The good news is that most common molds, like mildew, are easy to spot.
Q: I fear we may have a mildew problem. How can we safely deal with it and prevent future outbreaks?
A: Let’s get to know the causes and symptoms of basic mildew and mold in your home — and how to give it the boot for good.
Mold isn’t picky about where it chooses to live. It’s able to settle in and grow quickly in temperatures from 40 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and is typically found lounging in the damp areas of your home. Problem areas include walls, floors, carpet, appliances and furniture — anywhere moisture can collect, but especially in oft-neglected basements, attics and crawlspaces.
The good news is that most common molds, like mildew, are easy to spot. Mildew is highly visible, showing up at surface levels as small black spots that grow over time. Mildew is often seen in your shower, on damp walls and carpets, and on shady areas of your deck or exterior siding. If mold is bad enough, there may be a musty odor hanging around your home.
Advanced mold problems can also cause allergy-like symptoms including shortness of breath and rashes. Want to make sure what you see is mildew and not just dirt? Apply a few drops of household bleach to the affected surface and wait two minutes. If it becomes lighter, it’s mildew; if it stays dark, it’s probably just dirt.
If you notice rot or damage that goes beyond the surface, like soft or crumbling wood or materials, it means that the mold has had time to grow and may be a bigger problem than you can handle. If comfortable, you can use a tool to dive into your wall or structure and inspect how far the mold has spread. Be sure that you aren’t cutting into any wiring or other necessary components.
If your crawlspace or attic is too dangerous to navigate, do not just wait it out; hire a professional to get the job done safely — and right.
Keep in mind that proper excavation is key to ensuring your health and safety, so don’t go at it halfheartedly. For more accessible mold spots, handling these areas involves precaution and a bit of elbow grease, along with bleach, a respirator (minimum N-95), rubber gloves, safety glasses, scrub brush and window fan.
For mildew, use a one-part-bleach, eight-parts-water mix to simply scrub it away. Caution: Never mix ammonia or products containing ammonia with bleach, as the combination produces toxic vapors.
Even if you are just scrubbing surface spots, you’ll want to wear long sleeves and face and hand protection.
If you end up encountering a larger concentration of damaged materials or more damage beyond the surface, this will likely involve completely removing the affected areas (like entire sections of drywall) and replacing them. Before you get gung-ho and grab the drywall saw, remember to account for internal wiring and cut outlet power to avoid a bad day getting worse.
Keep in mind that disturbing mold spores may cause them to spread to other unaffected areas of the house if you’re not careful. Major mold removal is not to be taken lightly, so be sure you are competent enough before attempting to do so. You may not know what you’re getting into or just how deep the damage goes, especially if you’ve ignored the symptoms for too long.
After complete removal of all surface signs, you’ll want to ensure the mildew doesn’t come back. Having windows and doors open along with fans and/or dehumidifiers to assist in the drying process (if necessary) is a major help here. If you vacuumed up any materials, be sure to replace the filter and use your bleach/water solution to clean the tank, hose and any attachments used.
Mold spores are everywhere and are ready to attack your home as soon as the conditions allow them to. Stopping leaks, ensuring proper drainage inside and out, optimizing ventilation in places like the attic and keeping crawlspaces dry are the best basics to prevent mold from becoming a problem — again — in your home. If you want to be thorough, having a professional inspection is also a good idea.
Don’t ignore that discoloration, dark spot or damp smell; the sooner you get rid of mold, the less in damages you’ll have to pay — and that’s never a bad thing.
HomeWork is written by contributing member professionals of the Master Builders Association (MBA) of King and Snohomish Counties. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBA’s more than 2,800 members, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.