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Hurricane Irene: Water Damaged Clothes & Disaster Preparedness

Q.

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.

A.

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 handwashing 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 sanitizing any and all colored laundry items or fabrics made from wool, silk, mohair, spandex and leather. Check care labels to see which fabrics can be safely treated with bleach so you can save as many of them with Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach with CLOROMAX®.

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:

  • Mix a test solution by diluting 2 tsp Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach with CLOROMAX® in ¼ cup water.
  • Apply a drop to a hidden part of the item such as an inside hem, cuff or seam and then rinse and blot dry.
  • No color change means the item can be safely bleached. A color change shows what to expect following approximately five cycles with bleach.

Once you have identified which items you can launder with bleach, you are ready to go. If you have a standard deep-fill washer, use ½ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach with CLOROMAX® along with your laundry detergent; if you have a high efficiency washer, use 1/4 cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach with CLOROMAX®. Select the “delicate” or “hand wash” option on your clothes washer. For especially fragile items, if possible, place them in lingerie bags. Since clothes washer designs vary, ensure that the items being washed contact the bleach solution in the washer for 10 minutes. When the wash cycle is complete, let the items air dry, laying fragile textiles flat to dry; textiles are heavier when wet, and often can’t support their own weight when wet.

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.