How to Clean Up After a Toilet Overflows

Dear Home Ec 101,

So, twice this has happened lately thanks to little girls who don’t always flush when they’re supposed to.

So I have all the towels to mop up the water and um mess, from the toilet overflow itself. Then I have to wash the towels, floor, and toilet. And then I feel the need to run a bleach cycle in the washing machine, just in case.

And I also feel like after mopping the floor I need to disinfect the floor. Then I want to disinfect the mop.

So this is a big annoying process. What are your thoughts on these unpleasant messes?

Signed,
Flustered in Flushing

home ecHeather says:

Think about this, properly washing your hands with soap and water is just as effective as washing with an antimicrobial soap. It’s not the Triclosan that gets your hands clean, it’s the soap bringing the germs into the water where they are then rinsed away.

When cleaning, even very germy things, the same principle applies.

Unless someone in your house has a compromised immune system -I’m talking a baby that has been in the NICU, an elderly relative, chemo patients, etc. There is no need to go crazy with the disinfection in the bathroom. In general, the act of cleaning takes care of almost everything. The act of washing your hands properly after using the toilet and before preparing food is what takes care of the rest.

Does this mean I don’t recommend thoroughly cleaning your bathroom after a sewage back up?

Heck no.

I just mean it’s not quite as necessary to do as many disinfecting steps as you’re undertaking.

Regular bathroom cleaning is sufficient in most households when there there hasn’t been a back up of sewage. Regular use is one thing, fecal matter is a special case.

If you mop the floor thoroughly using your favorite soap and water you’re going to get up just about every germ. Rinse your mop and the bucket thoroughly and then go back over with a mild bleach solution (Read How to Use Bleach Safely) the act of disinfecting the floor will also disinfect the mop and the bucket at the same time. The germs, like e. coli or staph, are going to be killed while they are cleaned up. The first step of getting rid of as much organic matter as possible is actually the most important one.

As far as the towels, again the soap and water situation works here, too. Just wash the towels by themselves, on the hottest cycle, with the longest agitation possible. (Still use the large load setting, you want as much water flow as possible.) Add 2 TBSP of bleach to the wash water, about five minutes into the agitation cycle. This is the same method recommended to clean flood contaminated clothing. It is adequate for your needs, as well. If you’re still feeling skeeved, go ahead and run a cycle to wash your clothes washer, but that is probably overkill.

Also it’s not just girls, I’m fighting the same battle with my boys. Remember last week’s post on how to use a plunger? I’ve been getting a fair amount of practice here, too.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Related Posts:


Did you enjoy this article?
Share
the
Love
Get Free Updates

Comments

  1. Hot water in the washing machine isn't hot enough to kill e.coli. Actually, bacteria thrive at hot water heater temps- 120-140 degrees.

    Using bleach and a very hot dryer will, and drying items in full sunlight will also disinfect them.

  2. My regular bathroom cleaning approach probably will deal with it, assuming the floor isn't carpeted (eww!!!!!). After cleaning the hard surfaces with detergent and water, I spray everything down with Lysol, let it sit for a couple of minutes, and then wipe dry with a ratty but clean towel that goes straight back into the wash. I do this weekly on every hard surface, and I never have any odors or mildew.

  3. I would just like to reassure the OP on this that she is not the only parent who has children who seem to be incapable of flushing the toilet properlty… it is a constant battle with my girls (read "did you flush the toilet" "Yes" "no you didn't I didn't hear it flush, go flush again" kind of thing)…

    We get overflows… what I do is mop up the worst of the spill with old towells that I don't worry about using bleach on. declog the toilet and then mop up again (more old towels!) then once the toilet is running well I give it a good clean and I use some kind of floor cleaner to give the floor and surrounding area the once over…mostly the stuff I would use for my weekly floor cleaning in the bathrooms tbh… (I like pinesol cos of the smell!!)

    And finally, the towells used for the mopping up process are put on a hot wash with bleach and the mop gets rinsed in a fresh bucket of hot water and pinesol ( or similar) to clean it.

    • With one of my children it's hard to convince him, that if he needs THAT much toilet paper, that he needs to flush more than once. That's always interesting. . .

  4. Can one substitute vinegar (lots of it) for the bleach?
    I can't be around bleach—it triggers SEVERE migraines.

  5. Perhaps more of a problem for baby clothes, but I wash things that have been pooped on in cold water first, then in hot water. Hitting poop stains with heat will set the stain, since like with blood, the staining part of poop is the iron in it.

    But, I do keep a stack of old towels for the dog and worse, and they all pick up rust stains from the radiators anyway, so I don't fuss over them.

  6. I wish I could have turned off the valve on the toilet before it overflowed. I’ll mop and use a bleach or good soap. Thanks.

  7. Thanks for this information! I found this due to my own little girl’s overflow :( that I’m about to have to clean! I’m a germaphobe like the original asker and this article may help put me at ease.

    I’m very curious about your response to another comment (about vinegar). I’m going to google it to see if I can find it. :)

    Also, she was especially disappointed about her (colorful) bath mat getting toilet water on it! Any way to sanitize/save it?!

  8. I am freaking out right now! I have OCD and my toilet just overflowed and leaked into the kitchen. I mopped everything up with towels, etc, and cleaned the bathroom as I normally would (regular cleaner). I any clean the kitchen until the ceiling stops dripping (toilet water leaked through the bathroom vent into the kitchen below). Add to this the fact that Ido t have bleach on hand (and prefer natural methods) and my washer is only hooked up to cold water. AND… When the incident happened the whole family raced to the bathroom and tracked through the “water” then proceeded down the carpeted hall and stairs back into the kitchen. Waaaaaah. Aside from the ick factor is my family/visitors in danger? I will wash the kitchen floors tomorrow with water, vinegar and dish soap but do I need to worry about all the cross contamination that went on tonight? Freaking out!

    • Just encourage your family to practice extra-good hand washing. Everything will be fine. They are aware the toilet overflowed and probably kind of grossed out, too. It’s going to be fine.
      In a couple years, I promise this will be one of those things where someone will say, “Remember the time the Jones family came over and Frank clogged the toilet?” (Worse if it was Mary). It just takes a while to get to the point you can laugh at it. Toilet overflows happen to everyone, especially in homes with children, as I’m not sure why children can’t understand that if they are having trouble getting clean they can flush and then return to the situation at hand, but. . .
      You aren’t alone. Hang in there.