Fighting Mold in the Home
By Tom Matthews
Mold is a top concern for indoor air quality and remains a common problem in homes across the country. Mold and mildew are both types of fungi and are similar in many ways. From causing musty smells to serious allergic reactions, indoor mold and mildew can be a pesky nuisance or a real health hazard. EHT offers a few handy tips to help fight these problems around your house.
Spot the Spores
Mold is typically fuzzy in appearance and can be seen in many colors, including blue, green, yellow, brown, gray, black or white. Mold can cause structural damage to homes over time and lead to health problems, including respiratory problems, migraines and more.
Mildew usually grows in a flat pattern and may appear either powdery or downy. Powdery mildew usually starts out white and may later turn yellow, brown or black. Downy mildew usually starts out yellow and later turns brown. Like mold, it can also cause respiratory problems and allergic reactions.
Look for visible signs of mold and mildew around your home. Musty odors can be a sign of mold growth, but such a smell may also indicate mice infestation. Microfungal growth of mold and mildew can sometimes be difficult to see. One trick is to shine a flashlight nearly parallel to the lower portion of wall or leg of furniture. Look for fuzzy white, pale yellow or blue-green spots. These are likely mold colonies, and when disturbed these spores can become airborne.
Tips for Cleaning Mold and Mildew
When cleaning mildew and mold, ensure your work area is well-ventilated because many mold/mildew cleaners give off fumes that are harmful to breathe. Wear a facial mask to prevent breathing in mold or mildew spores as well as to protect yourself from breathing fumes given off by the cleaning product. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands, and use an antimicrobial mold and mildew remover.
Not all household cleaning products and bathroom cleansers will do the job. For example, bleach is commonly used to clean mold and mildew but it has harsh fumes and can be toxic. Although bleach can kill the spores and give the surface a spiffy appearance, bleach won’t prevent the mold from returning to the surface. It may look clean once you’re done, but the mold will grow back within weeks. Bleach is also particularly ineffective at treating mold on porous surfaces such as drywall, lumber and grout.
One other issue with bleach: When it attacks surface mold, it leaves a carbon layer residue that prevents other antimicrobial products from penetrating to the mold roots or hyphae, which can limit the product’s effectiveness. If you’ve already treated a moldy area with bleach in the past, you should first wipe the area down with warm water and detergent to remove the layer. Once the area is dry, apply the antimicrobial product according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Use your antimicrobial cleaner to clean the surrounding area as well as the area where you actually see mold and mildew, to make sure you remove all traces of the substances.
Remove materials that cannot be thoroughly cleaned of mold and mildew, like insulation, carpeting or drywall, and replace those with new, mold-free materials.
Common Problem Areas
The presence of moisture is the biggest contributor to mold growth, and to fight the infestation you should conduct a room-by-room assessment of the house to identify problem areas. The moisture can come from condensation due to poor ventilation, from a water leak or from outdoor intrusion.
Crawlspaces and Basements. Surfaces in these below-grade areas of the home should be as clean as the other areas of the home. Install lights to keep an eye on plumbing leaks. Use a concrete paint to coat concrete floors for easier cleaning, and if possible, use a HEPA vacuum to clean the floor and walls annually. For dirt floors, cover the dirt with crushed stone, a vapor barrier and even concrete. Consider using a dehumidifier during the warmer months. Isolate a moldy basement from habitable spaces by closing all access openings leading from the basement to the rooms above.
Foundation. Water can enter the home through foundation walls due to hydrostatic pressure, so it’s critical to have the ground around your home graded away from the foundation walls for proper drainage. The slope should always fall away from the house (never toward), dropping 6 inches for every 6 linear feet. Consider installing French drains to divert ground runoff in problem areas, and use gutters and downspouts to manage the roof runoff, directing it away from the house. Keep the gutters clean so they drain easily.
Bathrooms and Kitchens. Mold/mildew-resistant paint and caulk products help to fight common problems in the kitchen and bathroom. These two rooms are most prone to moisture retention and therefore should have exhaust fans. The fans should always remain in good working order, and you should verify that they are venting through the roof and not into the attic.
Attic. While in the attic, if you can see the bathroom exhaust hose or kitchen exhaust duct, make sure it vents to the exterior and does not terminate inside the attic. If this is not the case, a vent kit will need to be installed to make connection to the exterior.
The air in the attic should be dry and fresh, which indicates adequate ventilation. A stuffy, musty attic indicates poor ventilation, requiring installation of vent fans, ridge vents, soffit vents, etc.
To check if exhaust fans are venting into the attic, have someone turn the fans on and off while you’re in the attic. Listen and look for signs of airflow such as moving dust or insulation.
Check attic ducts and piping to the indoor AC unit for signs of moisture which indicate poor insulation. Wrap any cold water pipes with foam-tube insulation to prevent sweating.
In cool climates, look for condensation on roofing nails. Also, install an insulated attic door cover with a gasket to prevent the flow of moist air from the house.
If you have mold or mildew covering a large area or if you have symptoms of related health problems, you can schedule a free consultation with a mold removal professional in your area. An experienced professional will come to your home, assess the situation, help you distinguish between mold vs. mildew, and advise you about the best way to remove the problem. Check the Yellow Pages for a local service, and try to establish references for the professional of your choice.
5-Minute Mold Test
Before spending your hard-earned money on those “instant” mold kits, get the facts. The Healthful Home 5-Minute Mold Test is the one test that “send-in” labs don’t want you to know about. Do your own testing quickly and easily while saving money as compared to those “low budget” mold kits. Why wait 48 hours for a culture dish to incubate or use “instant” blue protein tests if they don’t tell you anything useful? Why wait another 7 days or more for a lab to tell you what’s on the culture dish and pay additional fees of $40 or more? The 5-Minute Mold Test gives results in minutes and provides specific detection of the most worrisome molds associated with water damage and illness as determined by the US EPA.
Unlike other products that offer mail-in testing, the 5-minute Home Mold Test includes specific antibody-based tests against more than 32 different Aspergillus/Penicillium and Stachybotrys mold types (the types that cause illness). Worried about your air quality? Test the settled dust in the room of concern. Or, just sample suspect areas of possible contamination. Using the same proven lateral flow assay technology employed in medical laboratories, these tests have been validated in an EPA-licensed and AIHA-accredited environmental lab as the most sensitive and accurate rapid tests available. Healthful Home mold tests are up to 100 times more sensitive than other rapid tests on the market. Provided are all the materials necessary for environmental testing including 1 Asp/Pen rapid test, 1 Stachybotrys rapid test, 1 All-in-One Collection Swab and instructions for use. Test multiple areas with one kit if you just need to know if you have a problem, or order separate kits for each area to localize your mold infestation. A postage-paid mailer and sterile swabs for optional lab confirmation are included. The 5-Minute Mold Test is made in the USA. Visit HomeMoldTest.com.