumidifiers, fans and open windows to accelerate drying. Air circulation is key.

  • Check moisture levels with a meter in walls and floors. Readings below 15% indicate drying is complete.

  • Run air conditioning, even in winter, to remove humidity from the air.

  • Be patient. Drying out a flooded structure can take weeks or months. Persistence prevents mold issues.

Restore and Disinfect

The final step is to restore your home after sewage remediation:

  • Throw away absorbent materials like upholstery, mattresses, pillows and stuffed toys. They are impossible to fully disinfect.

  • Clean salvageable belongings thoroughly and let dry completely. Sanitize dishes by washing in your dishwasher.

  • Replace damaged drywall, insulation, carpeting and paneling. Sewage can permanently contaminate porous materials.

  • Hire contractors to check electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems for proper function before reuse.

Staying healthy is the most important goal. Carefully follow containment, cleaning, disinfection, drying, and restoration steps to safely remove sewage contamination from your home. Be proactive and patient to avoid persistent mold issues or sickness after a sewage backup event. With proper precautions, you can successfully recover from this messy emergency.

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