Basement Water Damage: What to Do, Causes & Prevention

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: May 21, 2024

Whether it’s dripping from an appliance or seeping through the walls, you need to take care of basement water damage right away. 

For over 15 years, we’ve restored flooded basements in the Chicago area. This guide is designed to help you reclaim your home.

Before You Get Started

Before you start with DIY basement water damage cleanup, do these things:

  • Prioritize safety. It’s crucial to keep yourself safe during basement water cleanup. If there’s active flooding, shut off the water source if possible. The best way to do this is to find the main water shut-off valve and turn it off. Make sure there’s no raw sewage or other obvious contaminants present before you enter the flooded area. For floods due to heavy rain or groundwater seepage, consider using a sump pump to remove the water. Additionally, ensure all drains are clear and working properly. Consider hiring a professional if the situation is severe or if grossly contaminated water is present.
  • Document the damage. In order to file a basement water damage claim, you need to document affected areas, materials, and belongings. Take pictures before cleaning up so that you can detail the damages for your insurance company.
  • Gather your tools. A submersible pump or a wet/dry vacuum is crucial for water extraction, while a dehumidifier and fans aid in drying the area. 
  • Wear protective gear. Gloves, boots, and protective clothing are essential for personal safety, and a moisture meter can be handy for ensuring all dampness is eradicated. 

What Are the Signs of Basement Water Damage?

basement wall crumbling
Crumbling cement is a sign of water damage in the basement

When you see several inches of water on the floor, you know something’s wrong. Some clues can be easier to miss. These are common signs of basement water damage in homes and commercial buildings.

  • Single or networked cracks in walls and floors
  • Flakes of cement spalling from surfaces
  • Efflorescence deposits accumulating on walls
  • Crumbled or rotted wood, drywall, and plaster
  • Yellow- or brown-tinted discoloration on surfaces
  • Water coming into the basement where walls meet floors
  • Pervasive, unpleasant smells, especially around drains
  • Mold growth and stains on porous materials and furnishings
  • Puddles or standing water
  • Sinking or uneven floor
  • Damp air 

Many of these tip-offs aren’t obvious right away. You might not notice hairline cracks in dark corners or efflorescence behind appliances. 

Make downstairs inspections a monthly routine. This strategy helps you stay ahead of basement moisture problems before they get worse.

How to Fix Basement Water Damage

basement water damage equipment

1. Determine whether the water damage is fresh or old

Identifying whether you’re dealing with fresh or old water damage is an essential first step in the repair process. 

  • Fresh water damage typically presents with wet or damp spots – especially in porous materials like drywall or wood (mold may also be present on these materials), standing water, or a musty smell. 
  • Old water damage, on the other hand, may take the form of stains, mold growth on hard surfaces, peeling paint, ring stains on soft materials, or warped walls and flooring.

Remember, discovering the source is crucial. 

If you detect fresh water damage, trace back the water to its point of entry and address the issue to prevent further damage. 

If you’re confident what you’re seeing is old water damage, take steps to repair it accordingly. 

2. Identify the Cause

Next, you need to identify the source of water entry. 

Here are a few of the most common culprits:

Problem: Faulty Sump Pump

Sign: Unusual noises or vibrations, continuous operation, frequent cycling, and standing water. 


  • To fix a faulty sump pump, verify that the unit is receiving power, as the issue may simply be a tripped circuit breaker. 
  • If power isn’t the issue, check the float switch for any obstructions that could be preventing it from triggering the pump. 
  • Inspect the drain for clogs or damage, as this could impede the pump’s function. If the problem persists, it may be necessary to consult a professional or consider replacing the pump. 

Problem: Leaky Appliance Hoses

Sign: Blisters, bubbles, cracks, or discoloration in the hoses, leaks, standing water, and rust or discoloration around the hose. 


  • Begin by identifying the source of the leak, which is often at a connection point or due to a crack in the hose itself. 
  • If it’s a connection issue, try tightening the coupling using a wrench.
  • For cracks in the hose, it’s generally best to replace the faulty part entirely. 
  • Remember to switch off the appliance and disconnect it from the power source before attempting any repairs.

