Cleaning Flooded Upholstered Furniture, Curtains, Bedding, Table Linens and Other Household Textiles NC State Extension Publications

When faced with flood-damaged upholstered furniture, your options are limited. If the water reached the upholstery, the fabric may be stained or watermarked. If the chair or sofa was in water for several hours or more, mud and silt may have penetrated the fabric and padding. The padding will hold the water, causing mildew to grow inside and out. Finished wood surfaces will become cloudy. If water penetrates the finish, the wood will mildew. Joints in the frame may loosen. The furniture also may be contaminated with sewage, pesticides, or industrial chemicals that were in the floodwaters. It may be best to discard the upholstered furniture.

If you decide to restore upholstered furniture, you must strip it down to the frame. Springs may or may not be salvageable depending on the type and how they are attached to the frame.


“S” springs attached with metal clamps can be cleaned and disinfected. Coil springs attached to a webbing hose of burlap or rubber may be more difficult to assess. Burlap webbing can mildew and will probably need to be replaced. A reupholsterer can tell you if it will cost less to purchase new coil springs or clean and reattach all the existing springs to a new base.

Throw out any innerspring mattress or box spring that was partially or totally submerged in floodwater contaminated with sewage, pesticides, industrial chemicals, etc. You may need to throw out mattresses even if the floodwater was not contaminated because it is almost impossible to dry mattresses thoroughly before mold begins to grow. Buying a good used or new mattress is the best choice for your health in the long run.

You can salvage a mattress or box spring that has gotten wet from a leaking roof or had minimum contact (only 1 to 2 inches of contact for only a few hours) with clean floodwater (i.e. broken water lines). Clean the surface and put the mattress right-side-up in the sun to dry as much as possible. Use blocks to keep it off the ground and allow air to circulate around it. Use a fan to circulate air and speed up the drying process. But, if there is a musty odor after it dries, then mildew is present. You should have the mattress or box springs sanitized by a professional. Look in the yellow pages of the telephone book under "Mattress-Renovating" for a professional in your area.

Mildew will start to grow on sheets, tablecloths, towels, and similar items that are in water for 24 to 48 hours. Even linens in a closet above floodwaters can mildew if left in the flooded house for 4 days or more. If the stains from contaminated floodwaters have dried, machine wash the washable linens using an enzyme detergent and warm water. Then, wash them a second time in hot water using a chlorine bleach to sanitize them. Remember that colorsafe oxygen bleaches do not disinfect. (Note: If there is a large amount of iron in soil deposits on the linens or if your water has a high iron content, chlorine bleach can cause rust stains to appear on fabrics.)

If flooded fabric appears to have rust stains, try a commercially prepared rust remover. Look for these products in the laundry or fabric dye section of the supermarket. Usually they are intended to be used on white or colorfast fabrics as they can cause color removal. Follow package directions and test first on a small area that won’t show. Remove the rust stains before you disinfect with chlorine bleach. Do not dry fabrics in a dryer until satisfied with the results. Drying in a dryer can set stains, making them impossible to remove.