You may not know it, but you're surrounded by mold. Most forms are harmless, but there are a few to watch out for. By understanding what to look for and how to clean it, unwelcome mold can be kept in check with routine maintenance.
Mold is a fungus with thousands of variations, but all are microscopic organisms that live on organic material. For residential purposes, molds can be lumped together with the mildew family since they are very similar. Both mold and mildew assist in the continual breakdown of dead plants and animals, standing proudly with yeast and mushrooms to keep nature moving.
Though relentless in their quest to help things rot, mold is not particularly difficult to keep at bay. It needs moisture to grow, so keeping your surroundings dry will prevent mold from becoming a problem. Molds release tiny spores for reproduction in their quest to consume the organic world but, when it comes to our homes, there's no reason they should succeed just yet.
Mildew is the easiest mold to see. Mildew shows up as black gunk on shower grout, and their hopeful gatherings can be seen on damp walls, siding, decking—wherever moisture beckons.
Mildew can look like dirt, but there's an easy way to tell the difference. Apply diluted bleach (1 part bleach, 16 parts water) and wait a moment. Mildew will lighten up quickly, but dirt won't change.
Retail mold-testing kits are available, and professional testing can be done. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) discourages routine mold sampling: it won't hurt, but it won't help much. Mold can trigger allergies and should be removed regardless of its type, and all molds are removed in the same way.
How to Check for Mold
A well-maintained residence shouldn't have moldy areas: any sign of mold should prompt a search for the leak.
Indoor plumbing - Check for mold near interior waterlines and plumbing fixtures. If mold is visible, find and repair the leak before cleaning. Keep in mind that water can travel away from the source of the leak in any direction—even up through drywall or other absorbent material.
Outside Leaks – Check outside of a residence for mold, looking closely at wood areas such as roofing, decks, and window sills. Investigate the interior side of any moldy spot and repair the moisture source. Ensure there is no drainage into the foundation.
Inspect the Ductwork - Check ductwork for mold, looking carefully at the ceiling and joints under the ducts. Poorly insulated ductwork can allow moisture where it isn't expected.
Probing - Mildew is unsightly, but it doesn't do much damage. Other molds can rot a home's structure, however, and this damage isn't always so visible. Probe suspicious areas with a screwdriver or similar tool, and look for spongy or crumbly spots that indicate molding.
Use Soap & Water
Don't bother with bleach or harsh chemicals to remove mold. Plain old soap and water is the best way, because soap has surfactants that lower surface tension and disrupt the mold's structure.
Finish with Antimicrobial Spray
Molds can easily return. After repairing leaks and cleaning the site, spray the dried area with antimicrobial treatment to help prevent further molding.
Take precautions if the mold has a strong odor, or is more than a few feet in size. It's important to avoid breathing in too many spores.
Here are suggestions for cleaning mold safely and effectively.
• Shut off any appliances that circulate the air, such as a furnace or air conditioner.
• Seal or cover open air spaces, ducts and doors to contain spores.
• Wear a respirator, goggles, and gloves for protection.
• Wear clothing and shoes you can clean or throw away after cleanup.
• As you clean, moisten mold with a hose sprayer to reduce airborne spores.
• Ventilate the area with a fan, and seal the exit airway so spores don't recirculate.
• Throw away the contaminated fan if you have severe mold.
• Double-bag moldy debris; wrap and tape affected carpeting in 6-mil plastic.
Under many circumstances, it is more ideal to hire a mold removal company to ensure your safety. With expert help, the mold is less likely to return in the future.