In the aftermath of the biggest flood I've ever seen in Houston—I showed up a couple months after Tropical Storm Allison—I haven't personally had much to contribute to the dramatic narrative. My flood prep consisted of picking up Chipotle around 7 p.m. on Memorial Day and leaving my car parked halfway out of our carport, which floods every time I sneeze in it. Aside from briefly taking in a waterlogged refugee who was searching for her car on our street, it was a typical night. If only everyone in Houston was so lucky.
For those still dealing with the effects of the high water, laundry might seem like an afterthought, but there's a few things to keep in mind before starting those loads, courtesy of the cleaning experts at the Cleaning Institute and the CDC.
- If your washer was flooded or contaminated by floodwaters, it needs to be cleaned and disinfected before it will be effective in cleaning your clothes. Have a technician give it the all-clear, or you can disinfect a front-loading washer with this simple and cost-effective formula.
- If your clothes are especially dirty or muddy, scrape or shake them and rinse them off with a hose before putting them in the laundry machine—too much dirt will clog the machine's drainage and clothes won't get cleaned properly. Remember to clean any counter or surface that comes into contact with contaminated clothing.
- Soak all stained clothing as soon as possible in cool water with a powder detergent or oxygen-based bleach like Oxyclean, which are best at removing clay and ground-in dirt. Don't store clothes in pastic bags, which can let mold grow.
- Wash clothes in the hottest water recommended for each garment in small loads with full water levels. For white cotton fabrics, add a cup of chlorine bleach to disinfect. For other fabrics and colors, add a cup of pine oil disinfectant like Pine-Sol or Lysol to the wash.
- Continue washing each load until you are satisfied that the clothes are clean—if the rinse water is light or clear, that's a good sign. Once all stains are removed, drying on the highest possible heat will help disinfect.