How to Dry Wall Cavities & Cabinets After Water Damage October 10, 2017 – Posted in: Blog, Industrial

Restoring property after water damage involves addressing both visible damage and harder to spot issues, like compromised inner structures. Water damage can be caused by flooding from a natural disaster like a hurricane or by a leak or burst pipe.

Water can quietly seep into hidden areas and cause destruction before it is discovered. Almost everything touched by water can be damaged and require some type of restoration work.

Water ruins carpets and flooring, walls, appliances, furniture and other personal possessions. If water damage is not adequately remediated it can lead to more serious structural issues down the road, and even health risks like mold growth.

Water damage can lead to mold growth

Drying Wall Cavities After Water Damage

Interior walls are not meant to come in contact with water, and they certainly cannot withstand being submerged. Even a small amount of water at the base of the wall can become a big problem.

Drywall, in particular, absorbs water. The framing materials inside the wall can also allow water to travel up from the floor, saturating the wall well above the water line.

Wet drywall usually cannot be salvaged and needs to be replaced. Removing the drywall and exposing the wall cavity to airflow can the other materials dry.

Depending on the type of wall you are dealing with and the construction techniques and materials employed, you may need a variety of different tools to dry the wall cavity.

Despite the variations in materials and construction, here are some general tips for drying out a wall cavity:

    • Open up the wall as soon as possible to begin drying. There are ways of accelerating the drying process but to a certain extent, it just requires time. The sooner you remove the water-retaining components and expose the cavity to air, the faster the restoration will go. Water damage will continue to intensify and spread until you open the wall to let air in.

Open up wall to increase airflow

  • Remove and discard all wet insulation. Insulation tends to be extremely absorbent. It will hold the water against the wallboards and the structural pieces within the wall. You want to get this water exposure out of there as quickly as possible. Insulation material exposed to water cannot be salvaged. It will not dry out and retain its R-value, so it is to just discard it.
  • For severely damaged walls cut away all affected wallboards. Once the wallboards are saturated with water, they have to be removed. Depending on the material, you may notice that the part exposed to water is swollen. Water is wicked up by wallboards and travels up toward the ceiling. Be sure to cut away the water-soaked wallboards a foot and a half above the waterline. This will ensure you remove all of the damaged portions.
  • Safety considerations for homes built before 1978. In these older homes, you are more likely to encounter lead paint. When cutting into wallboards that are coated with lead paint, you need to take safety precautions as outlined by the EPA. Cutting or drilling through lead paint can release tiny particles into the air, causing hazardous conditions for your work crew and the homeowners.

Lead paint in homes built before 1978

Your approach to a water restoration project will depend on the type of wall construction you are working with.

Concrete Block

Found mostly in basements, garages or commercial properties, concrete block walls may need to be drilled to facilitate drying. A concrete block wall is just concrete blocks stacked on top of each other with a hole running down through the center.

Concrete can absorb water but will maintain its structural strength as it dries. A painted surface might protect it from absorbing too much water. The biggest concern with concrete block walls that get wet is any water-based adhesives used on them. These adhesives are likely to fail due to the water damage.


Bathroom tile walls or those found in commercial properties usually have several layers. The tiles are attached to a layer of green board over the studs. There may also be insulation behind the green board.

Bloating from water damage on any of the wall components will cause tiles to loosen and pop off. It is important to determine if the water got through the tile layer to the green board or if the water was wicked up from the bottom of the green board.

You may need to remove tiles to drill aeration holes in the green board. If the insulation in the wall is wet, you will have to take the wall apart to remove it.

Steel studs with wallboard

You will mostly find these types of walls in commercial buildings. The wallboard should be removed if it is wet. Exposing the wall cavity to air is important for drying out the studs.

The steel studs are water resistant so they will not absorb water, but surface rust could form from prolonged dampness.

Double wallboard with wooden studs

Some residential and commercial properties are constructed with wooden studs and two layers of wallboard. Although the first layer of wallboard was not directly exposed to water, it may be exposed to moisture from the outer layer.

Be sure to cut out both layers about a foot and a half above the waterline to remove all water-soaked materials. Wooden studs will need to be exposed to the air to dry.

Standard gypsum wallboard with wooden studs

Most of the properties you encounter will have walls made of this construction. It is probably the easiest to deal with when trying to dry out wall cavities.

