Don’t Let Mold Get the Best of You this Winter
Winter is coming, but that doesn’t mean the colder temperatures will make you immune from mold. In fact, the high levels of precipitation make the “wet months” of winter some of the best times of year for molds to grow.
What is mold?
Mold is the non-scientific name for many types of fungi. It can be found both inside and outside the home, and grows best in warm, damp, and humid conditions. Common indoor molds include: Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and Aspergillus.
While mold typically has a pretty negative association (musty odors, damp basements, and athlete's foot) there are some good molds. If it weren’t for mold, we wouldn’t have penicillin and blue cheese. We wouldn’t have bread, and beer, and wine. And without fungi to break them down, the world would be buried in leaves, trees, grass, and garbage!
Source: IM Home Inspector
How does it grow?
Mold grows and reproduces by making spores, which are spread through the air but land, and ultimately live, on surfaces.
Mold spores, unfortunately, survive in non mold-like conditions, such as dry spaces that wouldn’t normally support mold growth. In these situations, they’ll remain dormant for long periods of time and won’t develop into fungi until moisture is introduced to their living environment.
For this article, we’ll refer specifically to indoor mold, but know that outdoor mold grows similarly but plays a very different (and important) role, especially in the breakdown and regeneration of nature.
Warning signs that mold is growing in your home:
While mold can grow everywhere, there are certainly places that are more susceptible to mold growth based on their environments. These include antique shops, greenhouses, saunas, farms, mills, construction areas, flower shops, and summer cottages.
You smell something strange
Mold smells. And it has a pretty strong, pungent smell at that. When you’re in a section of your home that has a mold issue, you’ll probably notice an unpleasant odor in that area. It can live within the walls or behind wallpaper, so you might not immediately recognize that mold is the culprit.
You see it…with your own eyes!
It’s easy to identify normal soap scum in your shower or bathtub. However, you might have to investigate a little more deeply to identify mold in your basement or cellar. Mold thrives in damp areas, so if there is a section that’s particularly damp, or known for flooding, it’s worth a look to see if mold has cultivated there.
Because mold is sneaky and isn’t always visible, it can be difficult to realize you’ve been living with mold in your home. If you start experiencing symptoms like congestion, throat irritation, cough, wheezing, watery eyes, and in some cases, skin irritation, it may be mold that’s causing you to feel less than your best and not allergies. If your symptoms flare up as soon as you step through the front door, it might be time to start a mold witch-hunt.
Solutions to get rid of it:
If you’ve identified that mold is, in fact, an issue in your home, there are a few safety tips before you roll up your sleeves and begin the removal process.
- Avoid breathing in mold or mold spores. You can limit your exposure by wear a facemask or covering. The CDC recommends an N-95 respirator, which is available at many hardware stores or online and range from $12.00 - $25.00.
- Avoid touching mold or moldy items with your bare hands. Wear gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm. When working with water and a mild detergent, ordinary household rubber gloves are fine. If you are using a disinfectant, such as bleach, or a strong cleaning solution, you should use gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC.
- Avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes. Goggles that do not have ventilation holes are highly recommended.
Source: Montgomery County MD
Now that you’re ready to safely remove mold from your home, here are some solutions to get started:
- Never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners. Mixing bleach with ammonia or other cleaning products will produce dangerous, toxic fumes.
- Open windows and doors to provide fresh air.
- If the area to be cleaned is more than 10 square feet, consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guide titled Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using bleach or any other cleaning product.
- Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely.
- Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
- Absorbent or porous materials, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may have to be thrown away if they become moldy. Mold can grow on or fill in the empty spaces and crevices of porous materials, so the mold may be difficult or impossible to remove completely.
- Do not paint or caulk moldy surfaces. Clean up the mold and dry the surfaces before painting. Paint applied over moldy surfaces is likely to peel.
- If you are unsure about how to clean an item, or if the item is expensive or of sentimental value, you may wish to consult a specialist. Specialists in furniture repair, restoration, painting, art restoration and conservation, carpet and rug cleaning, water damage, and fire or water restoration are commonly listed in phone books. Be sure to ask for and check references. Look for specialists who are affiliated with professional organizations.
Recommendations to prevent mold from coming back:
Source: AirPac, Inc.
The CDC offers these helpful hints to keep your home as mold-free as possible:
- Keep humidity levels as low as you can—no higher than 50%--all day long. An air conditioner or dehumidifier will help you keep the level low. Since humidity levels change over the course of a day, using a system like Temperature@lert, allows you to remotely monitor the temperature in your home or business to ensure it’s staying cool enough to prevent mold from developing.
- Be sure your home has enough ventilation. Use exhaust fans, which vent outside your home in the kitchen and bathroom. Make sure your clothes dryer vents outside your home.
- Fix any leaks in your home’s roof, walls, or plumbing so mold does not have moisture to grow.
- Clean up and dry out your home thoroughly and quickly (within 24–48 hours) after flooding or leaks.
- Add mold inhibitors to paints before painting.
- Clean bathrooms with mold-killing products.
- Remove or replace carpets and upholstery that have been soaked and cannot be dried promptly. Consider not using carpet in rooms or areas like bathrooms or basements that may have a lot of moisture.
- Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
- Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation, so that water does not enter or collect around the foundation.
- Keep air conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
- Keep indoor humidity low. If possible, keep indoor humidity below 60 percent (ideally between 30 and 50 percent) relative humidity. Relative humidity can be measured with a moisture or humidity meter, a small, inexpensive ($10-$50) instrument available at many hardware stores.
- If you see condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes ACT QUICKLY to dry the wet surface and reduce the moisture/water source. Condensation can be a sign of high humidity.
To learn more about preventing mold in your home, see the Environmental Protection Agency's publication A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home.