I need some help with clothes flooded in Hurricane Irene, in particular items that cannot go in hot water (delicate fabrics). How do I handle them? There is not a lot of mud, but water came reached them and wicked into the fabric.
Watching the images on TV of the storm damage from Irene is really sobering, and I have been thinking about the people who have the daunting task of cleaning up. Hopefully the flood waters you encountered were not contaminated, and your household water supply is safe for human consumption and skin contact. Note that if your incoming water is not yet safe for drinking, you should not use it for any laundry unless you are hand-washing and using bleach. Bleach needs to be added to both the wash and rinse water. Thankfully it sounds like you have passed this hurdle. Unfortunately, there is currently not a product for disinfecting any and all colored laundry items or fabrics made from wool, silk, mohair, spandex and leather. Clorox2® has a different bleach active, hydrogen peroxide, which is a much weaker bleach and therefore safe for colors. However, it doesn’t meet EPA disinfecting requirements.
To guarantee disinfection, you will need to wash as many items as possible with detergent + ¾ cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2 in the hottest water recommended on the care label, so figuring out which of your items can be safely bleached is an important first step. There actually are many colored fabrics than can be safely bleached, and it depends on which type of dye was used to color the fabric. Also, “delicate” fabrics can often be bleached as long as they are not made from the fibers listed above. Cotton and nylon underwear, for example, are delicate and perfectly bleachable from a fiber standpoint. For colored items that you are unsure about, you can easily test bleachability as follows:
I have had success safely bleaching light colored linens and towels, and 100% polyester fleece, to name a few. Also, you only need to bleach your flood damaged items once. Some of them could probably handle one wash cycle with bleach, but would fade after 5 cycles (blue jeans often can handle occasional bleach washing). Because of the severity of the situation (and the possibility that your clothing could have been exposed to contaminated water), it would be worth it to try to bleach as many items as you can. However, there are items that you simply can’t bleach, and for those you can try the following techniques to reduce the germ count as much as possible:
Follow up with a washer clean-out cycle (running one cycle with the washer empty) with ¾ cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2 to be sure the clothes washer is disinfected and germs don’t transfer to other loads. Hopefully you can restore as many of your flood damaged non-bleachable items as possible.
I also have some additional disaster preparedness bleach tips that might be helpful: