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How to Get Rid of Mold

How to get rid of mold - featured. Hand in yellow rubber glove wipes mold spores from wall with a sponge

Banish black spots, mildew and more with our expert tips

Whether you’ve noticed mold in your basement, on your shower curtain, or creeping onto your ceiling tiles, it’s important to know how to get rid of it. An all-too-common household blight, mold spores thrive on moisture and can grow almost anywhere in your home. And while a small amount of mold in damp environments such as bathrooms is par for the course, it can become a bigger problem if left untreated.

However, with many different varieties of mold common in US homes, it’s vital to know how best to treat your particular issue correctly – and when to call in the experts.

From bleach to vinegar and laundry solutions, there are a whole host of tactics to rid your home of the dreaded mold before resorting to more expensive methods.

Read on for our expert advice on how to tackle mold before it becomes a real problem.

What is mold?

Dr Jie Zhao, a research scientist specializing in indoor environmental quality and head of Delos Labs, says: “Mold is a micro-organism that reproduces by releasing spores through the air that then settle on indoor surfaces such as floors, ceilings, and walls.”

There are many types of mold, but all types will grow where moisture is present.

What causes mold?

As mentioned, mold loves moisture, so warm and wet areas in your home are always at risk – think basements, bathrooms, and kitchens. “Mold is very common in poorly ventilated buildings that are humid or damp. While mold spores can come from the mold already growing inside a space, they can also enter indoor environments from outdoors, such as through open windows, vents, and heating and cooling systems, or be carried in on shoes, clothes, and pets,” Dr Zhao explains.

Justin White is a contractor and vice president of marketing at Overhead Doors, with DIY and home maintenance expertise, and offers this advice: “The first step is always to find the source. Check your plumbing for any leaks. Look for condensation on windows or vents that aren’t venting properly. Moisture is food for mold spores, so eliminating standing water is key.”

How to identify mold

Mold – and its fellow fungal cousin, mildew – can take many forms, but in general you’re looking for flat or fuzzy dots that will gradually spread. It can be white, yellow, brown, green, pink, red, or dark; but all these variants can generally be treated using the same methods.

Look out for water damage, too, advises Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and principal of RTK Environmental Group: “If you see water stains, you probably have a mold issue as well. Mold is often hidden, growing on the back sides of walls and sheetrock, and under carpets and floors.” Look out for the tell-tale smell, he says: “Musty odors usually point to mold.”

What about black mold?

Black mold may grab the most headlines – and, indeed, it’s unpleasant and can cause negative health impacts – but continuous exposure to most kinds of mold can be just as detrimental and toxic. There are a few types of black mold that are particularly dangerous, especially to children, babies, and those with respiratory issues; but for the most part, it can be treated in the same way.

Read our explainer on black mold for more in-depth information.

What can I use to get rid of mold?

Like us, you may have seen that much of the mold removal advice suggests using bleach to wipe down affected surfaces. But does it work? We asked Bethany Uribe, AHERA-certified building inspector, and self-confessed “mold nerd”. “Most people think that bleach will kill mold colonies, but this couldn’t be further from the truth,” she says. “Mold spores do just fine submerged in bleach and can survive this cleaning agent without issue. In fact, when the bleach dries and leaves behind water included in the mix, then that will actually help the mold to grow,” she adds.

How to get rid of mold. A bucket with rubber gloves hanging over it stands next to a spray bottle, two plastic bottles and a pile of sponges with a moldy wall in the background

Aside from using bleach,  many household cleaners on the market promise to eliminate mold, but using these can be both time-consuming and an exercise in trial-and-error until you find one that does the trick.

Instead, Bethany suggests an easy-to-use store-cupboard staple: “Vinegar is capable of killing many mold species, including black mold spores. This agent works by being too acidic for the spores to survive, and this will prevent them from creating offspring that can repopulate the area after the vinegar has dried.”

When cleaning mold doesn’t work

If you feel confident you’ve eliminated the cause of mold growth, but you’re still having to scrub away, then it may be that simple cleaning isn’t enough. Why not? The success of this approach will depend on the surface to which the treatment is being applied. Bethany explains: “vinegar will work perfectly well to kill mold species on a flat surface such as a granite countertop, but if you’ve soaked drywall, no amount of surface treatment will solve the underlying issue.”

Wood, too, can be a real issue. “Treatments will do much hard work killing mold colonies on the surface and just below it where the solution can sink in, but if the water and spores travelled further than that, then mold will come back,” Bethany says. Wood needs to be sanded by a technician until they reach dry wood, after which an antimicrobial agent can be applied.

The key learning here is that porous surfaces will require specialized attention, and may eventually need total replacement. Note, too, that if your mold problem extends beyond around 2 ft², then you should call in the professionals, to avoid negatively impacting your health.

How to get rid of mold in the bathroom

It’s common to encounter mold in a bathroom. Whether you find it growing on your grout, at the bottom of your shower curtain, or around the edges of your bath, bathrooms can be a never-ending source of mold due to their naturally warm, wet conditions.

A vinegar solution applied with a scrubbing sponge or grout brush will work well in the bathroom, unless you’re dealing with a severe case of mold on wooden fittings. Be sure to use protective gloves, glasses, and a mask whenever you’re dealing with mold; open all windows and use an extractor fan where possible. Dry all areas with a microfiber cloth.

Plastic shower curtains needn’t be thrown in the trash if they have succumbed to mold: you can wipe them down with the same vinegar solution before washing them in the machine on a cycle for delicates. Dry in a sunny spot or tumble-dry on low for two minutes. If your shower curtain is fabric, see below.

How to remove mold from fabrics

Curtains and soft materials that have been exposed to damp are susceptible to mold spots, as are clothes stored in poorly ventilated basements and garages. If your items are washable then it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to restore them to their former glory:

  • Wearing protective gear, bag the item and take it outside to prevent further sporing in your home.
  • Brush the item vigorously using a stiff clothes brush before rubbing a suitable laundry liquid detergent into any remaining spots; leave it to soak for a half hour.
  • Wash in the machine on the hottest cycle suitable for the item according to the care label.
  • Dry items outside in the sunniest spot possible. Sunlight is a natural antimicrobial and will also help to naturally bleach whites back to their original best.

Non-machine-washable items should be taken for professional dry cleaning.

How to remove mold from walls and ceilings

It’s possible to remove mold from walls and ceilings, provided the material isn’t too porous. If you’re tackling mold on ceiling tiles then the advice is to have these replaced as soon as possible to avoid the mold spreading further, since it can’t be removed effectively.

For plaster and sheetrock, vinegar applied using a sponge or brush should do the trick. Ventilate the room as much as possible and ensure protective gear is worn, particularly when dealing with ceilings. Once the mold has been removed, wipe the area with warm water and dry immediately with a microfiber cloth.

If mold is widespread, or you suspect toxic mold, don’t attempt to clean the area yourself: consult a local professional.

How to prevent mold

It’s essential to identify and eliminate the cause of the moisture – be that a leak, poor ventilation, or weather damage.

Once remedial damage has been resolved, you should look to prevent further occurrences by checking the humidity level across areas in your home. Humidity should be less than 60%; if it’s above this level, then use a dehumidifier to help remove moisture from the environment. If extractors, vents, and fans aren’t operational, then these should be replaced as soon as possible.

If mold and damp have been an issue in your home, then also take care not to add moisture through your household behaviours. Avoid drying laundry inside, dry down bathrooms after bathing, and avoid long steam-producing cooking techniques.

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