So, you come home to a basement flood. Or wake up to one. Or watch in horror from the stairs as one begins to unfold before your eyes. No matter who you are, your first instinct when you see your basement flooded inches deep in water (or worse) will be to panic.

How am I supposed to clean this up?!

 I can’t afford this right now.

 All the irreplaceable stuff is down there.

 How long before mold starts growing? Isn’t mold toxic?! 

We’re not going to lie and tell you that you don’t have a lot of work—and probably some headaches—ahead of you as you work to clean up after a basement flood. But we are here to tell you that if you keep calm and take these initial steps, you can make your work easier and your headaches fewer.

Basement flood

Step One After a Basement Flood: Gauge Water Depth

The first thing you need to do before you go into action mode is determine whether action would, in fact, be dangerous. Any time there is standing water in your basement, there is a risk of shock if the water has come into contact with any electrical outlets/wiring. As a rule of thumb, if water is standing more than two inches deep throughout your entire basement, do not step into the water. As soon as possible, call in a professional to pump the water out. Yes, this will mean delaying your rescue efforts and leaving your belongings to soak, but this is a much better option than dealing with a flooded basement, ruined belongings—and a trip to the emergency room.

*All remaining steps assume that the water in your basement was shallow enough to move through it safely*

Step Two After a Basement Flood: Determine Why Your Basement is Flooding

When you’re looking at the possibility of losing important and/or sentimental items, it may seem like figuring out why they’re in danger is something you should save for after they’re safe. But when you know why your basement is flooding, you’ll be able to stop the flooding and prevent it from happening again in the most efficient way. And the more efficiently you can stop and remove the water, the less danger there will ultimately be to your home and belongings. It’s best to gather this information as soon as possible, because if you wait until more water has accumulated in the basement or the flooding stops, it may be impossible to determine the cause.

How does water usually enter a basement?

  • Through cracks in the walls, floor, or foundation
  • Through basement windows
  • Through floor drains
  • As a result of broken plumbing

Basement flood through walls cracks

Before you begin rescuing your belongings, make a scan of your basement to find how the water is getting in. If water is coming in through:

Walls, Floor, Foundation or Windows: This is likely the result of heavy rains and/or a too-high water table.

Floor Drain: This usually indicates that there’s a problem with your sump pump or home drainage system, or that there’s been a backup in the city sewer lines.

If neither of those options seems to be the source, broken plumbing may be the problem. Your pipes or the hoses in your washer or water heater have burst and are spewing water into the basement. This is especially likely to be the problem if your basement is filling up very rapidly.

Now that you know how your basement is flooding, you’ll be better able to get a handle on the situation and prevent it from happening again. And if you decide you need to hire a professional to deal with any repairs you need to make, you’ll save time and expense by being able to explain upfront what the problem is. But for now, file this information away for later as we move on to the next step.

Step Three After a Basement Flood: Shut Off Broken Plumbing

If you’ve determined that broken plumbing is the cause of your basement flooding, it’s important to shut off the plumbing in question before you move on to rescuing your belongings. A burst pipe or hose can release dozens or even hundreds of gallons of water into your basement every hour. Plumbers have seen broken pipes or hoses fill a basement to the windows in a just couple of hours when the plumbing wasn’t shut off promptly. Allowing that much water to accumulate in your basement would move you out of the realm of “crisis” and firmly into the realm of “catastrophe.”

Immediately shut off water to the malfunctioning fixture. If you believe that broken plumbing is the source of the problem, but haven’t been able to determine which fixture is broken, go ahead and shut off water to the entire house.

Shut off plumbing after a basement flood.

Step Four After a Basement Flood: Begin Rescue Operations

Now it’s time to get down to business. First, move rapidly through the basement, unplugging all the electric lines you can find. This is an important measure to keep you safe if water continues to rise as you’re removing your belongings. Once you’ve unplugged everything, start moving your belongings to higher ground. You won’t be able to move everything out of the basement, so prioritizing is key.

Begin by saving any vital paperwork stored in your basement. Things like deeds, wills, trusts, etc. can be replaced, but doing so is a long and maddening process, full of red tape and bureaucracy. Better to make sure you don’t have to replace them.

Rescuing belongings from a basement flood

Next, focus on family heirlooms or anything else that has significant sentimental value and can’t be replaced. We cannot stress enough that you need to be realistic about what really counts as irreplaceable. You’re racing against the clock here. Don’t waste valuable time on anything that isn’t truly precious.

