Diagnosing and Cleaning up Water Damage in Your Home

by Jess ViceMarch 16, 2018

Water problems in your home can happen quickly and just as quickly get out of hand. It can be a little scary to walk into your kitchen and see a flood spreading rapidly toward your ankles. But these three tips will help you quickly assess what went wrong, how bad it is, and how to start fixing it immediately.

“A few weeks ago, I noticed a little puddle on the floor by the dishwasher, which isn’t currently working. So my roommate and I assumed it was from tidying the kitchen; we mopped it up and moved on with our lives. I came back to the kitchen 30 minutes later and found a puddle that had engulfed the dishwasher, fridge, half the kitchen floor, and was making headway towards the living room.”

Step 1: Contain the Water


via kizzzbeth

First, contain the water as best you can so you can identify where it’s coming from. Be prepared to get a little messy – roll your pant legs and shirt sleeves up, ditch your socks, and wade in. Building a quick barrier of towels to at least contain the perimeter is smart and will save your home from water getting into cracks or soaking into the carpet.

“I dammed in the water with towels (and since it was just water, didn’t worry about the quality of towel – they’d wash up fine). Then I stopped and listened to hear if something was actively dripping or running. The sound of a tiny faucet running was coming out from under the dishwasher.”

Step 2: Find the Water Source


via Mark Doliner

Looking for the water source can be tricky, especially if the leak is coming through drywall or out from under a cabinet. Listen for dripping, splashing, or running water like an open tap. Once you think you know where the water’s coming from, it’s a good idea to turn off any water lines that could be running to that appliance or location. And if the water is gushing in, I’d recommend going straight for the main shut-off to the house.

When you’re turning water supply lines on or off, there’s a simple rule of thumb: if the handle or cross-piece of the knob is in line with the pipe, the water’s flowing. If the handle or cross-piece is perpendicular to the pipe, the water should not be flowing.

“For me, the water supply to the dishwasher was under the kitchen sink. I turned it off and was dismayed to hear water still running. I checked the inside of the dishwasher, noted there was a lot of standing water in it, and then pulled the front panel off (that’s the three-inch high section along the floor that conceals the pump and wiring – it’s usually held on by two Philips head screws). There, I found my leak – water was pouring out of one corner of the dishwasher’s undercarriage.”

Step 3: Assess the Problem


via Nic Taylor

How bad is it? If you’ve turned off the water line successfully and water is still pouring out onto the floor, you’re probably going to need a professional. If turning off the water stopped the flow, good job! See if you can find the drip source. The filter in my dishwasher had given out – it was very obvious that all of the water had come from one point on the underside of the dishwasher.

Leaks behind cabinet facing and drywall are a little more complicated to assess, especially once the water supply has been turned off. If the drywall damage is more than a foot across, you’ll want to call a professional plumber to come open up the wall or ceiling. And if you have a bulging ceiling or section of drywall, call a 24-hour service. That bubble suggests a lot of water and an imminent mess.

“The dishwasher saga was over almost as quickly as it began. I called my roommate, we mopped up the water, moved the fridge so we could clean under it, and ended up scooping water out of the broken dishwasher to a level that was below the leaking filter. For peace of mind, we left the water supply line off until the new dishwasher could be installed.”

Step 4: Determine Best Solution

Appliance leaks are easy to assess, but often more expensive to fix – they usually require a new appliance. Drywall leaks are more difficult, but repairing small drywall spots can be straightforward. Obviously, if the water damage is widespread and more than a foot or so of drywall has been damaged, I’d recommend hiring someone else to handle the mess for you.

If it’s a small patch of drywall, you can purchase a single sheet from any home improvement store for a few dollars. Pro tip: find the “damaged” pile and grab one of those – they usually have a broken corner or have been cut down from their original size and are dramatically cheaper. The drywall tape and paste are affordable too, and there are plenty of YouTube drywall repair videos and DIY repair articles to guide you through cutting away the damage, sizing a new piece, and patching it in. If I can do it, you can too!

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About The Author
Jess Vice
Jess is a user experience strategist by day and a writer by night. Jess loves making a space feel unique and welcoming through DIY renovations, cooking Southern soul food, and hosting dance parties. She and her Schnoodle Puck spend most of their free time playing in the great outdoors in Utah.