There’s a Toilet Overflow in a Guest Room, What’s the Best Way to Clean It Up? 

By Steve Moran, IICRC Board of Directors

As a disaster cleanup specialist, how often do you get called onsite to cleanup a toilet overflow disaster?

I receive two to three calls per week.

Why is a toilet overflow considered a “disaster” cleanup?

Toilet overflows are categorized as a ‘disaster cleanup’ because of the nature of the soil being cleaned. When a toilet is clogged, there is usually a stool or other solid material involved somewhere along the line. While no feces may visibly appear on the floor after an overflow, microbial fecal material, bacteria and disease-causing bloodborne pathogens can be present. Each of these are considered to present very unsanitary situations and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), must be cleaned according to specific industry standards (such as the ANSI/IICRC S500 Standard for Professional Water Damage Restoration) in order to be effectively removed.

Can’t the affected area be simply cleaned and dried by hotel staffers? (need to be cleaned up properly as overflows soak into carpet, padding, double-drywall and other rooms)

Yes and no. If the restroom floor is tile, well-caulked (sealed) along the baseboard and none of the overflow has gotten onto the carpet or padding at the entry of the bathroom, it can be cleaned up rather easily using a good sanitizer.

If the overflow has gotten onto the carpeting, seeped under the walls or soaked up into the drywall, these items will need to be removed, disposed of and the area properly cleaned by a water damage professional.

What happens if it’s not cleaned up properly? 

If not properly cleaned with a virucidal sanitizer and thoroughly dried, mold such as Stachybotrys (a.k.a. black mold), a waterborne and potentially toxic mold, could begin to grow. Disease-causing bloodborne pathogens could also still present. If someone were to cut their foot, or a baby were to put something in his or her mouth that had come in contact with the material that was not properly cleaned, it could spell disaster as we unfortunately live in a very litigious society. But also cleaning it up properly is the "right" thing to do.

 When should a professional disaster cleanup specialist be called vs. using in-house cleaning staff?

If the overflow disaster has moved through the floors or onto permeable materials such as drywall and carpeting, call the professionals.

Professional disaster cleanup specialists should also be called in situations where simple water damage, such as a pipe burst, has covered a large area to ensure proper drying. Professional water damage experts have specialized equipment and the expertise needed to get facilities back in business quickly, limiting downtime and a loss in revenue.

I once turned around an entire hotel wing, from tear-out of carpet to drying of walls to new carpet, in three days.

Turning around a room quickly is essential in the hospitality industry. What can hotel staffers do to prevent further downtime after a toilet overflow occurs?

The quicker you can get professional assistance, the less downtime you’ll experience. In a lot of cases, professionals don't get called until an odor develops. But at that point, there is often mold growth which means a more costly cleanup. 


There’s a Toilet Overflow in a Guest Room, What’s the Best Way to Clean It Up? :  Published on January 27th, 2017.  Last Modified on February 23rd, 2017

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About Steve Moran, IICRC Board of Directors

Steve Moran is a current member of the IICRC Board of Directors as well as the owner/founder of A Cleaner Carpet LLC, Flood Masters of Colorado and the Denver Rug Cleaning & Repair Company. Steve also teaches continuing education classes to insurance agents, adjusters and realtors on water damage and mold mitigation.