Remove all of the water-soaked wallboards because gypsum board will absorb water and swell. After that, it is not likely to return to its original size and strength.

Also, be sure to remove any wet insulation in the wall. Insulation will hold the dampness against the wooden studs making it difficult to get them dry.


A firewall consists of two layers of wallboard over an insulated wall. These are mostly found in multiple unit dwellings and commercial properties.

Any holes you drill in these walls to facilitate air circulation to the wall cavity must be repaired to comply with fire code. It might be easier to discard the drywall and wet insulation and rebuild the wall from the studs when they are dry.

Understanding the type of wall construction and materials you are dealing with s you be more efficient throughout the restoration process. These additional tips can the process go more smoothly as well.

Understanding the type of wall

  1. For drywall installed over concrete block: The concrete block will dry easily when exposed to air and any standing water has been removed. The adhesive holding the wallboard onto the concrete blocks may fail, however, from exposure to moisture. If the wallboard appears to be loose anywhere, remove it and reinstall when the concrete is completely dry.
  2. For walls that have one layer of wallboard and paint: These walls will respond to the free flow of dry air across their surface. Use an air mover to circulate dry air.
  3. For walls with high-gloss enamel paint, vinyl wallpaper or more than one layer of wallboard: You need to drill into the wall to let air into the wall cavity to facilitate drying. If you plan to salvage the wall, take off the baseboard and drill holes behind it where they can be hidden when the baseboard is replaced.

The key for how to dry wet walls quickly is getting the air moving around them. Some wall coverings, however, make it difficult for the air to penetrate the surfaces.

Get the air moving around wet walls

Drying Cabinets After Water Damage

Storms and flooding often damage cabinets, but relatively minor mishaps can cause harm as well. When a dishwasher leaks, for example, the adjacent base cabinets are often affected, especially if the leak remains unnoticed for some time. Any indoor plumbing failure can cause water to invade and collect in cabinets.

Drying cabinets require more specialized knowledge than drying walls after water damage. You need to prevent further damage to the cabinets, because replacing them can be expensive, both in materials and labor.

You’ll want to assess the damage carefully before deciding on a course of action. Check for splitting plywood or bloating particleboard to determine if the cabinets are salvageable.

You must consider what material the cabinets are made from when determining how to dry water-damaged cabinets.


Water damage may cause plywood to delaminate. Once this happens, it is difficult to get it back to its former size and shape because the layers will twist and bend as they dry.


Because of its small components, particleboard tends to absorb water. If the damage is not too extensive, you may be able to dry the water-damaged cabinet and salvage it. Once particleboard starts to bloat, though, it is very challenging to restore it.

Hardwood or solid wood

Solid wood may take time to dry out, but you can often restore it. One issue to look for is cracking. A large, single piece of hardwood might break from water exposure.

Smaller pieces that are laminated together may split at the seams. A wood surface that’s covered with veneer may lose its veneer.


Metal is the easiest material to deal with, but you will only find these metal cabinets in older houses or maybe in commercial property. It can be cleaned and dried and restored to its original condition because it does not absorb the water.

No matter what material the cabinets are made of, the basic restoration process is the same. Get the water and debris off of the cabinets as soon as possible. Then, assess the damage and start moving dry air around as quickly as you can.

A cabinet may not be able to be restored

Unfortunately, you can’t salvage every cabinet. The materials, quality and extent of the damage will determine if a cabinet can be saved. Here are some tips for approaching a cabinet repair job:

  • Assess the cabinet: Determine the extent of the damage by using a moisture meter or thermal imaging camera. If there is no visible damage, there still may be water damage inside that needs to be remediated.
  • Drilling techniques and tools: The goal is to expose the insides of the cabinet to dry air so that it will dry out. Many times, the way to accomplish this is by drilling holes in the cabinet to let air get inside. Focus on the dead space between the cabinet and the sub-floor. Getting air circulating in there could keep you from having to remove the cupboard and reinstall it later.
  • Where to drill holes: The place to drill hole is behind the toe-kick on the bottom of the cabinet. These holes will go directly into the dead space you want to dry, and they can be covered up easily when you are finished by replacing the toe-kick.
  • Drying equipment: As with any job, the right equipment can make all the difference. An air mover can accelerate the drying process, curtailing the progression of water damage and ing you spend less time on the job site. A mini air mover is perfect for cabinet jobs. It can fit in small spaces and direct airflow at different angles. The more air you can push through those holes you drilled, the faster the job will be completed.