Finally, you can focus on getting as many of the remaining items as possible to higher ground, or at least stored somewhere higher in your basement. Prioritize items that would cost the most to replace. Also prioritize items that would be completely ruined by prolonged exposure to water, as opposed to items that will likely be just fine after drying out. 

Step Five After a Basement Flood: Remove the Standing Water

The faster you can get your basement dry after a flood, the less you have to worry about long-term (and costly) damage to your home. If the standing water in your basement is relatively shallow, go to work with mops and buckets as soon as you’re done getting your belongings to safety.

However, if the water is several inches deep in some or all of your basement, your best bet for fast removal is to pump the water out of your basement. Instead of hiring a company to do this for you, it will be faster to head to the hardware store to buy or rent a few submersible pumps. You might also look for pumps at pool supply stores, since they’re often used to drain pools.

Removing water after a basement flood

Submersible pumps are very easy to use. Wait until flooding has stopped, attach a garden hose to the pump and run the other end somewhere outside where the water can drain away from the house, turn off power to your basement, and attach the pump to an extension cord plugged into a live outlet or generator. Make sure that the connection to the extension cord is positioned somewhere where it can’t fall into the water, then place the pump in the water, and let it go to work. 

If you own a wet/dry vac, you could opt to vac up shallower water. Your wet/dry vac might also be a better option than buying or renting a pump if only a small area of your basement has deep standing water.

Finally: Plan Out Your Next Steps

Once you’ve removed the standing water, the immediate danger is past and you can take a breather to regroup and plot out your plan of attack for the remaining work ahead.

Calls You’ll Need to Make:

If you have an insurance policy that covers flood damage, you’ll want to call your agent as soon as possible after you’ve handled the initial steps above.

You’ll also need to start making calls to plumbers and/or contractors to fix whatever caused the flooding in the first place. This is where the information you gathered earlier will save you time and money, because the person you hire won’t need to spend their first trip to your house identifying the problem.

Because you’re eager to be done with this whole situation, you may be tempted to simply hire the first plumber or contractor you come across. Don’t make this mistake. Do your research the same way you would under normal circumstances, making sure that you’re hiring someone with fair pricing and a good reputation. After all, do you really want to add “wasted money on a shoddy contractor so now I have to hire a second one” to the list of problems you’re already dealing with?

Repairs after a basement flood

If you’re a DIY-savvy homeowner, you could opt to do the fix-it work yourself to protect your home from water damage. Just be willing to call in a professional if the problem turns out to be beyond your skill. Better to spend the money now and get it done right, than shell out later to fix an even bigger problem caused by a poor fix.

Further Steps to Get the Basement Dry

Even though the standing water has been removed, your basement will, of course, still be damp. And that dampness can still cause problems in the form of damaging belongings and encouraging the growth of mold and mildew. You’ll need to help speed up the drying process.

First, open any basement windows (if the weather permits), to help the moisture escape.

Set up fans throughout your basement and turn them on high to speed up evaporation. It’s best if you can position them so that they’re blowing out of the basement, whether through windows or toward the stairs to the rest of the house.

Drying out after a basement flood

Alternatively, you can set up space heaters throughout the basement. This will evaporate water faster than fans, but will result in a humid basement environment, which of course is the opposite of what you’re going for. It’s best to combine this approach with the use of a dehumidifier or two.

Prepare for cleanup

As you plan how best to tackle your cleanup, you should seriously consider a residential dumpster rental before you begin. The reason is simple: you’re going to have A LOT to get rid of. Way too much to leave out at the curb on garbage day.

First, of course, you’ll need to get rid of any ruined belongings. You especially should not attempt to dry out and save anything electronic that came in contact with the water, or anything made of fabric, which will be a petri dish for mold. In addition to ruined belongings, you’ll need to get rid of:

Rugs and Carpenting: It’s not worth it to attempt to dry them out. After being waterlogged, it’s very unlikely that they’ll be able to dry before mold or mildew sets in. And if your basement was flooded with sewage, they could be a significant health hazard.

Drywall: Because drywall is porous, it will also begin to grow mold before it has a chance to thoroughly dry out.

Removing drywall after a basement flood

Flooring: If there was any loose or cracked flooring in your basement, then the water definitely got under it. Tear it up before mold can begin to grow underneath.

Now that the initial danger is past, and you have a plan for moving forward, you can breathe easier knowing that the hardest part of dealing with a basement flood is done.

Have you ever experienced a basement flood? How did you handle it?