Problem: Cracked Basement Walls

Signs: Visible cracks, bulging or bowing in the wall, water leakage, mold or mildew, and flaking or peeling paint. 


  • If you have cracked basement walls, identify the type and severity of the crack. Minor fissures can often be treated with hydraulic cement or masonry caulk.
  • For more significant cracks, a process called crack injection may be needed. This involves filling the crack with a sealant from inside the basement. 

It’s important to note that while these solutions can address the immediate issue, they may not solve the underlying problems causing the cracks, like water pressure or a shifting foundation. 

Consult with a professional if your basement has extensive or recurring issues.

Problem: Leaks Around Windows 

Signs: Cloudy windows, musty smell, condensation between the panes, rotting window frames, water stains, and mold. 


  • Start by identifying the source of the leak. It could be due to age, wear, or improper installation. 
  • Once identified, clean the area and apply a high-quality caulk. Ensure the caulk is applied evenly and fills any gaps to prevent future leaks. 
  • If leakage persists, you may need to replace the window or hire a professional for extra help.

Problem: Broken Basement Pipes

Signs: Standing water, puddles, unpleasant odors, damp walls or carpets, high utility bills, persistent water sounds, reduced water pressure, mold. 


  • Fixing broken basement pipes requires careful preparation and the right tools. Start by turning off the water main to prevent further damage. 
  • Next, assess the extent of the damage to determine whether a simple repair will suffice or if a pipe replacement is necessary.
  • For minor leaks, a pipe repair clamp can be used. However, if the pipe is severely damaged, it may need to be cut out with a pipe cutter and replaced with a new section using pipe couplings. 

Remember, safety is paramount, so utilize protective gear and consider professional help if the job seems too complex.

Problem: Bad Exterior Drainage

Signs: Leaking basement, water stagnation, erosion, foundation cracks, mold growth. 


  • First, identify the source of the water problem, which could be downspouts, gutters, or the slope of your yard. 
  • Second, install a French drain or drainage ditch to redirect water away from your home. You could also consider grading your yard to improve its slope. 
  • Finally, perform routine maintenance of your drainage system to prevent future issues.

Problem: Sewage Backup

Signs: Smells and odors, overflowing sinks and toilets, gurgling noises, slow drains, puddles and pooling water, mold and mildew. 


  • In the event of a sewage backup, it’s important to act promptly to minimize damage. 
  • Remember to notify your local health department and insurance provider about the incident. 
  • Take photos of the damage for insurance purposes.

3. Remove Standing Water

Use a wet vacuum or a pump to remove standing water. These machines can be rented from home improvement stores. If the water intrusion is minimal, use towels, rags, and mops to clean up moisture.

Tear Out and Dispose of Damaged Items

Next, remove and dispose of any damaged items like carpet, drywall, or insulation. Remember to wear protective gear during this process. 

Bag and dispose of everything as quickly as possible. Wet materials left in the basement slow down the drying process. 

Clean and Disinfect

Clean all non-porous surfaces with a strong detergent and water mix. Baking soda and white vinegar make a good deodorizing solution. Follow up by thoroughly disinfecting the basement with bleach and water.

If there’s mold present, use a bleach solution of 1 cup of household laundry bleach in 1 gallon of water on affected surfaces. Clean all hard surfaces, including flooring, molding, wood, and furniture, and allow them to dry thoroughly. 

Dry the Basement

If there’s still standing water present, remove it with a wet vacuum or pump. If the water is gone, but the area is still damp, use fans, dehumidifiers, and heaters to dry out the area. This may take a few days, depending on the extent of the water damage. 

Replace and Rebuild

Once the area is clean and dry, you can begin the restoration process. This might involve replacing drywall, painting, or reinstalling flooring.

Make sure salvaged furnishings and belongings are completely dry before bringing them back down into the basement.