The more experience you get with different types of cabinets, the better you will become at assessing the extent of the damage and successfully remediating it.

It s to understand how the cabinets are put together because that will affect where they might come apart from water damage.

The Importance of Doing the Job Right the First Time

With water damage restoration work you will often work with people in the aftermath of what might be the worst disaster of their lives. Most people do not realize how destructive water can be, and they are shocked by the damage it leaves behind after a flood, hurricane or other natural disasters.

Your clients are in a hurry to erase the signs of water damage and have their homes or offices put back to the way they were before.

They are counting on your expertise to get the job done as quickly as possible, but rushing water restoration could cause a second disaster.

Water causes damage in obvious as well as hard-to-reach spots, such as behind and under kitchen cabinets and inside of interior walls. If you rush the job and miss something, the results may not last.

Rebuilding a wall before the studs are fully dry could result in mold. If the dead space under a cabinet does not dry completely, the water may rot the sub-floor.

For these three reasons, you want to get the job done right the first time:

  • Your reputation: People count on you to restore their property after water damage. You don’t want to let them down. If you have to go back after the job is complete to do additional work that you missed, your clients will not be happy. And happy customers make the references.
  • Health issues: When you dry out and rebuild a wall, it should be dry and mold-free. If you make a mistake and moisture remain in the wall, you could be contributing to a health hazard. Mold can grow inside a wall undetected for years. Although you cannot see the mold, it will contaminate the air and can cause serious health issues for those exposed to it.
  • Structural issues: Leftover moisture not caught during the restoration process can cause structural issues and put the people who live or work in the structure at risk. The resulting damage is also likely much more difficult to repair than the original issues caused by the water.

Three reasons to do it right the first time

When water restoration is your business, efficiency can mean the difference between making a profit and not making one. Returning to a job site after you finish to repeat some of your work is not an efficient way to run a business.

This is why it is important to be sure you complete each step of the restoration fully before moving on to the next step. Repeated work equals lost revenue.

There is no reason to do things twice if you take your time and complete the job thoroughly. Establish a work protocol and check the results at the end of each step. Your job is to look for all the hidden damage to be sure the restoration job is thorough.

Water Damage Restoration Equipment for Drying Wall Cavities and Cabinets

Having the right equipment for the job makes it easier. Your clients rely on you to be prepared with the right materials to restore their property. Here are the tools you will need for drying wall cavities and cabinets:

  • Air movers: These are more than just fans. They’re one of the ways to dry out wet walls. They move than moist air out and replace it with drier air to accelerate the evaporation process. Air movers are essential to fully drying the inside of wall cavities and wood components of cabinets. Air movers can be equipped with vent hoses to direct airflow into tight spaces, getting that dry air where you need it. Mini air movers are also handy for small spaces, like kitchen cabinets.
  • Dehumidifiers: Commercial dehumidifiers dry the air so that you can use it to dry the surfaces inside the walls and cabinets. Pulling the extra moisture out of the air s everything dry out more quickly and s to stop mold growth.
  • Air scrubbers: If you are working with airborne contaminants, you need to filter them from the air. Mold is a common airborne contaminant present after the water recedes. A basement area that remains damp for an extended period of time will likely have mold in it. Air scrubbers clean the particulates out of the air so they cannot settle back down onto the surfaces you are remediating.Air movers are essential
  • Drying system: For larger jobs, you may want a drying system to speed up your results.
  • Drills: You will use a variety of hand tools, but your drill is probably your most valuable one. It will allow you to ventilate wet spaces without deconstructing them completely. A range of different size hole bits will make it easier for you to put the holes where you need them for the fastest drying.

Invest in high quality-tools

Water restoration professionals should always invest in high-quality tools. You never know when a new restoration project will come up. You have to be ready, and your equipment has to work. Air movers and dehumidifiers may run for hours at a time.

You don’t want them to quit in the middle of a job. Poor quality equipment will detract from your professional image and end up letting your customers down.

For a full selection of high-quality water restoration equipment, contact Aer Industries. Our knowledgeable staff can you select the right tools for your next job.