Guidance

Flooding and health: advice for the public

Published 27 October 2023

Who this guidance is for

This guidance provides advice for everyone on how to keep you and your family safe while cleaning up your home affected by flooding.

About flooding and health

Flooding can cause a range of health problems. There may be direct effects such as physical injury, or an increased risk of developing skin or gut infections through contact with contaminated food water. Longer-term effects can include mental health problems and chest problems due to exposure to mould and damp.

In England, most of the health burden linked to flooding comes from effects on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

How to safely clean your home

The recovery phase following a flood event includes cleaning and drying of your home or property to ensure and check for any health harms as a result of the flood. Floodwater can contain harmful pollutants or contaminants hazardous to humans and animals. When cleaning up a home affected by floodwater, the use of rubber boots, protective overalls or waterproof apron, and waterproof gloves are important to avoid exposure to floodwater.

The National Flood Forum provides information on local flood groups, while further information on flood recovery is available on GOV.UK.

Please note that it is normal to experience tiredness, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety during these circumstances. It can take time to recover after a flood. Take regular breaks and seek help from others where possible.

It’s also important to consider the following.

First, flood water can carry contaminants that can be harmful. Please wear rubber boots, waterproof gloves and a plastic apron while cleaning up for protection.

If the clean-up causes a lot of water to splash from scrubbing, hosing or pressure-washing, wear a safety face mask.

Wear eye protection such as goggles.

Thoroughly wash your hands with warm water and soap after each cleaning session and contact with flood water. If you have any open cuts or sores, clean and use waterproof plasters.

If you are experiencing water disruption, please use bottled water to wash your hands.

Be careful with electricals and gas; it’s advised not to turn gas or electricals if they may have become wet. Only turn them on once they have been checked by a qualified technician.

How and what to wash

To reduce the risk of catching an infectious disease from flood water you should do the following.

Wash clothes used during cleaning on a separate wash cycle from your other clothes.

Be careful with clean-up as injuries can occur from electrocution or sharp items hidden by flood waters.

Use hot water and detergent to clean all hard surfaces across your home that may have come into contact with floodwater – this includes walls and flooring.

Clean and disinfect your kitchen including all countertops, all crockery (for example plates, cups, bowls) and cooking items (such as chopping boards, pans, vessels, knives and other accessories) before using them with food. If you have a dishwasher, and it has been cleared by a qualified technician, you can use it to clean and sanitise your kitchen items. It is advised to discard any wooden boards and utensils if contaminated by floodwater.

Textile items such as clothing, bedding and toys should be washed on a 60°C cycle with detergent. If you suspect issues with your drainage system, it is recommended that a launderette be used for washing large quantities of clothes and linens until your waste-water system has been checked.

If there are any dead animals such as rodents and pests, if possible, double bag these in plastic and dispose them while wearing rubber gloves into your normal waste bin.

How to dry your items

It’s very important to ensure heaters, dryers or fires are well-ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Ensure good ventilation if using portable indoor heating appliances when drying indoor spaces.

Do not use petrol or diesel generators or other similar fuel-driven equipment indoors because their exhaust gases contain carbon monoxide, which can poison if in high concentrations in the air.

Heating, dehumidifiers and good ventilation can help to dry out your home.

If you have gas or oil central heating, make sure to get it checked by a qualified engineer before turning it on. Keep the thermostat between 20°C and 22°C for steady drying.

If you have air bricks to any underfloor spaces, ensure these are unblocked to boost cross ventilation to these areas. Make sure to look for any loose material or dust while your floorboards and walls continue to dry out, vacuuming these areas on a regular basis.

When you can, remove dirty water and silt from the property. If you have wooden floors, check the space under the ground floor as the dirty water in this space may need to be pumped out.

As your home continues to dry out, the mould should disappear. If it persists, please contact a specialist cleaner.

Any items that have been discarded during the cleaning and drying process should be placed in rubbish bags and within hard bins.

Insurance support

Check your insurance – there are a number of organisations that can help householders to find out more about flood defence technology such as the National Flood Forum, through their Blue Pages guide and the Property Care Association.

Check Flood Re, a joint initiative between the government and insurers that helps to make flood cover in household insurance more affordable – find out how they help insurers at risk of flooding.

Mental health impacts

Experiencing a flood can be frightening, and it can disrupt your daily life activities. It is normal to experience tiredness, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety in these circumstances even if your home was not flooded. It’s important not to underestimate the stress and strain of being flooded, having to move from your home, or cleaning up after a flood. Take the time to consider your and your loved ones’ mental health and wellbeing.

