It may not happen often, but eventually every homeowner will have to deal with some part of their plumbing system failing. It may be a water heater bursting, a pipe leaking, a sewer pipe being backed up. What do plumbing failures all have in common? Well, they almost always result in water damage, and usually it is a significant amount. Water damage is a major hassle that requires a lot of time, energy, and money to fix. Although water damage on its own is very bad, it can get even worse if you do not clean it up properly, as water can cause major damage to wiring, walls, and even foster the growth of mould and harmful bacteria. So, it is important that all homeowners know how to properly clean up after flooding or a particularly large leak.
The first thing you want to do when facing a leak or flood, is obviously shut off the water in your house; this is best done quickly, in order to minimise the damage caused by the water. To give you an idea about how important it is to turn off the water, let’s look at a burst water heater. Water heaters are designed to stop taking water when they fill to a certain point. Now think about what happens if the water heater bursts, the water heater never fills, and thus water keeps flowing out of the pipes and into your home. Think of how much damage you could avoid in this situation by quickly turning off the water. A good practice is to always keep a mental note of where you water shut off is, that way in an emergency you do not need to scramble around looking for it.
Most people are aware that water and electricity do not mix, so if there is a flood or serious leak, it is a good idea to unplug and move any electronics from the area. It is also a good idea to cover any outlets that might come into contact with water (only do this if you have enough time, if you are in a rush, you should skip this and just accept that the outlets will be ruined). The best possible option would be to go to your switchboard and disable power to everything in the area affected by the flooding or leaking. But, not everyone has the ability to disable electricity to certain areas of their house, and disabling electricity to your entire home is not recommended, as you may need to use something electrical to stop the flooding or leaking.
After dealing with electronics, the next thing you are going to want to do in the event of a flood or serious leak is remove any valuables that the water could damage. In general it is a good idea to keep valuables that could be damaged by water away from pipes and possible flooding areas. Many people keep important documents and valuables in the basement, but the best place is higher up, away from flooding or leaking (like the attic).
Now that the water and electricity has been shut off, and your valuables moved, you can get down to actually removing the water. There are a couple of methods for doing this. You could go the old fashioned way, and use towels to physically mop up the water. This strategy is only really recommended if you do not have access to power (and thus cannot use a pump or a vacuum). This method is very inefficient and is going to require a lot of backbreaking effort, so if possible, use a different method for removing water. You can also try using a wet vacuum to get rid of a small amount of water, but be prepared to make plenty of trips to dump out the vacuum tank. The most recommended method would be to rush down to a local hardware store, and rent a pump to get the water out. If you do choose to use an electrical method to get rid of the water (a pump or a wet vacuum) make sure you are extremely careful when plugging the appliance in. Also, if the water is coming from a sewage line, make sure you wear gloves when going anywhere near the water, as it is likely full of bacteria.
Simply removing the water is not enough, as the water will have soaked into the carpet and walls, which will foster mould growth if not quickly dried out. Mould can appear as early as 24 hours after a serious leak or flood, so it is important that you work quickly. So get to work drying out the wet areas. First, open all the windows in the affected area (assuming it is not raining outside of course), this will help get air circulating and help speed up the drying process. You can also use fans to help speed up the drying process. Start removing any carpet, carpets absorb water very easily, and once a carpet gets soaked and starts developing mould, it is better to just throw it out rather than try and save it. The same principle applies for drywall, it is better to just get rid of any seriously wet drywall, rather than try and save it. Pay special attention to walls, as they can be difficult to dry out and mould loves to grow behind wet walls.
The water that comes from serious leaks and floods is usually full of bacteria, especially if the water is from a sewage pipe. So, once the water is gone and everything is dried out, you want to start cleaning your floors and other hard surfaces with something heavy duty (like bleach). You want to make sure the area is thoroughly disinfected, this should get rid of any lingering smells and prevent mold growth.