What to do if your flood water contains sewage

Properties affected by flooding

Report any property flooding to the Environment Agency and contact your property insurance company for advice on removal of damaged property from your home.  Loss adjusters may wish to view any property a claim is made against.

Indoor sewage cleaning guide

If sewage leaks occur in the home it is vital to respond to them quickly and in the right manner – both to clean them up properly and to protect yourself during the process.

This guidance looks at how to clean up messy and inconvenient foul water spillages so you can get back to normal as quick as possible.

When people hear about sewage spillages they often think, quite understandably, about water that comes from toilets. However, other kinds of wastewater are disposed of in sewer pipes (often referred to as drains or drain pipes) including water from baths, showers, sinks, and washing machines.

If this type of water, called grey water, also escapes into premises in significant amounts it also has to be cleaned carefully as it can contain organic matter, as well as bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.

These can multiply quickly, also causing unpleasant stagnant water smells, if grey water is not removed and surfaces are not hygienically cleaned.

Sewage clean-up – know your limits

Therefore, it is important to clean up sewage spills (and wastewater) to prevent health risks to yourself, and to children, pets and visitors to your home or business.

It is also vital that you understand what you are capable of achieving by yourself. Small sewage spills are potentially manageable, if they are contained and they have not contaminated building substrates.

However, larger and more complex sewage spills should only be tackled by a professional and accredited specialist cleaning company. Knowing when you need to call for such expert help is very important.

Important advice: an immediate response is crucial. The longer sewage is left in contact with building substrates or items within buildings, the greater the risk of damage that may become permanent.

Practising proper hygiene

The first thing professional sewage cleaning operatives do is to protect themselves against sewage waste by wearing the right personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE).

You must guard against the huge range of pathogens in sewage water, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and mould. Therefore, make sure you have the following:

  • rubber gloves
  • safety goggles and a mask, or a face visor
  • waterproof wellington boots
  • waterproof overalls
  • bin bags
  • mop and bucket or a wet vacuum cleaner
  • brushes

It is important that you do not eat or drink in the same space as the sewage spill while the clean-up takes place. This is to reduce the risk of cross contamination and serious illness through the ingesting of traces of sewage water picked up either from surfaces or from aerosols.

  • When the sewage clean-up has been completed, it is good practice to dispose of cleaning items and demonstrate very high standards of personal hygiene:
  • Dispose of any equipment used in the process, for example mops, brushes, buckets and clothes. Do not leave them outside or where they can be accessed by children or pets.
  • Wash every item of clothing you wore during the clean-up. These should be washed as a separate load to any other clothing. Better yet, if you can do without them, throw them away.
  • Wash your hands, arms and face meticulously. Droplets or particles of sewage can be spread during the clean-up process.

How to clean-up sewage spills

Once you are wearing all your PPE and you have the equipment you need to hand, it is time to start the sewage clean-up operation.

Getting started 

Secure the area so no one else can get into the space affected by the sewage spill. This is important to protect children and pets. They could be made ill by the sewage or they could spread the contamination further.

Switch off electricity. Impurities in wastewater conduct electricity, so make sure you turn off the electric power to prevent electric shocks or even electrocution.

Remove the standing wastewater with either a mop and bucket or a wet vacuum cleaner, which needs to be thoroughly cleaned with disinfectant and hot water after it is used.

If there is solid waste, use a shovel to transfer it to heavy duty bin bags. If you are using more flimsy, standard bin bags, double bag them for extra strength and protection. Note, this waste cannot be taken to a standard municipal waste disposal site.

Ventilate the room as much as possible to promote drying. Open windows, or use fans or  dehumidifiers to help air circulate in the room. This will also help remove the smell, and lower the risk of mould and fungus growth once the initial clean-up has been completed.

Keeping or disposing of property

If the sewage spill is relatively extensive, it may have contaminated personal household belongings or property owned by your business.

You need to assess whether these items can be saved or have to be disposed of.

Items that have been fully submerged in sewage, especially if they are porous, may well need to be disposed of. Contaminated items may require specialist disposal because of the health risk they pose.

