How to Clean Up Water Damage After a Water Leak

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: May 29, 2023

When plumbing starts to leak, you take care of it right away. Whether you call water damage pros or fix it yourself, the problem gets solved. Now, you’re facing one more big job:

Water leak clean up.

This work can’t wait either. From floors, walls and cabinets to personal belongings, it all has to be cleaned and dried as quickly as possible. Otherwise, moisture spreads, mold sets in, and the job gets harder. Our teams here at ServiceMaster by Zaba see it every day.

We specialize in water damage services and emergency pipe leak repair for Chicago homes and businesses. We can help.

Let’s break down the key points you need to know about cleaning up after a plumbing leak.

What Are the Main Causes of Water Leaks in a Home?

toilet plumbing leak

It’s easy to take plumbing for granted. Copper pipes, PEX drain lines and PVC pipes keep your home’s water supply under control and running smoothly.

When something does go wrong with the system, it’s usually one of these common causes of water leaks in home plumbing.

  • Pipe joint deterioration, especially in hot water lines
  • Corrosion buildup and damage in old water pipes
  • Bad seals around appliance line connections
  • Pipe overflows or bursts due to clogs and backups
  • Excessive or widely fluctuating water pressure
  • Exterior pipe problems caused by invasive tree roots

How Do You Clean Up After a Water Leak? 5 Steps to Take Right Now

plumbing leak cleanup equipment

All plumbing leak cleanup jobs start with the basics. Locate the problem, and fix the water leak. If the weather cooperates, open windows in the affected areas. Follow these five steps for cleaning up after a plumbing leak.

1. Document and Move

If you plan on filing a homeowners insurance claim, take pictures before you start cleanup. Save the documentation as proof of damages for your adjuster. Next, give yourself room to work by moving things out of the way. Many items will dry more quickly outside, but keep an eye on the weather.

2. Extract the Water

Water extraction techniques depend on the size of the plumbing leak. If you’re dealing with damp floors, a mop or clean towels should be enough. However, a wet-dry vac works better on both wet floors and areas with standing water.

You may want to lease the equipment, so consider renting a large dehumidifier too. Small home dehumidifiers can’t handle the capacity you need to dry out floors, walls and cabinets.

3. Clean and Disinfect

Water leaking from a drain line or an appliance hose is considered contaminated. Even clean water from a supply line leaves behind moisture that breeds mold and mildew. It’s important to clean and disinfect all surfaces.

Start by scrubbing everything with a low-sudsing detergent. Next, disinfect non-porous surfaces with a solution of bleach and water. Finish remaining areas with products formulated for disinfecting porous surfaces.

4. Set Up Drying Equipment

If the weather isn’t too humid, open windows and set up large fans to create cross-currents of fresh air. Position the dehumidifier in the center of the room. Check walls daily with a moisture meter, but be patient. Plan on letting the equipment run 24/7 for two or three days.

Power Tip: Reduce project drying time by leaving closet and cabinet doors open.

5. Inspect, Repair and Replace

Once everything is dry, carefully inspect it all for signs of structural damage. Drywall may need to be torn out and replaced. Check floors, carpets and padding for mold. If you have doubts about repairs, don’t try to salvage anything. Instead, replace water-damaged materials, or call in certified restoration professionals.

Our Bonus Plumbing Leak Cleanup Tips

Stay Safe – Don’t take chances with electrical hazards. If the leak affected outlets or appliances, turn off your home’s electricity at the breaker box.

Protect Yourself – Most plumbing leaks spread contaminated gray water, so suit up before you start cleaning up. Wear rubber boots and gloves, a dust mask and eye protection.

Consider the Weight – Ask for help with the heavy lifting. If you need to pull up wet carpets or move furniture, an extra hand makes the work easier and saves time.

Set Out Desiccants – These silica gel products absorb moisture from surrounding materials. Place desiccant bags and tubs adjacent to damp walls and baseboards.

Don’t Miss Drains – Water always travels downward from the original leak, so don’t let a clogged drain undo your cleanup. Make sure all drains in the area are flowing freely.

