Sewage Spills: Cleaning Them Up

This document was produced in cooperation with the Emergency Management Division of the Washington State Military Department.

Thorough cleaning of indoor sewage spills is necessary to protect people -- especially small children -- from harmful bacteria and viruses. Clean-up should begin as soon as possible to reduce the risk of exposure to sewage.

Clean up tips:

  • Keep children and pets out of the area until clean-up has been completed.
  • Wear rubber gloves and boots. Use eye protection.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and launder clothes separately after completing the clean-up.
  • Remove all furniture, loose rugs, and so on from the area.
  • Saturated wall-to-wall carpeting (and the pad) usually cannot be adequately cleaned. They should be removed, wrapped in plastic, and taken to a transfer station or sanitary landfill. If you decide to keep the carpeting, hire a licensed carpet cleaning company to steam clean and disinfect the carpet.
  • All hard surfaces, such as linoleum, hardwood floors, concrete, wood moldings, wood, and metal furniture, and on should be thoroughly cleaned with hot water and a mild detergent (dish detergent), and then rinsed with a bleach solution by mixing one tablespoon of liquid household unscented bleach to one gallon of water. Let the surface air dry.
  • Upholstered furniture, loose rugs, drapery, and so on should be professionally cleaned. Notify the cleaner of the problem.
  • Remove and replace plaster, plasterboard, and lath that have been saturated and are soft to the touch. If the surface has been wetted, clean as you would a hard surface, but do not saturate the plaster.
  • Clean sinks, dishwashers, and other plumbing fixtures that have had sewage back-up with detergent, and then rinse with the bleach solution.
  • Disinfect clean-up mops, brooms, and brushes with the bleach solution.
  • Prevent mold growth and reduce odors by increasing air circulation -- open all windows and doors. The use of fans and heaters may speed this process.

You can clean undamaged canned food:

  1. Remove labels
  2. Wash with a scrub brush in a detergent solution (use washed cans as soon as possible because they will rust)
  3. Rinse in clean water
  4. Sanitize by:
    • Boiling for 10 minutes, (Do not boil cans of carbonated beverages), or
    • Immersing cans in bleach solution for 15 minutes
  5. Re-label with marker or grease pencil


  • Sealed food items
  • Home canned foods
  • Food items packaged in paper or cardboard
  • Unpackaged foods such as fruit, potatoes, squash

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DOH Publication 821-015
Revised - September 2007
Reviewed annually