Suspect you've got a mold problem? You're not alone. According to a 1994 Harvard University study of 10,000 homes across the USA and Canada
, roughly 50% had some type of mold present. The most common type found? Black mold.
Black mold can develop wherever there is constant moisture from water damage, humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration or flooding.
In your home, mold is most likely to grow on painted or wallpapered surfaces, insulation materials, ceiling tiles, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery. Pay special attention to attics, basements and hidden crevices that don't see much light, such as behind your fridge or dishwasher; on your windowsills; and behind your toilet bowl, to name just a few.
And mold isn't just ugly. It slowly destroys whatever surface it grows on. Even worse, it's compromises your health. Common responses to mold exposure are nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, and skin irritation, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
. But there's also a possibility of permanent immunological, psychological, pathological and neurological effects
and fungal infections. Black mold has also been linked to cases of hemorrhagic lung disease in infants, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics
Here's the good news: most cases are not too hard for the average homeowner to treat, as long as the affected area is less than 10 square feet, says the Environmental Protection Agency
. Early detection is key -- mold can develop as fast as 24-48 hours after initial water exposure.
Here's how to eradicate mold and keep your family safe -- and when to call in the pros:
Mold leaves some very conspicuous signs, such as:
1. Black, green, or brown patches.
The most obvious symptom of a mold problem can be detected with your own two eyes. Sometimes, but not always, mold is visible on the affected surface.
You know the kind. If there's a certain area of your home with a distinct, musty smell (and it's not coming from any rotten food products), chances are you've got mold. Look around the area and see if you can spot any visible water damage. If there's no possible way for excess moisture to build up (i.e. as is the case in basements, bathrooms and kitchens), you may have a different problem on your hands.
2. Peeling Paint.
Peeling paint is never a good sign, as the most common reason for paint to stop adhering to the wall is moisture.
3. Decaying Wood.
Although not all decayed wood is a direct result of mold, it is plausible. Check exposed wood for any visible signs of rot or decay, which could point to a bigger problem such as mold or [gasp!] termites.
4. Chalky Substance.
Your walls' binding agent can sometimes break down under moist conditions, leaving a chalk-like residue. This is a clear sign of water damage and/or mold issues.
5. Health Symptoms.
If you have a sudden allergic reaction to a certain area of your home (and you haven't recently changed cleaners, carpet and/or furniture), mold could be a reason for the onslaught of allergens.
Now that you're familiar with the warning signs, there are steps you can take to (a) detect the molded area, and (b) solve the problem. Here's how to tackle the issue:
1. Bring in a certified professional to test for mold in your home.
Although there are numerous DIY mold-testing kits on the market, steer clear. At-home testers can be spotty and often provide negative readings, even if you do have a problem with mold. Invest in this step with a quality professional who can properly identify the extent of your home's mold infestation.
2. If your mold professional determines that the mold problem is on the surface only, you can remove it yourself.
Remember to wear a full face mask to avoid inhaling any of the cleaning solutions and/or surrounding mold spores; the EPA recommends an N-95 respirator
. A pair of work gloves and disposable clothing are recommended too. Never attempt to wipe the mold when dry, as you risk spreading the spores. Instead, lightly spray water on the mold to dampen the area, which will keep the mold in place while you clean.
3. In a bucket, mix one part detergent, five parts bleach and twenty parts warm water.
Make sure the area where you're working is well-ventilated. If the material that you are cleaning can withstand a stronger bleach solution (i.e. drywall and/or concrete), you can mix up to ten parts bleach of the same solution. Warning: Never mix bleach with ammonia; it will release toxic fumes.
4. Prefer a natural approach to cleaning? Borax, tea tree oil, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and grapegfruit seed extract all have fungus-fighting properties. Check out these recipes for all-natural mold-banishing recipes
using benign ingredients. Or try a solution of detergent and water minus the bleach.
5. Use a scrub brush with bristles
to wash down the pre-dampened surface with the solution.
6. Let dry
with proper air circulation and repeat if necessary.
If your certified professional determines that your mold is in areas that aren't easily accessible -- namely inside the walls, ceilings, and floors -- you may be facing a bigger task than you're prepared for.
Ask about air-filtration options and any further steps the pro recommends, such as demolition.
Ever have an experience with mold in the home? Tell us what you did about it in the comments below.