How To: Get a Hold on Mold
By Jennifer Van Evra
It’s the houseguest you never want – and one of the toughest to send packing. Especially in damp climates, indoor mold is one of the most common and stubborn problems – and for people with allergies and asthma, breathing in those microscopic spores day in and day out can spell serious trouble.
Whether it’s lurking around window ledges, spreading under basement carpets or seeping through drywall under that leaky sink, it’s got to go. So how to tackle this growing problem?
Where’s The Wet?
There’s no point in trying to get rid of mold until you figure out where it’s getting its food. Mold can’t grow without water, so when you find it, the first thing you need to do is pinpoint the moisture source and stop it.
“The key to mold control is moisture control,” says Laureen Burton, a chemist and toxicologist with the Indoor Environments Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “People think, ‘I don’t even need to look at where this came from because I’ve wiped it up.’ But if you don’t fix the moisture, that mold will be coming back.”
So where to start sleuthing? Chances are, there’s one of a few usual suspects at work: a leaky roof or siding, cracks in the home’s foundation, clogged or broken rain gutters, improperly sealed windows, inadequate insulation, a plumbing leak, a seeping washing machine or refrigerator, high indoor humidity or condensation.
Sometimes the source is easy to pinpoint, like a sweaty pipe under a kitchen sink, pooling water near a foundation or a beaten-up old skylight. Other times, you may smell mold but have no idea where it’s coming from; in those instances, you may need to call in the pros.
How To Clean Up
You’ve cut off the moisture source, put the mold on notice, and now it’s time for the clean-up. But how you do that depends entirely on where you find the mold and how much you have.
According to EPA guidelines, if the affected area is larger than 10 square feet (roughly three feet by three feet), or it was caused by sewage or other contaminated water, you’ll want to call in mold remediation professionals. (In Canada, the guidelines say to seek out the pros if the area of mold is larger than a 4×8-foot sheet of plywoord.) But if it’s limited to a smaller area, or it’s on a hard surface, chances are you can tackle it yourself – so long as you follow a few key steps.
• Out With The Mold
Many think that spritzing mold with a chlorine bleach solution will do the trick – but bleach can be problematic for people with asthma, and even dead mold can trigger reactions in those with allergies. Also, you could end up adding even more moisture to the area and actually promoting mold growth. Same goes with painting or caulking over it: it will only come back. So what’s the real solution?
Small amounts of mold on hard surfaces such as tile can be wiped off with basic detergent and water, or in more serious cases with a non-toxic mold cleaner, then carefully dried to prevent regrowth. You can do the same for more porous materials like drywall – so long as the mold is limited to the surface, and hasn’t made its way right through.
Once mold has set up shop in the nooks and crannies of carpets, ceiling tiles, drywall and other materials, there’s a good chance the affected areas will need to be scrapped – although steam cleaning and allowing fabrics to dry completely can save carpets and upholstery.
And if you think you only have a spot of mold near a baseboard, and then peel back a piece of wallpaper or wood paneling and see it’s coated in black, your DIY spirit should take a back seat and let the professional mold remediators take over.
Next Page: Washing it off; the checkup