Mold is a scary word to many but when you are properly informed about how to prevent and deal with mold when it arises you will be prepared should you ever face a situation like I recently did. What started out as a small water leak in the basement turned into a full-fledged moisture and mold problem that quickly got out of control. The problem: the signs were ignored and not dealt with in a timely manner. So take my warning and learn from my mistakes, become informed about the 'mold and moisture' issues and how they should be prevented and dealt with.
Why is mold growing in your home?
Mold is a natural part of the environment and the spores are present in both indoor and outdoor air, so there is no way to avoid it completely. What you want to avoid is the growth of mold in your home. Mold begins to grow when the spores land on wet surfaces and are continually fed by the presence of moisture or water.
Can mold cause problems with your health?
There are many different types of mold. There are the good kinds that area used to make medicines, such as penicillin, the kinds that grow on old food, the kinds that grow from landing on a damp area. Just as some people are allergic to the molds used to make medicine, molds can cause allergens, irritants and in some cases potentially toxic substances called mycotoxins. Inhaling or touching mold spores may cause allergic reactions, especially for sensitive individuals and should be avoided at all costs. (See below for what to wear to protect yourself when cleaning mold). Mold exposure surfaces with a wide range of symptoms that can be immediate or delayed. Since research is continually on going, check with your local health care professional, or a state or local health department for the latest information on health issues.
How do you get rid of mold?
You can never entirely get rid of mold, since the spores are always present in the air, however you can prevent and removes mold growth indoors by controlling the moisture levels of the space. If you experience mold growth in your home, you MUST take care of both the mold problem and completely fix the water problem that is causing the heightened moisture levels. If you clean up the mold but don't fix the moisture problem, it is highly likely that the mold will return.
How to Clean Up Mold:
First and foremost, you need to determine if your mold and moisture problem is a job for a professional or one you can do yourself. Typically a small self-contained problem of less than 10 square feet (3 ft. by 3 ft. square) can be handled by yourself, as long as the moisture problem is also taken care of. If you plan to do the work yourself, make sure you follow the guidelines on what to wear to protect yourself while cleaning.
If there has been significant or ongoing water damage or mold growth (more then 10 square feet) you will want to consult the EPA's (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines on mold remediation and consider hiring a contractor or professional remediation company that has experience in mold cleanup to do the job.
If you suspect that the mold growth has extended into your duct work and the Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning (HVAC) system may be contaminated then you should check the EPA's page on having your air ducts cleaned. Signs of a mold problem in your ducts include an identified moisture problem related to your HVAC system or if there is mold growing near your air intake for the system. If there is any question or you suspect contamination, DO NOT run your HVAC system at all (not even the fan) as you may risk spreading the mold spore throughout the rest of the house. If you have already run the system before suspecting the problem, close off the vents as best as possible (covering them with plastic if they do not have closers built into the vent) and air out your house (as long as the weather allows) and run fans to clean out the air. Have your ducts inspected and cleaned as soon as the original mold and moisture problem are dealt with.
In all cases, if you have health or safety concerns about the situation, contact a professional before starting any clean up work and limit exposure to the affected area as much as possible until the situation is remedied.
Fix all plumbing leaks and water problems as soon as possible to prevent moisture issues and mold growth. Dry all affected items immediately.
Do not disturb mold that is growing until you are ready to completely fix the problem. Touching the mold will disturb the spores and send them into the air. If you have not dealt with the moisture problem first, you will just be spreading the mold to grow in other areas. For hard impervious surfaces, such as plastic, scrub mold off with a detergent and water mixture and let dry completely. For porous materials, such as carpet, ceiling tiles, upholstery, etc that become moldy, it may be best to throw them away as mold can grow to fill the empty spaces of the porous material and it is impossible to completely remove the mold from those item.
Do not paint or caulk over moldy surfaces as it will not stick and will likely begin to peel.
If you are unsure how to clean an item, or it is expensive or of semi-mental value, you can always consult a specialist to take a look at it.
If you are dealing with a continuing mold issue in your bathroom, your main problem is that moisture in the space. Increase ventilation by always running a fan or opening a window in the bathroom. You may even want to install a exhaust fan in the space, but make sure it vents to the outside of the house. You can also clean more frequently to keep the mold from returning or recurring as frequently.
What to Wear to Protect Yourself when Cleaning Mold:
Okay, while you might laugh at the mental picture or what I am about to tell you, mold is a serious issue, not to be taken lightly. While you do not need to wear this ensemble to walk by the affected area, it is always important to remember to LIMIT YOUR EXPOSURE to mold in all instances. These precautionary steps should always be followed if you are going to be cleaning the mold affected area yourself.
1) Avoid breathing in mold or mold spores. In order to do this you should invest in a N-95 respirator. These masks are available in most hardware stores with a price range of $12 to $25. The key to these masks is the filter system they use. Some resemble a paper dust mask with a nozzle on the end or a rubber mask with removable cartridges on each side. DO NOT use a normal painters mask as this does not filter out the spores properly. Make sure the mask fits tight and snug so you are only breathing through the mask.
2) Wear gloves. The best size is one the fits snug and come up your elbow or middle of your forearm. Ordinary household cleaning gloves will work, though make sure you use a stronger glove such as a natural rubber or neoprene if you use a disinfectant such as a strong cleaning solution or straight chlorine bleach. (A mild bleach water solution may not require a special glove). Always avoid touching mold or moldy items with your bare hands.
3) Wear goggles. Preferably choose goggles that DO NOT have ventilation holes in them. Avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes.
How do You Know when the Job is Done?
You should have completely removed the mold and all the moisture/water problem have been taken care of. The affected area should no longer have a moldy smell or show signs of the mold or water damage. You or others should be able to occupy or reoccupy the space with no complaints or heath problems. However, there is ultimately no easy answer to this question. It is a judgment call. You may as a professional to come and inspect the work that was done to re mediate the problem and confirm it was done properly.
How to Prevent Mold and Control Moisture in your Home:
When you discover a water or moisture problem, always deal with it as soon as possible.
Make sure you are not causing moisture problems around your home by cleaning and maintaining your gutters regularly, modify landscaping so it is at least 6" below your foundation line a the house and that it slope away from the house for drainage, keep indoor humidity low, and if you see a problem act quickly to take care of it.
Reduce humidity in your home by properly venting to the outside appliance that create moisture, such as stove, dryers and certain types of heaters. Use air conditioning or dehumidifiers as needed (as long as you don't suspect them to be part of the mold problem), and run exhaust and bathroom fans or open windows whenever you are showering to keep moisture levels low in the highly susceptible areas of your home.
So in the end...
The best way to avoid mold in your home is to prevent moisture problems that are the root cause. Acting early and quickly to take care of a small problem will save you from a much bigger problem down the line. Take it from me, the problem I experienced, if taken care of immediately would not have become the issue that it was. A simple investigation and fix to a water problem at the beginning would have saved us from four months of problems. So don't ignore the signs. If you have questions or concerns contact a reputable mold and moisture remediation company to get a professional opinion on the problem.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Check out the Environmental Protection Agency's posting on Mold at http://www.epa.gov/iedmold1/index.html.