ID Mold and Mildew – Both fungi are common problems after a plumbing leak. Apply the best cleanup methods by knowing the difference between mold and mildew.

Watch the Weather – Follow your local forecast. Sunny days with low humidity are ideal for opening windows in affected areas. Otherwise, keep things closed up.

How Do You Dry a Floor After a Water Leak?

drying floor water leak

A wet-vac removes most of the water from soaked flooring, but residual moisture causes long-term problems. These tips help dry the floor quickly after a plumbing mishap.

  • Remove baseboards during the drying process.
  • Run the wet-vac across affected floors several times.
  • Pull up vinyl flooring or carpet and padding.

It’s not always possible to salvage soaked carpet and vinyl floor coverings, so be prepared to dispose of these materials. Be sure to look for signs of water-damaged subflooring.

How Do You Dry Cabinets After a Water Leak?

Leaking supply and drain lines under bathroom sinks can flood cabinets. Whether they’re constructed of solid wood, plywood or particle board, cabinets need extra help drying out.

  • Empty out cabinet contents, and remove doors.
  • Increase air circulation by taking out all shelving.
  • Remove cabinet kickplates, and check behind for water damage.
  • Place large desiccant packs inside cabinets.

How Do You Dry Wood After a Water Leak?

Drying a wood floor, framing inside walls or wood furniture takes a combination of strong air circulation and surface drying techniques. Start by setting up heavy fans and a dehumidifier, as we outlined earlier.

Next, speed up the wood drying process with these tips.

  • Expose wet structural wood by tearing out drywall and removing insulation.
  • Pull up soaked carpets, vinyl and area rugs as soon as possible.
  • Improve air circulation by emptying shelves and drawers in water-damaged areas.
  • Clean wood furniture by gently wiping with damp cloths and patting dry.
  • Let restoration professionals take care of heavy water damage with structural drying techniques.

When to Call in the Pros to Address Plumbing Leak Cleanup

servicemaster water damage truck chicago

No matter how many times you’ve tackled plumbing leak cleanup, it’s not an easy project. You may have second thoughts. If the job seems too big, call a restoration company that specializes in water damage cleanup. If you’re facing any of these situations, contact the pros right away.

How to Prevent Future Plumbing Leaks

pipe insulation

Cleaning up a water-damaged house can quickly turn into a homeowner’s headache. Knowing how to prevent leaking pipes can save you the aggravation. These tips make a big difference.

  • Regularly inspect pipes, fittings, joints, lines and drains.
  • Routinely check appliance water connections and hoses.
  • Watch out for unusual increases in monthly water usage.
  • Make sure your home’s water pressure isn’t too high.
  • Always insulate pipes before freezing weather sets in.

Water Leak Cleanup FAQs

1. How Long Do I Need to Use a Dehumidifier After a Leak?

When used with large fans or air movers, a dehumidifier shortens the time it takes to dry out affected areas. If the water damage isn’t extensive, plan on running a dehumidifier for at least 24 to 48 hours. Large projects take longer. Regularly empty the dehumidifier collection bucket.

2. How Fast Does Mold Grow After a Water Leak?

After a plumbing leak, mold spreads quickly in damp, porous materials, such as drywall and carpet. Mold from water damage sets in as soon as 24 to 48 hours. The microscopic fungus invades wood framing, causes long-term structural damage, contaminates interior air and impacts your health.

As we’ve noted, plumbing leaks behind walls aren’t always obvious right away, so don’t be surprised to find mold while you’re cleaning up. As long as affected areas aren’t larger than 3 square feet, you can take on DIY mold removal.

However, it’s safer to let restoration professionals address mold with certified removal and remediation techniques.

3. Does a Water Leak Always Cause Mold?

In most cases, the answer is yes. It’s hard to finish a large DIY leak cleanup job in 24 hours. The drying process takes several days, so it’s important to disinfect all water-damaged surfaces. A certified restoration company uses advanced structural drying techniques to mitigate the problem.