When to Call in the Pros

restoring water damaged basement
One of our skilled restoration pros were hard at work restoring a water damaged basement in Chicago recently

Basement water cleanup is time-consuming. You have to rent heavy equipment. Cleaning a water-damaged basement can be hard on your health too.

Natural flooding and sewage backups expose you to dangerous Category 3 black water. Many homeowners call in water damage restoration pros. It’s a smart choice for several reasons.

  • Restoration teams are trained to quickly identify and address the source of water in your basement.
  • They work with heavy-duty equipment that speeds up water removal and basement dry-out.
  • They’re industry-certified to take care of hazardous Category 3 black water cleanup.
  • Technicians handle all tear-out, replacement and reconstruction work.
  • Secondary problems like mold, staining and odors are all solved.
  • The company’s staff can help you file your homeowners claim for water damage.

Experienced water restoration professionals, like our teams here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, stay on call 24/7.

We can have certified technicians on the scene immediately.

Our time-efficient process minimizes water damage in the basement regardless of its source. We quickly restore your basement to its pre-water damage condition.

How to Prevent Basement Water Damage


Their strong, underground concrete design holds up our homes. That same construction increases the risk of basement water damage after plumbing mishaps or storm flooding.

These tips can help prevent basement flooding and reduce the chances of water damage downstairs.

  • Make inspections routine – Look behind stored boxes, check under appliances, and shine a flashlight into dark basement corners. Catch small leaks before they become big problems.
  • Maintain the sump pump – It’s your best line of defense against basement water damage. Keep the drain and discharge lines clean, and take care of sump pump repairs right away.
  • Give the pump a backup – When the lights go out, the sump pump stops working. Be ready with a battery-powered backup pump that kicks in automatically.
  • Waterproof your walls – Waterproofing basement walls blocks moisture from seeping in, thus averting the growth of mold and mildew and preventing structural weakening and potential flooding. Waterproofing serves as an essential line of defense, ensuring your basement remains dry, safe, and free from water-related damages.
  • Fix footing drains – A footing drain, also known as a foundation drain, is another effective measure for preventing basement water issues. Positioned around the perimeter of the house at the footing level, this type of drain is designed to intercept and redirect water before it penetrates the basement walls. By funneling away water that accumulates around the foundation, a footing drain helps maintain the integrity of your structure and prevent moisture-related issues. 
  • Add interior drainage – Interior basement drainage systems can get rid of chronic water issues. Most interior drainage systems involve hidden drains that capture water before it can reach and collect on the floor of the basement. These systems then move the water to a sump pump, which pumps the water outside of your home. 
  • Prevent plumbing leaks – Get rid of hazards like old tank-style water heaters before they burst and flood, replace rubber appliance supply hoses, check drain and water supply lines for leaks, and wrap or insulate pipes to keep them from freezing and breaking in cold weather.
  • Inspect your roof annually – Inspect your roof each year. Keep an eye out for worn, broken, or missing shingles or other signs of roof damage that can lead to leaks. 
  • Keep an eye on the laundry – A broken washing machine can quickly flood the basement. Routinely check supply and drain hoses for any signs of trouble.
  • Patch wall cracks – Don’t ignore hairline cracks on basement walls. Patch them before hydrostatic pressure from groundwater pushes water damage into the basement.
  • Cover window wells – Keep rainwater outside by installing acrylic covers over basement window wells. Regularly clean out well drains too.
  • Clean the gutters – This chore keeps gutters from clogging and spilling water down exterior walls. It also helps prevent erosion around the foundation that can cause basement water damage.
  • Redirect downspouts – Reduce the chances of heavy rains leaking into the basement by redirecting downspouts. Make sure they empty at least 10 feet away from the foundation.
  • Add gutter extensions – If your downspouts are still dumping water within 5 feet of your house, even after you’ve redirected them, consider adding extensions or a permanent underground drain pipe, which can move even large quantities of runoff away from your home. 
  • Install a curtain drain – A curtain drain can divert water that may travel toward your home from underground. Curtain drains are a type of French drain about two feet wide and 1.5” across. They’re filled with gravel and piping that catches water before it reaches your home and carries it away from your foundation before it can cause damage. 
  • Grade the yard – Water pooling around the foundation increases the chances of basement water damage. Improving the yard’s grade helps keep the basement dry, and it’s good for your landscape too.

