It’s nature’s way: When there’s moisture, mold will take hold. In leaf piles, flower beds and lawns, mold plays a part in the natural decomposition process. Indoors, bathrooms, basements and other damp or poorly ventilated areas can also harbor mold. And while small amounts of mold spores can be found in most any home, an overgrowth can trigger allergic reactions such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes and rashes. Here’s how to keep your home mold-free—and how to banish it once and for all.
Deal quickly with water damage. Indoor mold problems typically stem from significant water damage, like a flood or a major leak. In that case, “you’ve got to get the damaged stuff taken out,” says Dr. James Sublett, a fellow of the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology (AAAAI), and a member of the AAAAI’s Air Pollution and Indoor Allergen Committee. Have any structural damage fixed by a reputable contractor as soon as possible. Wet drywall and carpet padding must be replaced, while wood and even carpet can dry out. Thoroughly dry affected areas and pitch wet items such as magazines, books and leather materials within 24 to 48 hours of damage to avoid mold growth.
Monitor indoor moisture. Humid indoor conditions encourage mold growth. You can check indoor humidity with a hydrometer, available for $10 to $15 at hardware stores. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends readings below 60 percent. Run air conditioners and use dehumidifiers to keep humidity down.
Call in a pro. Long-term or untreated water damage should be addressed by an experienced mold remediation service. While there are no federal or state certifications for mold remediation, look for a company that’s affiliated with the Indoor Air Quality Association (similar to board-certification for docs). And as you would for any home-improvement projects, check references and get multiple bids. If you’re not sure about the presence of mold, Sublett advises consulting a home inspector or reputable handyman before hiring a remediation service.
Treat problem areas. Most household mold growth isn’t severe enough to require remediation, says Sublett, but you do want to tackle the conditions causing it. Try a dehumidifier in damp areas like basements and bathrooms, and use ventilation fans or open windows when showering. Be sure your fans vent outside, not into the wall space, which can create moisture problems (consult a handyman or inspector if you’re not sure). Clean small areas of mold growth with a mild bleach and water solution or commercial bleach spray.
Keep clean. Clogged roof gutters can cause drainage problems, presenting risk for water damage and mold growth. Clean them regularly.