4. How Much Does It Cost to Repair Plumbing Leak Water Damage?

The cost of fixing a plumbing leak depends on several factors. Plumbing repairs are usually straightforward. Pipe fittings, lines and drains have to be fixed. You also need to factor in the cost of water damage caused by the leaky plumbing.

When hidden leaks go undetected, these problems often add to the final cost.

  • Damaged drywall tear-out and replacement
  • Structural repairs to load-bearing framing, joists and beams
  • Buckled ceiling stabilization and reconstruction
  • Warped or buckled wood floor and subflooring repairs
  • Ruined carpet or vinyl flooring removal and replacement
  • Mold growth removal and remediation

Repair costs vary depending on the extent of pipe repairs and water damage. On average, plumbing repair ranges between $150 and $350. The cost of professional cleanup and restoration services averages from $2000 to $4000.

Homeowners insurance usually takes care of the cost to fix a broken pipe and also covers certified cleanup and restoration services. Our teams work closely with local and national insurers, and we’re always happy to help you navigate the paperwork and file your water damage claim.

5. Can a Plumbing Leak Damage My Home?

floor water damage due to plumbing leak

Homeowners are often surprised at how rapidly water damage spreads beyond the original leak source. Even a small drip can result in accumulated damp that seeps into structural materials. These are a few examples of how a plumbing pipe leak can damage your home.

Rusted Metal – This type of corrosion is caused by an oxidation process that occurs when air and moisture mix on metal. You’ll often see it around leaking areas on pipes and plumbing fixtures.

Wood Rot – Moisture in wooden structural components breeds a fungus that causes rot. The fungal decay affects wall framing, wall plates, ceiling joists, beams, floors and subflooring.

Damaged Floors – Water damage under carpets and vinyl can ruin floor underlayment and result in subflooring and flooring joist failure. Hardwood floors often buckle and warp.

Electrical Problems – The safety of your home’s electrical system depends on the network of wiring behind walls and inside ceilings. Plumbing leaks in these areas can result in dangerous electrical hazards.

Hidden Mold Growth – Without proper cleanup, sanitizing and drying, mold growth spreads through damp drywall and wood. The fungus ruins structural materials, spreads airborne spores and compromises indoor air quality.

6. When Is a Plumbing Leak Considered an Emergency?

You probably don’t think of a leaky pipe as an emergency. In most cases, plumbing repairs fix the problem, and you move on to water damage cleanup. Still, this homeowner’s headache easily turns into these emergencies.

  • The danger of a potential water-damaged ceiling collapse
  • Exposure to contaminated black water from sewage lines
  • Plumbing leaks located beyond your reach inside walls or up in ceilings
  • Shut-off valve failure at the main water line coming into your home
  • Electrical wiring, outlets, light fixtures or appliances affected by the leak
  • An extinguished pilot light or submerged connections on the water heater

If you’re facing any of these problems, contact a water damage company that provides 24/7 services. For example, our teams handle small pipe repairs, water extraction, sewage cleanup and structural drying. We also work closely with a trusted network of licensed plumbers and electricians, and who provide emergency services.

Dealing With Water Damage Due to a Plumbing Leak in Chicago, IL? We Can Help!

There’s so much to be done after a plumbing leak: fixing the problem, cleaning, disinfecting and replacing water-damaged materials. It’s a big job, but you don’t have to face it alone.

When you need restoration professionals, we’re here for you with these expert water damage services.

  • IICRC-certified technicians ready for dispatch to your doorstep
  • Water extraction, damaged material tear-outs, repairs and reconstruction
  • Advanced structural drying using heavy-duty equipment
  • Industry-proven techniques for mold removal and remediation
  • Assistance with filing your homeowners insurance water damage claim

When you bring us in, you’re working with a partner who handles fire damage, storm damage and more. Our full line of services for Chicago home and business owners also includes plumbing leak repair.

We’re on call 24/7, ready to respond to all types of water damage emergencies. You can depend on us here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba: 773-647-1985