Mold. It’s green, it’s red, it’s blue, grey, pink, or even black. It not just looks and can smell bad, it can also cause respiratory problems, sinus infections, and other health issues. It’s the creepiest of roommates.
What do you do if it’s taken up residence in your home? The first step in fighting mold is understanding some very simple arithmetic. Given enough time, moisture plus mold spores equals mold infestation. Mold is a type of fungus made up of tiny microscopic organisms that can grow just about anywhere. It multiplies through spores. Mold spores can take up residence anywhere- ceiling tiles, wallpaper, wood, paints, carpet, and insulation.
You can not stop mold spores form entering your home- they’re everywhere, but you can control its growth by keeping your home dry. Inspect your home for moisture. Check for a leaky roof and leaking plumbing. Poorly ventilated bathrooms are also common growth areas. Keeping humidity levels in your home below 60%, which may mean investing in a dehumidifier, also helps.
Other mold prevention tips include installing a light in a shower or closet and leaving it on 24/7. You can also order silica gel from a science supply company to help absorb moisture in problem areas. Silica gel can be reused multiple times by drying it in the oven. Just be careful if you have any pets or children- silica gel has it’s own serious dangers when ingested so following the warnings carefully.
Another factor in keeping mold spores from growing is to remove their food source. Dust, soil, and grease are attractive treats for fungi, so keep your home clean, especially in areas like kitchens where moisture is also likely.
If you still have an unwelcome, creepy, moldy roommate taking up residence, knowing how to kick it out safely is important. Cleaning large or hidden areas may require professional mold remediation. For small areas (less than 10 square feet) you can probably take care of it yourself. Try these tips for cleaning mold:
1. Wear a face mask, goggles, and rubber gloves. Don’t touch mold with bare skin.
2. Seal off the area to prevent the tiny spores from spreading to other parts of the house during the removal process. Open the windows and cover heat registers and ventilation ducts.
3. Wash the affected hard surface areas with a mild detergent solution, such as laundry detergent and warm water. As an added step, wipe the area with a solution of a quarter-cup bleach and one quart of water. (Warning: Do not mix ammonia and bleach; the fumes can be toxic.)
4. Dry the surface completely. Use fans and dehumidifiers or natural ventilation.
5. Apply a borate-based detergent solution. Don’t rinse. This will help prevent the mold from growing again. (Look for “borate” listed on the ingredient labels of laundry or dishwasher detergent.)
6. Don’t take shortcuts. Never paint or caulk over moldy surfaces. The paint will peel and the mold will resurface.
Other cleaning solutions that are less harsh than bleach can also be effective. Try scrubbing surfaces with baking powder and a spray bottle of half water and half white vinegar. A half teaspoon of tea tree oil added to laundry can kill musty smelling spores in washable fabrics. Leahter goods can be cleaned with a 50/50 mix of rubbing alcohol and water, but test a small spot first. Interestingly, straight vodka can also be effective- just spray on the moldy surface, let sit for 15 minutes, and then rinse. There’s no lingering scent.
Another good source of information and tips is the EPA. If you’ve tried these methods and the mold still returns, or you’ve discovered a significant area of mold, call a professional. A mold remediation company can sometimes be the only effective way to safely resolve a mold problem.