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Flood/Hurricane Cleanup

I’m a small maker who lives in Houston. I have customers whose homes had significant flooding and I have always offered free cleaning. What should I consider in cleaning pieces that were in flood waters, some of which were submerged for over a week? I thought I’d use a bleach solution for 15 minutes or so, and then standard cleaning procedures. Does anyone have experience and/or recommendations? If the bleach is a good idea, what percentage would be safe/effective? Duration of a bleach soak (I was thinking 15-30 minutes)? Any help would be appreciated (and my thoughts are with those in Florida this morning).

Bleach can harm certain materials and stones, like lapis,pearls,turquoise,anything dyed etc.

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I should have also mentioned that I no longer have an ultrasonic cleaner and that most of the pieces I’ve made that would be cleaned are sterling/fine silver, 14k/18k gold, and diamonds. The only possible dyed/treated stones would be topaz. There may also be pieces with pearls (on posts, not strung) – how should I clean something from contaminated water that has pearls? Maybe an antibacterial soap would be a better choice overall than bleach.

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Hi Celia
I would think any gentle cleaning solution that also was anti bacterial would be sufficient. Alcohol as a dip might do the job after a simple green or similar cleaning

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Hello Celia,
Those hurricanes make our tornados looke kinda’ puny. Then to have so many hit the area is an extra whammy. Sympathies to all who are affected, and I know that is many thousands of people.

Anyway, my day job for over 20 years was public environmental health assessments - commonly called a health inspector. There are several common liquids known to be effective at sanitizing (deactivating microbes) - bleach, alcohol, and Quaternary Ammonia. Based on that experience, instead of bleach, I would recommend a sanitizing solution of quaternary ammonia, commonly called “quat”. (“Quat” is a different chemical than the ammonia we usually use to clean up polishing compound.)

You want a household cleaner with a label that says something like “multi-surface antibacterial”. They usually have some sort of soap/detergent and/or surfactant. Look for ingredients ending in “Dimethyl Ammonium CHloride”. There are likely to be at least three listed at somewhere around 0.013% - 0.026%. The pH of the one I use is 9 - which is about the same as most soaps or detergents.

Another alternative which will have a more neutral pH is to purchase a sanitizer concentrate at Costco or Sam’s. Commercial kitchens use this in place of bleach. Wash the jewelry with what ever soap you usually use to remove dirt and debris. Follow the instructions on the label to mix the sanitizer to the proper strength and allow items to sit in contact with the solution for at least 60 seconds, followed by air drying. That information is likely to be included on the label. One gallon of the concentrate will make many, many gallons of sanitizer. This sanitizer is safe enough to use on eating utensils.

Always to be safe, you should subject a delicate stone (a trash pearl, turquoise, coral, opal, etc.) to a couple minutes in the sanitizer. I don’t think there is any danger of harming a stone, but safe is always better than sorry.

Judy in Kansas, who has dealt with the aftermath of flooding and it ain’t party, plus it stinks. Best of luck for the hard work ahead.


This is so helpful! I feel much more confident in my approach now (and, bonus, the sanitizer at Sams will be a lifetime supply that can also be used for my kitchen countertops and sponges). Thanks very much for all comments.

Orchidians are the best!

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Ooops, scratch the sponges. The sanitizer is only for non-porous surfaces…

Yes, I would be weary of using a “bleach bath” to pre-clean jewelry…? It may work fine for some stuff. As previous jewelers have written in. Bleach can be extremely damaging to semi-precious as well as precious stones. It is a very intense chemical solution. Personally I would give the pieces a good soak in the ultrasonic, then start cleaning them with a straight or round bristle brush in my flexshaft using white diamond (or a similar pre-polish compound). Re rinse again in ultrasonic and then you should have a good idea how much farther up you want to go with your finer polishing compounds from there using your polishing machine. It will all depend on each individual piece and the accompanying stones that are in it? If the pieces do not have stones and you need a faster solution, you can give them a bath in “aluminum foil & baking soda” (just google). Just be careful with this method. Some metals “not silver” or silver plated pieces can have adverse reactions to this cleaning method…
I just want to say that this service you are offering to the residents in your community is awesome! I’m sure any and every gesture of kindness even something as simple as shining up a piece of jewelry, can definitely help someone feel a little better about the situation they are fighting to recover from and help them feel a little more whole again.