Items most commonly disposed of after a sewage spill or flood include carpets and rugs that rapidly absorb the water. Items with hard surfaces, or which only come into contact with a small amount of wastewater, may be returned to use by cleaning and disinfection.

The main rule when considering what to keep and what to get rid of after a sewage spill is: if in doubt, throw it out. Or you could contact a specialist cleaning company for expert advice on which items can be saved and how.

Sewage odour removal

Cleaning premises and property affected by sewage spills is only part of the challenge. Another big issue is odours. Sewage can cause lingering smells that are very difficult to eliminate.

A key element of the expertise and capability of specialist sewage clean-up companies is their ability to tackle odour problems effectively through the use of specific techniques and odour removing products.

Contaminated materials

A range of cleaning techniques will be needed for different materials and items, depending on how they are made or constructed.

Hard flooring

Wood and linoleum floors can be cleaned using a mild detergent and hot water. This can be a regular household detergent, such as washing up liquid, and the water should be as hot as you can stand it, to kill as many germs and bacteria as possible.

However, bear in mind, that this depends on how long the sewage has been standing. Any water left standing on a wood floor will, over time, seep into the material, causing lasting damage.

Once the hot water and detergent has been applied and the surface has been scrubbed, rinse with a solution of water and bleach (one gallon water: ¼ cup of bleach). Leave the floor to thoroughly air dry.

Important advice: any detergent or bleach needs to be in contact with the surface for at least 20 minutes before washing away, in order to be effective.

Carpets and rugs

Once carpet is contaminated with sewage, it is extremely difficult to return it back to its original condition, as it acts as a sponge, absorbing the water.

If you truly feel the damage isn’t that bad and it can be salvaged, then call in professional cleaners so they can use their expert knowledge and the latest technology for the best results.

Plasterboard and walls

Clean plasterboards and walls the same way you would clean hard flooring (detergent and hot water). Wall panelling will need to be removed to assess the full scale of any damage.

Water can seep into and up inside walls through capillary action, so contamination and damage may be hidden from view.

Wallpaper will also need to be removed, to allow the walls to thoroughly dry out. Fans and dehumidifiers can be used to speed up this process.

Furniture and bathroom surfaces

Furniture and bathroom surfaces such as toilets, sinks, baths and showers can be cleaned in a similar fashion to flooring. Use a bleach solution (one gallon water to ¼ cup of bleach) but only use a mild detergent (washing up liquid) on any delicate furniture to prevent damage to surfaces.


Wash clothing that has come into contact with the wastewater separately from other ‘clean’ clothes at 60°C wash or take them to a professional dry cleaners. If you do take them for professional cleaning, tell them the clothes have been contaminated with sewage so they can take hygiene precautions and apply the appropriate cleaning process.


A problem with furniture upholstery is that it may not be possible to remove material to wash it separately. The only option may be to scrubbing the affected area with detergent and hot water. If this does not work the items may have to be disposed of.

Items that have absorbed sewage, such as pillows, cushions or mattresses, should be thrown away as it is not possible to restore them fully to their original state.

Important advice: It is highly recommended that after everything has been disinfected once, you wash it a second time with hot soapy water and thoroughly rinse down and leave to air dry.

Seeking professional advice

Be prepared to call in the experts

Cleaning up after sewage spills are often the toughest and emotionally draining emergencies a homeowner or business will face. If necessary, you should seek specialist advice at the earliest opportunity. This is the best way to ensure all people (and pets) involved stay safe.

You should also consider contacting your insurer as you are likely to need to replace property and your insurance may cover sewage clean-up.

A specialist cleaning and waste removal company can ensure the sewage clean-up is carried out quickly, safely and effectively, reducing the risk of more costly long-term damage and of valued property being lost that could otherwise be saved.

Same day bookings are available at either Lynnbottom or Afton Marsh household waste and recycling centre (HWRC).

Residents can book one same day visit per day, up to two hours beforehand with the ability to amend or cancel their booking up to an hour before their visit. Slots are simple to book through the My Account service on our website or by phone: 01983 823777