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Understanding The Categories of Water Damage – The 3 Water Types

the 3 types of water when it comes to water damage

Water damage refers to the harm that is caused to a building or other structure when water enters and saturates materials or surfaces. Water damage can occur due to a variety of reasons, such as plumbing leaks, roof leaks, flood damage, and faulty appliances. Water damage can be costly to repair, and it can also pose health risks if not addressed properly. Did you know that there are different categories of water based on where the water comes from, the length the water sits and how it passes through materials?

There are three main categories of water damage: Category 1 (clean water), Category 2 (grey water), and Category 3 (black water). These categories are based on the level of contamination in the water and the potential health risks associated with the damage. The restoration process for each category follows different procedures with respect to how they’re cleaned up; black water being the most risky, follows a strict protocol with extensive clean up and decontamination procedures. Understanding these different types of water is essential to the water damage restoration as we follow different guidelines for each water category.

Factors That Affect the Category of Water

Where the water comes from - This one speaks for itself, water coming from a clean source such as a tap will contain less harmful pathogens than sewage.

How long the water sits - Water, if left for an extended period of time (more than 12 hours) will begin to grow mold and fungi among other pathogens. This in turn will increase the risk of the water and the damage it causes.

What materials the water passes through - If water passes through materials it will pick up whatever is in or on them. For example if a dog has urinated on a carpet, not only will the water pick up dirt, debris and dust mites in the carpet; it will pick up the urine as well causing it to become grossly unsanitary and a category 3 black water.

Temperature - Warmer temperatures will increase the rate at which pathogens, mold and fungi form.

Category 1: Clean Water

Category 1 water damage, also known as clean water damage, refers to water that is relatively clean and poses no significant health risks (uncontaminated). This type of water damage is usually caused by a broken water supply line, leaking bathtub, sink or a leaky pipe.

Category 1 water damage is relatively easy to clean up and repair; it typically does not pose any serious health risks. It’s important to note that just because water is clean, it can become a category 2 or even category 3 water type as it passes through materials. For example if clean water passes through a carpet or is left for a time without being cleaned up it will become a category 2 water, potentially even category 3. Clean water should be cleaned up immediately to stop mold and bacteria growth as well as damage.

Clean Water Recap:

  • Water is relatively clean

  • Often poses no significant health risks

  • Comes from leaking sink, pipe or broken water supply line

  • Can become category 2 or 3

Category 2: Grey Water

Category 2 water damage, also known as grey water damage, refers to water that is slightly contaminated and may contain harmful bacteria or other contaminants. This type of water damage is usually caused by a faulty appliance such as an overflowing dishwasher, washing machine, sump pump failure or a broken water heater. Category 2 water damage can be more difficult to clean up and repair, and it may pose some health risks if not handled properly. Category 2 water requires disinfectants or sanitizers when the restoration takes place.

Category 2 water will become category 3 if left for an extended period of time where pathogens, mold and fungi form. It will also become a category 3 if the grey water passes through grossly unsanitary materials.

Grey Water Recap:

  • Water is slightly contaminated

  • Poses health risks, should be cleaned up by water damage restoration company

  • Should be treated with a disinfectant or sanitizer

  • Comes from faulty appliances

  • Can become a category 3

Category 3: Black Water

Category 3 water damage, also known as black water damage, refers to water that is highly contaminated and contains harmful pathogens and other contaminants such as bacteria, fungi and feces. Black water will cause serious illness if exposed or consumed. This type of water damage is usually caused by floodwater or sewage backup.

Category 3 water damage can be extremely difficult to clean up and repair, and it poses significant health risks. Due to the extensive restoration process and high risk nature of black water, it should only be cleaned up by a professional water damage restoration company. Attempting to clean this type of water damage without the knowledge, equipment and proper cleaning methods will lead to cross contamination, the release of harmful toxins and potentially cause major health risks. Proper disposal of black water is an important factor, improper disposal can lead to major fines.

Grey water can become black water when passing through other contaminated materials or if left for an extended period of time until significant bacteria and fungi growth occurs.

Black Water Recap:

  • Water is highly contaminated

  • Poses significant health risks, to be cleaned up by restoration company only

  • Comes from sewage or floodwater

It is important to properly assess and categorize water damage in order to determine the appropriate course of action for cleaning and repairing the damage. Proper handling and cleanup of water damage is essential in order to prevent further damage and to minimize the risk of illness or other health risks.

It is also very important to note that these types of water damages are not set in their category. Clean water can become grey water and grey water can become black water through time, materials and temperatures. If left untreated, the damage will worsen and change its category.


Relief Restorations is a water restoration, mold remediation and asbestos remediation company in the Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada area. If you've experience a water damage disaster, contact us today! 1-833-367-7354 or email


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