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Unless you’re making cheese or soy sauce, keeping your home as fungus-free as possible should be a top priority. Knowing how to clean mold and mildew will bring you that much closer to a neater, not to mention healthier, abode. If the mere presence of mold leaves you in a cold sweat, don’t worry. Experts tell us that it’s normal for homes to have some level of mold.
What is mold exactly, you may wonder? Essentially, the thousands of different types of microorganisms that we think of as mold or mildew are fungal growths that set up shop on a surface and spread anywhere where moisture is present, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mold and mildew can appear on the shower grout, in the basement, and around the sink.
That’s to say, regardless of whether mold growth is large or unsightly, the issue should be tackled as soon as possible. That’s because unabated mold growth and exposure can make your home uninhabitable and lead to health problems like allergies and other lung conditions for you and your children, your pets, and anyone else spending a lot of time on your property.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to call a mold remediation expert. Common household products like hydrogen peroxide and bleach are good solutions to try if you’re wondering how to clean mold and mildew. Here’s what to know about this pesky fungus.
When thinking about mold in the home, the image of fuzzy green globs clinging to old food comes to mind. Often, mold formations look like large groups of blackish or greenish discolored dots or abstract shapes. But depending on the material, unsuspecting colors could arise. “With certain kinds of things, like vinyl wallpapers or vinyl tiles, you’ll actually start to see yellow or pink splotches on it, and that’s mold on the backside,” says Ethan O’Donnell, an editor at Family Handyman magazine who has undertaken numerous bathroom and kitchen remodeling jobs with mold or moisture damage issues. “Drywall does that sometimes too.”
When looking for mold, don’t just engage your sense of sight—use your nose too. “If you only see a small patch of mold, but your whole house smells musty, check it out pretty seriously,” O’Donnell adds.
Be aware especially if a room feels “off” and you’re experiencing unexplainable health issues, like constant colds or new allergies, says Glen Apfelbaum, the president of Home Healthy Homes, which remediates mold and waterproofs basements in the New York City area. “In many, many cases in the work that I do, the mold is not visible—it’s a smell, it’s a feeling, it’s an allergic response, and [residents] just don’t know.”
Apfelbaum recounts an instance when a newlywed couple moved into the former home of the bride’s parents. The husband soon abandoned the home because he claimed it he felt terrible and the house was “killing him.” No one believed him. But when mold testing and blood analysis were done, the results showed that the groom had an allergy to a type of mold present but not visible in the home. Oops!
Molds love moisture, so minimizing wetness and humidity while increasing air flow is key to prevention. Ensure pipes and anything else constantly conveying water is in good working order—no drips! And don’t let any soggy materials—like rainy clothes or wet towels—pile up. And if you live somewhere rainy or humid, that means breaking out a quality dehumidifier with a hose that dumps into a sink or some other drainage point; Apfelbaum recommends keeping humidity in the low 40s. It also means plugging in the dehumidifier or flipping on the air conditioning months before your environment becomes highly humid.
Mold is a byproduct, O’Donnell explains. That means if you have a bit around your sink, there is probably constant moisture in the bathroom, not enough air flow, and the temperature is just right for mold growth. The solution could be as simple as cracking open the window or flipping on the fan post showers. “If you can get your house to be dry like the desert, you’re going to be able to not only solve a lot of these mold issues, but be in control of it,” Apfelbaum adds.
Apfelbaum also notes that frequent dusting can help prevent mold. “The biggest food source for mold many times in the basement is dust, and you’ll see it in the insulation in the ceiling,” he says. “You don't necessarily have to have a cleaning service come once a week but certainly at least once a month you need to vacuum, wipe and dust the basement because whatever happens in the basement is going to [travel] many times throughout the house.”
Some potential mold hot spots are obvious, like in cabinets under leaky kitchen sinks or along the sides of bathtubs and showers. Other areas are less predictable. “It’s not that hard to find mold in an attic, because it’s unprotected up there, you have all this exposed wood and things get dusty,” says Apfelbaum, adding that garages, laundry rooms and other unventilated rooms are also prime mold breeding grounds.
Common household cleaners and some elbow grease can absolutely help an amateur homemaker in areas where surface-level mold may be common but not necessarily indicate a deeper problem, such as spots in your tub, bathroom tiles or faucets.
Apfelbaum recommends wetting a cloth with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide and giving the moldy surface a good scrub. Bleach, detergent and commonly sold mold-specific cleaners are also often effective for smaller surface-level growths, O’Donnell adds. An old toothbrush dipped in one of those substances is also great for scrubbing tight corners, grout, and other indents or details.
Anyone with an unmaintained skylight above their bathroom has probably grimaced at the sight of a sheet of mold hanging over their head, but you can usually wipe that away with the aforementioned products. The larger concern, O’Donnell says, would be the mold spreading to the surrounding exterior materials. “If your skylight is getting mold or anything is growing on it, it’s because condensation is building up there,” explains O’Donnell. If the skylight is in the bathroom, definitely upgrade the bath fan to something that pushes out more air or perhaps space out the showering sessions if you have multiple people in your household.
But some remediation will require more than a trip to Target’s cleaning supplies aisle. What you need to do is pay attention to your property and understand where the moisture is sourced. Sometime a little patch of mold can actually be a tell-tale sign that something else is off like poor landscaping drainage or issues with the foundation, O’Donnell says.
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For example, while many kitchen appliances are made of nonporous materials, dishwasher drainage pipes can attract mold—and that’s a problem that can’t be resolved with a bottle of bleach. “That’s a bigger plumbing issue, the drain is either too large to supply or too small to get the water out of there,” O’Donnell continues. “I would call a plumber right away.” A plumber might also be necessary if a mold growth is suspected to be caused by a pipe leak.
Not necessarily. Some states, like Texas, do require an assessment before a remediation, so search for your state’s requirements if you think you need to hire a professional. But not all states require mold testing—or even recommend it.
Mold testing is often not an appropriate or effective way to answer many of the questions you may have, according to the Minnesota’s state health department. In many cases, people seeking mold testing really need a thorough investigation into moisture problems and the damage it can cause to their house. However, the department does state that some legitimate reasons do exist for getting a test, such as rationalizing the expense of remediation or determining that a remediator has satisfactorily completed a job.
You may also want to consider mold testing as part of a home inspection if you suspect an allergy or have had previous mold-related health issues.
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