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When is it safe to just dry walls and floors after water damage?


If you have experience with the disastrous impacts of water damage, you know any water damage can be catastrophic, given the right combination of time, temperature, contaminants, and the lack of proper cleaning. But did you also know the initial condition of the water also dictates the severity of the damage, as well as how it needs to be safely remediated?

There are 3 categories of water that cause water damage as defined by the IICRC (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification); Category 1, Category 2, and Category 3. The IICRC also defines the proper methods of water damage remediation, based on the hazards presented by each category of water. Only IICRC-certified water remediation specialists are guaranteed to be able to safely restore your home or business to its pre-loss condition after water damage.

 3 Categories of Water Damage

  1. Category 1 water damage comes from sources like broken water supply lines, overflowing bathtubs or sinks, melting ice or snow, falling rain, and toilet tank overflows or leaks. The difference between category 1 and category 2 water is that category 1 water has not been used for anything yet. It is the clean water flowing into your dishwasher, as opposed to the unclean water draining from your dishwasher after use. It is water that should be safe to drink. It is important to note that category 1 water can turn quickly into category 2 water upon exposure to other bacteria or contaminants, such as passing through walls, or dirty carpet or rugs, or as a result of the passage of time, which allows for the growth of mold and bacteria.
  2. Category 2 water is also known as “grey water.” This water contains a moderate level of contamination, the contamination is non-toxic, but poses a greater risk of secondary damage due to mold or bacteria growth. Exposure to or ingestion of grey water can cause discomfort or illness in humans and animals, and should be avoided. Sources of category 2 water damage include toilet overflow containing urine but no feces, dirty dishwasher or washing machine drainage, and sump pump failures. The key distinction between categories 2 and 3 is the type of material contaminating the water. Category 2 water contains no feces or other fungi, viruses, parasites, or bacteria which could lead to death due to exposure or consumption. As with category 1 water, category 2 water can quickly escalate to category 3 water due to exposure to other materials, or because of the passage of time and growth of mold and bacteria.
  3. Category 3 water is the highest-risk level of water contamination. This is also known as “black water.” It can cause serious illness or death to humans and animals as a result of exposure or consumption. Black water damage is highly unsanitary, and should only be dealt with by certified water remediation specialists. If you must handle black water, take extreme precautions. Category 3 water damage comes from a variety of sources, including sewage or toilet overflow involving feces, flooding from rivers, streams, or seawater, and stagnant water that has become a breeding ground for mold and/or bacteria. Both categories 1 and 2 water can become category 3 water if left untreated.

Proper Water Remediation Procedures for  the Categories of Water Damage

Any water damage must be handled properly, or it can result in leaving behind conditions leading to toxic mold growth and structural instability. The difference between handling categories 1-3 water damage lies in the amount of care you need to take to protect yourself while remediating the damage, as well as extra sanitation steps that must be taken throughout the process.

With any water damage situation, ensure a safe environment by evaluating electrical and other safety hazards. Turn off power to affected areas, or bring in an electrician if you cannot do so safely yourself. NEVER put yourself in a position where water and electricity might mix, as this can lead to severe injury and/or death.

At minimum, to properly mitigate category 1 water damage, you need to carefully follow the steps below;

  1. Identify the source of flooding and address this problem. It does little good to start drying or cleaning if the water is still “flooding the area”
  2. Move furniture and other possessions out of harm’s way, by moving the to another room or raising them up out of the water.
  3. Extract water by using a sump pump, buckets, towels, sponges and mopping, depending on the severity of the flood.
  4. Remove rugs, carpet and carpet padding once water has been extracted and they are light enough to move. You can cut the carpet and pads into pieces to remove unless you are trying to save the carpet. If the water is Category 2 or 3 it is recommended to replace the carpet instead of trying to clean it.
  5. Use air movers to dry the surfaces and air and dehumidifiers to remove the evaporated water to prevent potential secondary damage. Place air movers every 10-15 feet, and make sure they all face the same direction. This step can take days to weeks, depending on the severity and extent of the damage.
  6. Dispose of porous water-logged items, such as items made of fabric and paper, if they can be replaced. If not, consult with a water damage remediation company to determine whether the items can be restored, and the cost of doing so.
  7. Dry and repair any water-damaged drywall. Drywall is a particularly sneaky breeding ground for mold, so this step is very important, and you may need professional assistance to determine what drywall should be cut out and what can be safely dried. Always remove drywall that has become wet with category 2 or 3 water, or that is saturated on a ceiling.
  8. If fewer than 48 hours have passed and the damage is not too extensive, clean and sanitize less porous items, such as those made of wood, If more than 48 hours have passed or if you suspect mold has begun to grow, you will want to consult with professionals to properly repair, clean and sanitize the items.
  9. Reinstall carpet. You will need to dispose of the previous carpet pad and install a new one. If the carpet becomes moldy due to water damage, or was contaminated with category 2 or 3 water you should dispose of the carpet and buy new carpet. If you are not sure whether your carpet can be reinstalled, or your carpet was very expensive and you want to see whether it can be salvaged, contact a professional water remediation company for assistance.
  10. Clean all affected surfaces once drying is complete.

Mold and Bacteria Growth

If you are dealing with category 2 or 3 water, you will need to apply a biocide to any water damaged surfaces after extracting the water, but before beginning the drying process. You should dispose of carpeting if there is any possibility of microbes, bacteria, fungus, or mold. You will also need to take extra sanitization steps throughout, and wear protective equipment.

Because of the health risks presented by these categories of water damage, it is of great importance to your health and that of your family to make sure all contaminants are removed. At RestoPros, we recommend bringing in IICRC certified professionals to help with this process. This service is most often covered through your homeowner’s insurance, and a good water damage professional will work directly with your insurance company to figure out what is covered every step of the way.

RestoPros is an IICRC certified firm and we, certified, insured, and guarantee we will take all necessary steps to ensure a safe and thorough removal of water damage caused by categories 1, 2, and 3 water.

Contact us today for a free consultation and inspection. We are available 24/7 for emergency response, and will help you through every step of this process.