Cleaning and health advice

Cleaning mould

Clean-up and recovery after flood can pose significant risks to your health. Flood-impacted homeowners often want to get on with the task as soon as possible after waters recede.

To stay safe, NSW Health advises everyone to take some basic precautions such as:

  • Avoid all unnecessary contact with mud and floodwater as these may contain sewage, poisons, dead animals, fuels and garbage.
  • Ensure you wear protective clothing such as boots, decent gloves and eye protection.
  • Practice basic hygiene and wash thoroughly after flood clean-up activities with soap or sanitisers.
  • Wear mosquito repellent when outdoors.
  • Be wary of snakes, spiders and rats which may have taken refuge in homes, buildings or large containers.

For further advice, contact Council’s Environmental Health Officers on 02 6670 2400

How to stay safe and healthy whilst cleaning up

Toilet stalls  

Hard-surfaced floors, walls, benches and sinks should be thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water and disinfected by wiping or spraying surfaces with a chlorine bleach solution (see below) or a product labelled as a disinfectant. Once disinfected, allow to dry.

To make up a 10 litre bucket (standard size) of disinfectant, put gloves on, fill the bucket with water and then add one of the following:

  • 50 ml (1/4 cup) of household bleach OR
  • 8 - 16ml (dessert spoon) of liquid pool chlorine.

General clean-up advice

  • Council’s town water supplies may have been severely affected due to the flood. Please use town water sparingly during clean-up.
  • Remember to practice basic hygiene during any clean-up period. Wash hands after carrying out any flood clean-up activities.
  • Wear suitable protective clothing including boots, gloves and eye protection while cleaning up.
  • When cleaning up, consider your personal health - do not wait until you are thirsty to drink plenty of fluids. Take frequent breaks. Stay warm when it is cold and be careful not to overheat when it is hot.
  • Do not touch your face and eyes while using disinfectants. Always follow safety advice on labels.
  • Wash mud, dirt and debris from your house, starting at the highest point and working down to ground level.
  • Where possible, remove all wet items such as floor coverings, rugs, mats, furniture, bedding, linen and clothing. If floor coverings are removed, thoroughly clean and dry the floor underneath before new material is laid.
  • Be alert to snakes, spiders and rats that may have taken refuge in your home.
  • Begin drying out the house as soon as floodwaters recede.
  • Each area affected by floodwater within the house needs to be cleaned, including empty refrigerators and cupboards.
  • While cleaning up, be mindful of materials containing asbestos and take appropriate precautions.
  • Mould or mildew may develop if items are not completely dried. Mould or mildew may be removed with household bleach, however the strength of the product may ruin some household items. Wear a mask when working with heavy mould.

Mould - how to keep it at bay

With much of the Tweed impacted by floods and ongoing wet conditions, the issue of mould is real for many of us.

Here are a few tips on what you can do to keep it at bay:

  • Treat mould as soon as you see it!
  • Diluted vinegar and off-the-shelf mould killers can work to reduce the spread. But vinegar is actually a food source for some moulds and bleach discolours mould without always removing it.
  • Use oil of cloves or tea tree oil to kill mould spores. Oil of cloves actually kills the spores, rather than just bleaching them or hiding them. It works best on hard surfaces.

How to use oil of cloves or tea tree oil:

  • First, clean the surface with a mixture of 4 litres of hot water, 1 tablespoon bicarb of soda and half a cup of vinegar.
  • Then, mix a quarter teaspoon of clove oil per litre of water, put it in a spray bottle, lightly mist on mouldy surface. Leave for 20 minutes and wipe off. 
  • Spray again and leave. It will take between 24 - 48 hrs for the mould spores to dry and drop off.
  • You can buy oil of cloves at most pharmacies.
  • Tea tree oil also works using a mix of 2 teaspoons to 2 cups of water in a spray bottle.

And remember:

  • Tackle the underlying moisture problem - if possible!
  • Ventilate - make sure you vent wet rooms to the outside air.
  • Look after your health. Make sure you wear gloves and a mask when cleaning mould. If the cleaning makes you feel unwell, stop immediately.

For more information, visit how to tackle mould.

Reduce mosquito risks around the home

To help with reducing mosquito risks around the home please empty all containers filled with rainwater. This includes buckets, children’s toys and pot plant bases.

It is also important to protect yourself when outdoors by wearing light coloured, loose clothing, and by applying insect repellent.

Read more about mosquitoes and midges

NSW Health - Maintaining health during and after floods

Please be safe - NSW Heath advises everyone to:

  • avoid all unnecessary contact with mud and floodwaters – floodwater and leftover debris may be contaminated with sewage, poisons, dead animals, petrol and garbage, and unpredictable currents and submerged hazards can be extremely dangerous
  • wear suitable protective clothing including boots, gloves and eye protection while cleaning up
  • wash mud, dirt and debris starting at the highest point and working down to ground level
  • be wary of snakes, spiders and rats that may have taken refuge in homes and other buildings
  • take protective measures to avoid bites from mosquitoes and other pests and consequent risk of disease
  • practice basic hygiene – wash hands thoroughly after participating in any flood clean-up activities.

NSW Health’s Maintaining health during and after floods and storms features further important advice. Please make sure you read it.

Clean-up tips from the Insurance Council of Australia

  • Safety is the priority - don’t do anything that puts anyone at risk.
  • Start cleaning up but first take pictures or videos of damage to the property and possessions.
  • Keep samples of materials and fabrics to show your insurance assessor.
  • Remove water or mud-damaged goods from your property that might pose a health risk, such as saturated carpets and soft furnishings.
  • Make a list of each item damaged and include a detailed description, such as brand, model and serial number if possible.
  • Speak to your insurer before you attempt or authorise any building work, including emergency repairs, and ask for the insurer’s permission in writing. Unauthorised work may not be covered by your policy.
  • Do not throw away goods that could be salvaged or repaired.

Clean up advice for food businesses

  • Remember any food, surfaces or equipment used to prepare food that have come into contact with floodwater may be contaminated.
  • Throw it out if in doubt – any food that has come in contact with floodwater needs to be tossed out. Do not try to salvage canned food for resale.
  • Throw out kitchen and food preparation items damaged by flood including those made from porous material like wood, plastic or rubber as they cannot be adequately sanitised.
  • If the power supply was out for more than 4 hours, throw out any food in fridges. If frozen foods thawed, they should not be refrozen.
  • Clean and sanitise all surfaces and food preparation equipment.
  • Water from rainwater tanks, wells and bores may not be safe to drink or use for cooking and should be tested before using again. For more information visit NSW Health.
  • Get a licensed electrician to check electrical equipment impacted by flood before using again.
  • For further advice from Council's Environmental Health Officers, please call 02 6670 2400.