Mold can quickly spread 24 to 48 hours after a house is damaged by water, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That’s why cleaning up the mold as soon as possible is critical to helping minimize the damage in your home. Here are some tips to help clean up mold after your home has experienced a flood.

Wait to Enter Your Home Until It’s Safe

No matter if it’s a flood or another type of natural disaster, do not reenter your home until local officials confirm it is OK to do so, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Officials want to confirm there are not any hazards, for example structural or electrical, that make it dangerous to start cleaning and moving about your home, adds the EPA.

Contact Your Insurance Company

You’ll also want to contact your insurance company before you start any cleanup efforts to make sure you thoroughly document the damage for an adjuster to come and review, says the Insurance Information Institute. If you’re a National Flood Insurance Program policyholder, you’ll want to make sure you’re helping prevent further mold growth by beginning the cleaning process once it is safe to do so, says FEMA.

Take photos and make a list of all discarded items and have a few samples (like cutting out a small portion of your damaged carpet) so you have that documentation on hand for your claim’s process, says FEMA.

Mold Cleanup 101

Depending on the extent of the flood damage, you may or may not be able to do the cleaning yourself. If the damage is extensive, you may want to call a professional to help, says the EPA. Check your flood insurance policy to make sure you understand what costs may or may not be covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

If you choose to hire a professional, you should check the professional’s references and ask them to follow guidelines from government or professional organizations, such as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, according to the EPA.

If you do decide to do the cleanup yourself, there are several important measures to take before doing so. Do not touch any mold or items with mold with your bare hands, the EPA warns. You must wear protective gear like gloves, googles and an N-95 respirator, says the EPA. If you need electricity, you must also operate a portable generator outside to help avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, adds the EPA. Lastly, you must immediately shower and change clothes after you’re done cleaning, recommends the EPA.

Here are some other basic tips from the EPA on how to start cleaning:

  1. If there’s still water in your home, use a wet vacuum to remove it.
  2. Open all windows, doors, cabinets and drawers to help get the proper ventilation before you start working. You can even consider removing doors and cabinets from their hinges.
  3. Use fans and humidifiers to help air out the space.
  4. Remove mold with water and detergent. Make sure never to mix bleach and ammonia. It’s toxic.
  5. Separate the debris you want to throw away into six categories: 1) household garbage, 2) construction (i.e. dry wall, carpet, etc.) 3) vegetative (i.e. tree branches, leaves, etc.), 4) electronics, 5) hazardous waste (i.e. batteries, paint, etc.) and 6) large appliances.
  6. When you’re done, try to leave as many windows and doors open without leaving your home in danger of a possible theft while you’re gone.

Time is key when removing mold from your home. By following the tips above, you can help minimize the damage mold can have on your home. With proper cleaning, your home can be on the path to recovery.