University of Illinois Extension
Disaster Resources - University of Illinois Extension

Cleaning Flood-Soiled Bedding


Floodwater may be contaminated with sewage, leaving harmful bacteria in bedding. It is recommended that bedding items exposed to long-standing flood waters be discarded.

Bedding items subjected to "flash flooding" may be salvageable. Use common sense in determining whether the time, effort, cost and health risks involved in cleaning bedding outweigh the expense of replacement. Be aware that the cleaning and disinfecting process may destroy some items or affect their quality to such an extent that they may be useless.


A quality innerspring mattress should be sent to a commercial renovating company. Renovation is too difficult to do at home. Ask your local public health department for information on area mattress cleaning/sterilization companies. Be sure to ask about the cost of such work.


If pillows have been badly soaked, it may not be possible to remove all objectionable odors.

Feather pillows

If ticking is in good condition, wash feathers and ticking together.

  1. Brush off surface soil.
  2. To circulate water through pillows, open a few inches of the seam in opposite corners of the pillow, turn edges in, sew loosely with strong thread, or fasten with safety pins.
  3. Wash in machine or by hand in warm (not hot) suds 15 to 20 minutes. Use recommended amount of disinfectant in the wash cycle. If using an automatic washer, do not wash more than two pillows at a time.
  4. Rinse at least three times in clear, warm water.
  5. Spin off water or gently squeeze out as much water as possible.
  6. Dry in an automatic dryer at low heat setting, or dry in a warm room with a fan, or across two or three clothes-lines. Put several bath towels in dryer with pillows to speed up drying. Allow at least two hours. Shake pillows occasionally to loosen feathers to hasten drying.

Polyester fiberfill pillows

  1. Brush off surface soil.
  2. Wash by hand in warm water and low-sudsing detergent. Add recommended amount of disinfectant to the wash water. Flush water through pillow by compressing it. (Twisting and wringing will tear filling.) Change water and repeat as necessary.
  3. Rinse three times in clear, warm water.
  4. Spin off water in automatic machine. Tumble dry in dryer at moderate setting with several bath towels, or press out as much water as possible by hand, and hang on line outdoors in sunshine, if possible, to dry.

Foam rubber or urethane pillows

  1. Remove cover. Brush off surface soil.
  2. Soak in cool water: then wash in warm suds by hand. Use a bathtub or large sink. Wash by pushing down on pillow, releasing and pushing down again. Rinse the same way. Many pillows can be machine-washed on gentle cycle with lukewarm water. A disinfectant should be added to the water whether washed by hand or machine. Use amount recommended on the label.
  3. Rinse repeatedly using several changes of luke warm water.
  4. Gently squeeze or spin out excess water. Blot with towels.
  5. Dry away from heat and sunlight. The use of a fan to circulate air will help. Do not dry in dryer unless on an air-only setting. Pillows may dry very slowly.

Blankets, quilts, comforters

Wash only one blanket, quilt or comforter at a time.

  1. Shake and brush to remove surface soil. Follow manufacturer's directions if available. Otherwise, proceed as follows.
  2. Soak at least 15 minutes in lukewarm water. Turn two or three times during soak period. Several soak periods may be beneficial depending on the amount of soil lodged in fibers. Change water for each soak period.
  3. Use a mild detergent, disinfectant and lukewarm water. Immerse blanket and work suds in gently, using as little agitation as possible. If necessary change water and repeat.
  4. Rinse repeatedly using several changes of luke warm water.
  5. Gently squeeze out water. Hang blanket over two lines to dry so it forms an "M" shape or dry it in a preheated dryer with several large dry bath towels. Remove blanket from dryer while it is still damp and hang over two lines to finish drying. Gently stretch blanket into shape.
  6. Dry outdoors in sunlight if possible.
  7. Brush blanket on both sides with brush to raise nap, press binding, using synthetic setting on iron.

Sheets, towels, linens

  1. Brush off as much loose soil as possible.
  2. Rinse mud-stained fabrics in cold water to take out particles of soil lodged in fibers.
  3. Wash in warm suds and disinfectant several times if necessary. Do not use hot water since it will set red and yellow clay stains.
  4. If stains remain after several washing, try bleaching white cottons and linens with chlorine bleach. Do not over bleach. Sun drying will aid bleaching. Bleaches may be used on some colored fabrics. Follow directions on bleach package.

Issued by Charlotte Crawford and Lois E. Smith, Extension Educators, Illinois Cooperative Extension Service, February 1995.

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