Events that occur after a flood can also be a source of stress, and there are several factors that can cause this feeling, such as:

  • disruption to your GP clinic and accessing necessary healthcare services
  • disruption to regular household activities
  • interruption to school facilities
  • damage to home and personal belongings

Experiencing any one of these factors can be distressing and can cause anxiety. It is normal to feel this way, even for a while after the event. If you are feeling this way, please get in touch with a local community support group, or neighbours to help you cope and recover.

More information on the mental health impacts of floods is available on GOV.UK.

Looking after yourself in the short term

Take the time to consider your mental health and wellbeing. Make time for yourself; go to a place where you feel calm and safe. Take time to rest, relax, get sufficient sleep and eat healthily and regularly. Don’t force yourself to go over the events or pressure others to talk about events or their concerns.

There will be lots of practical work that needs to be done but making time to talk to someone you trust can be helpful. Your friends and family are there to support you and making the time to talk to and support each other to get better is important.

Start clean-up efforts within your home when you feel ready, and don’t overdo it during the clean-up and recovery process. Exercise can help you feel better: attempt something manageable such as walking. If you exercise regularly, it’s important that you try and keep to your regular routine, if possible.

Remember: anxiety, stress, tiredness and difficulty sleeping are normal in these circumstances.

It can help to start repair efforts as soon as you feel ready to remove flood water and reduce lasting damage where possible but do not overdo it when cleaning up. Remember, anxiety, stress, tiredness and difficulty sleeping are normal in these circumstances.

Help with practical difficulties can be of great importance to maintaining your wellbeing, so keep in touch with your local authority who will be able to support you in resolving issues.

Connecting with your local community is an important source of practical and psychological support. You may be able to access support groups, local recovery hubs and community centres in your area.

Looking after others in the short term

If you are helping someone who has been affected by flooding, there are informal ways to offer support if professional support is not needed or available. Providing practical care and support as well as emotional support, for example listening to and comforting people, is commonly referred to as psychosocial support, and psychological first aid (PFA) is a well-recognised approach to facilitate this type of support.

Before attempting to deliver PFA, it’s important to complete training to develop relevant knowledge and skills.

There is an online course in PFA as well as a specialised course to deliver PFA to children.

Looking after yourself and others in the long term

If you have concerns about your own or others’ mental health, or your distress continues over an extended period of time, visit your GP or call NHS 111, who can help to identify further sources of support.

NHS Better Health also has advice on how to deal with stress or anxiety as well as information about where you can access further support.

NHS mental health services are available online and locally.

A small proportion of people may require access to specialist mental healthcare. This can be accessed through GPs or by self-referring to a local NHS Talking Therapies service.

Helplines, such as Samaritans, can provide support to anyone in emotional distress or struggling to cope. The Samaritans free helpline is available 24 hours a day on 116123.

How you can help others

Experiencing a flood can be distressing and some people can be at a higher risk of developing further mental health problems. In these cases, it is important to seek support from loved ones such as family, friends and neighbours to lessen the negative impacts of flooding on mental health.

Getting in touch and staying together with families, friends or community groups can help to reduce the suffering and promote recovery of people who are affected. Local authorities and voluntary groups may also be able to offer assistance in flood preparedness, signposting you to your local flood warden.

If you are helping someone who has been affected by flooding, there are simple techniques you can use to offer support. These include:

  • assess the situation and ensure that a person’s circumstances are safe, and help them make contact with recovery agencies such as through local authority, flood warden (National Flood Forum)
  • check there are no immediate physical health needs, for example, those that may require an ambulance or a hospital visit
  • check with them about their needs or concerns, and identify if any basic needs are not met, such as access to food, water, shelter and medication
  • help people contact their loved ones and others who can provide familiar sources of support
  • listen, provide information if you have it, and help people to make plans for next steps

Before offering help, it may be useful to identify access to support for those that are affected, or checking the local flood warnings in case there is a continued flood risk to provide them with the appropriate support.

More information about how to support people who have been affected by flooding or other emergencies is available from the World Health Organization (WHO).

There are other organisations that provide more information on keeping safe during a flood as well as wellbeing advice, including:

Local health services

Anyone with concerns for their health should contact their GP for advice, or call NHS 111.

If you want to check that your scheduled appointment is unaffected (for example GP, outpatient or inpatient services at a local hospital), use the usual local telephone numbers for your health services. There is local health service information on the NHS website.

Further information

The latest alerts and general flooding advice is provided on GOV.UK.