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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Cleaning clothing and textiles after a natural disaster

Cleaning Clothes.jpgIn the aftermath of a natural disaster, saving your clothing and linens is obviously a top priority.

Similar to drying out a home that has been affected by a storm, quick action is necessary to salvage household textiles, which can mildew if left wet or damp and piled together, said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist.

“Mildew can permanently damage most fabrics and especially natural fibers such as cotton, linen and wool,” Peek said. “That’s one reason it’s so important to move as fast as possible.”

To clear away mud, dirt and other debris, rinse, hose, scrape and shake soiled items before prewashing them in cool water. Wearing rubber gloves will protect hands and exposed skin against any contaminants or debris such as fiberglass fibers, which may be embedded in soiled textiles.

Washables can be laundered in a washer, though the washer’s drum should be cleaned and disinfected first. If the washer does not have an automatic prewash or presoak setting, set the machine to agitate then spin.

Work with small loads, but use full water levels to give items room to agitate.

“Put the detergent in first, add the water and let the detergent dissolve fully before loading your clothes in the washer,” Peek said. “You also can add regular household bleach as a disinfectant. Read the label first, though, because some detergents shouldn’t be used with bleach.”

Household textiles and clothing should then be laundered in the hottest water safe for the fabrics being cleaned.

“Wash items and avoid drying them until you’re satisfied they’re clean. The heat can permanently set stains,” Peek said. “Take the items out and hold them up to the light to check for dirt and stains.”

Dry-clean-only items should be taken to a dry cleaner after being air- or line-dried.

For more information on cleaning clothing and household textiles soiled by storm water, contact the county Extension office.

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Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
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Email: leilana.mckindra@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
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