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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

July 30, 2019 - 8:56am --

Do you have bedding, clothing or other textiles affected by the recent flooding? While some items may be unsalvageable, there are several methods for cleaning soiled fabrics. Below you will find some tips and tricks from the American Cleaning Institute for cleaning and disinfecting fabrics after a flood.

During the cleaning process, it is a good idea to protect yourself by wearing rubber gloves and a dust mask.

Start by taking all of the soiled items outdoors in an open area. First, shake off any dirt that might attached to the fabric. If shaking does not release the dirt, gently scrape off any that remains. If the fabric is heavily soiled, lay the item flat and spray with a garden hose.

Once all large pieces of dirt have been removed, it is time to presoak and wash. First instinct might be to wash in hot water, but avoid doing this, as it may set rather than release stains. If the fabric has a protein stain, such as those created by grass or sewage, an enzyme presoak may help release these stains allowing them to be washed away. Next, prewash fabrics in cool water using laundry detergent. Powdered detergent is usually more effective at keeping dirt suspended in the water so it can be rinsed away, but a liquid detergent will work as well. It is more effective to break laundry into smaller loads that will allow water to fill generously around the fabric. Too many heavily soiled items will not allow as much dirt to be washed away.

Next, wash the fabric as usual, but do not dry in the dryer! Washing in hot water and drying fabrics with heat can set stains, making them very difficult or impossible to remove. Instead, look over the fabric to see where stains are still visible, treat the stains, and try washing the fabric again. Continue to wash fabrics as many times as needed. If the rinse water is dirty or cloudy, wash the item again.

If fabric has been exposed to water contaminated with sewage, it is important to add a disinfectant to the wash cycle.

Chlorine bleach works well for fabrics that will not be ruined by its effects. To find out whether a fabric is safe for use with chlorine bleach, read the fabric or garment’s care label. Common fabrics that cannot be cleaned with chlorine bleach are silk, wool, leather and spandex. If there are high levels of iron in the soil on the fabric or in the water, bleach may cause rust stains to appear.

Phenolic disinfectants are another option. One example is pine oil, which can be used to disinfect many fabrics. Pine oil will give the fabric an odor, so further washing will likely be needed to remove the smell. Pine oil is also toxic for cats, so avoid using this method if you have cats. Some phenolic disinfecting laundry detergents are also available.

Whichever type of disinfectant is used, be sure to read its label and usage instructions. For example, chlorine bleach and pine oil should not be applied directly to fabrics. Instead, precise amounts should be added during the appropriate stage of the wash cycle so water can dilute the disinfectant. Many washers have a specific method or dispenser for adding extras like chlorine bleach, so be sure to read the washer’s instructions. Also, to avoid ruining an entire item, first try testing the method you would like to use on a small area of the fabric that is not easily noticed. If an item has been contaminated with sewage and cannot be disinfected, the item may need to be thrown out.

After washing soiled fabrics with a disinfectant, run an additional empty washing cycle with chlorine bleach to disinfect the washer itself. Once stains and dirt have been removed, the item can be dried in a dryer.

For more information, visit or feel free to call the Wayne County Extension office at 330-264-8722.


Sara Meeks is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.

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