Significant flooding in and around their homes in the wake of major storms can be dangerous conditions for homeowners and tenants who need to keep mold away from their lungs.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says floodwater can cause mold and make the air in your home unhealthy. “Mold is one of the most common allergens and it’s also a major trigger for people with asthma,” says board-certified allergist Dana Wallace, MD, who’s no stranger to flooding where she lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Mold can worsen asthma and allergies through toxins that are inhaled and cause coughing and wheezing fits as well as difficulty breathing.

Once mold takes hold inside a home, it can be difficult to get rid of – it can even lurk inside walls. If not addressed, the health effects of mold can bear out over years and wreak havoc on a person’s respiratory system.

“I tell patients whose homes are affected by water damage that it’s important to act immediately to dry things out,” Dr. Wallace says.

If there is a large amount of water damage (more than 15 square feet), you may need to hire a professional. You’ll likely need to tear out the carpets and baseboards, throw out furniture and repair the walls. “When in doubt, throw it out,” Dr. Wallace says.

You may also need to heat or dry the affected areas for a week before treatment for mold.

Flood Cleanup Tips for Do-It-Yourselfers:

  • Clean outside storm debris as soon as possible, as mold will grow there quickly.
  • Inside, replace wet porous materials such as carpets, padding or furnace filters.
  • Replace water-soaked wallboards up to the water line.
  • Wash hard-surface areas with bleach solution or a nontoxic solution of white vinegar and water.
  • While cleaning, protect your eyes and lungs with an N-95 respirator (available in most hardware or home remodeling stores) and goggles without vents.
  • Wear gloves, long sleeves, long pants and work boots.
  • Run fans and/or dehumidifiers to help dry things out.
  • Prevent future water damage by keeping gutters clean and clearing brush and bushes away from your home – anything that will prevent drainage or cause rain water to collect around the foundation.

For more mold cleanup ideas and nontoxic cleaning alternatives, download Allergy & Asthma Network’s free Indoor AiRepair™ at Home, School and Play booklet in both English and Spanish.