Dealing with Basement Water Damage in Chicago? We Can Help!


Water in the basement will always mean trouble, but you don’t have to take care of it by yourself. Let us do the heavy lifting. From repairs and cleanup to drying and disinfecting, we cover it all. We’re industry-certified in every aspect of water damage restoration, including mold removal and remediation and property reconstruction.

You want that water-damaged basement back to normal as soon as possible.

You can count on ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba. 

We offer the best water damage restoration services in Chicago and the suburbs, and we’re ready for your call: 773-647-1985

What is the average cost of basement water damage restoration?

The cost depends on several factors. Basement size, the extent of damages and cleanup difficulty are part of the equation. Nationally, the average cost for cleaning a water-damaged basement can range between $2,500 and $5,000, but that figure increases with complicated repairs or restoration for finished basements.
Here in Chicago, you can expect to pay similar costs for fixing a water-damaged basement. It’s important to remember the additional expense of work such as drywall and carpet replacement, extensive plumbing repairs or improved drainage around the foundation. Your best source for an accurate estimate is an experienced restoration contractor.

Why is water damage in the basement bad?

Water in the basement wicks upward through a home’s structure. It can damage drywall and wood framing on the floors above. It can also spread mold throughout the house.

Why is Category 3 water in a basement dangerous?

Category 3 water carries bacteria, fungi and toxins that cause serious illnesses. It can be the source of diseases such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis and cryptosporidiosis.

Can personal items be salvaged from a water-damaged basement?

An experienced restoration company can often salvage and restore water-damaged items in the basement such as clothing, furnishings, electronics and paper documents.

Is water damage in the basement covered by homeowner’s insurance?

Basement water damages are usually covered by homeowners insurance. Most policies protect the downstairs from mishaps like plumbing problems, appliance breakdowns and even mold caused by a covered event. Check your policy for details.
If you have any questions, call your agent. You might want to update your current coverage. Some insurance companies require a special add-on “rider” for mishaps such as sump pump failure, drain backup and mold.
Homeowners insurance policies don’t cover natural flooding or basement flooding from sources such as municipal water main breaks and sewer line backups. If you don’t have a flood insurance policy, talk to your agent about options available through the National Flood Insurance Program.

I found insects in my basement after it flooded – what now?

Insects are drawn to the damp darkness of a flooded basement, but they retreat during the cleaning and drying process.
Over time, silverfish, spiders, pill bugs and cockroaches come back. Pesticides work, but consider trying a natural repellent that keeps insects out of the basement after flood cleanup.
Diatomaceous Earth – Dust diatomaceous earth into corners and along joints between basement walls and floor. Be sure areas are dry before applying the white powder.
Natural Cedar – This effective bug repellent adds a wonderful fragrance to the basement. Suspend cedar balls from overhead fixtures, place cedar blocks in basement corners, or set out containers of cedar chips.
Peppermint Oil – It makes us think of sweets, but its concentrated odor makes insects turn and run. Mix 10 drops of peppermint oil per 1 ounce of warm water in a spray bottle, and lightly apply it to hard-to-reach areas. The mixture keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks. 

How do I deal with unpleasant basement odors?

Freshen stale basement air with low-tech solutions. Baking soda absorbs bad odors in just a few days, and it’s especially effective spread in thin layers on cookie sheets. If you don’t share your home with cats, set out open containers of kitty litter. Large bowls of white vinegar work well too.

How can I get rid of efflorescence deposits on basement walls?

These powdery patches often appear on basement concrete after water damage cleanup. Scrub them away with a stiff brush and warm water, rinse well with vinegar, and finish with a final water rinse. If you use a cleaning product, make sure it’s recommended for mortar and masonry.