Interviewer: Are you a rainforest?
Vermont: No, but I play one on TV.
I have never been to a rainforest, but Vermont is doing an A+ job at imitating one lately. The heat and humidity have truly teamed up on us this year. The long stretches of rain aren’t helping. For me, all of this is wreaking havoc on the health of my house—resulting in standing water that has, unbeknownst to me (sort of), been feeding a colony of unseen mold.
IGNORANCE IS MOLD’S BEST FRIEND
I say “sort of unbeknownst to me” because I suspected its existence but opted to ignore it for a while. It’s easy to pass off the musty smell of mold as a figment of your imagination or a result of dirty laundry in the vicinity—anything but mold. Mold remediation sounded, to me, like an expensive and impossible endeavor.
The fact is that feigned ignorance doesn’t eliminate the problem. Nor does hope. Shocking, right? Rather, these two things only allow the mold time to gain a greater foothold and not only cause problems for the structure of your home but potentially create long-term health issues for you and your family.
So, my hard-earned advice is, don’t ignore signs of mold. Create a plan. And if the issue is out of your control, hire a professional. Here’s how you can get started with some DIY steps:
FIND THE MOLD
Finding mold isn’t always as easy as it sounds. It can be all around you without being visible. You may smell it and lift the rug, check behind the couch, investigate all abutting rooms and still find no sign of it. Take my word, though. If you’re smelling it, it is there. You may just need to dig a little deeper to locate it. If you’re pretty sure it’s coming from the floor but can’t see any evidence on the rug, it could be growing out of sight below the floorboards. Maybe you had a water leak a few years back and you now have mold growing in the walls. Seek it out so you can assess how big a problem it is. When it comes to mold, it is essential to know how big a problem you’re dealing with. This will inform which steps you take to remediate it.
ELIMINATE THE SOURCE OF MOISTURE
Equally important to finding the mold itself is locating the source of the mold—aka moisture. The good news is that the moisture will likely be easier to find, but make sure you find all instances of it. If you don’t, the problem will persist. For example, I knew that standing water in my basement was a problem. What I didn’t know was that my garden was a contributing factor. A visitor pointed out that I had mulch pushing up against my house, which allowed moisture up under the siding. This issue resulted not only in damp siding but also to a bug issue inside my house. To fix that, I dug the mulch and dirt away and poured stone to allow the water a place to escape.
CONSIDER THE AFFECTED SURFACE
Mold growing on a smooth surface is easy enough to deal with. If you’ve removed its feeding pool, you can wipe the mold away and be fairly certain you won’t see it again unless the moisture returns. Porous surfaces are more difficult because mold shimmies up into the nooks and crannies and throws a party. In some cases, you may have to discard the porous material.
ASSEMBLE YOUR CLEANING PRODUCTS AND PROTECTIVE GEAR
From my perspective, this is the exciting part of the job. By this point, you know what you’re fighting and have removed the mold’s life source and any surfaces that are beyond saving. Now, all you have to do is decimate the enemy.
Before you get started, make sure you have appropriate protective gear. By cleaning, you will disturb the mold and you don’t want to breathe in more spores than you already have. At a minimum, you should have some rubber gloves, a mask that covers your nose and mouth, and some goggles.
There are a number of products on the market, but this does not need to be an expensive endeavor. In fact, the most effective products are about as cheap as they come. The products I recommend are dish detergent, white vinegar, and borax.
GET TO WORK
It’s now time to don the gloves, mask, and goggles and get down to business. You should begin by doing a general cleaning of the area. Pull out the vacuum and get rid of any messes. In my basement, I had a decent number of cobwebs and dirt to remove, since it’s an unfinished space with a dirt floor. I would stay away from shop vacs unless you are removing water as well as filth. Shop vacuums tend to kick out dust when there is no water to soak it up. If you’re just removing dry matter, use a regular vacuum and clean it out well afterward, maybe throwing out the filter to ensure mold doesn’t decide to make a home in your vacuum.
USE THE RIGHT PRODUCT FOR THE SURFACE
Different surfaces respond to mold differently and require different cleaning methods. Here are suggestions for cleaning some common surface types:
Smooth surfaces: Smooth surfaces are easy. Dish detergent and water are enough to wipe away the mold. Once you’ve cleaned the surface, dry it thoroughly and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Porous surfaces: As noted above, you may have to throw out moldy sheetrock, ceiling tiles, or other porous materials. Even if you can kill of most of the mold, you likely won’t be able to get rid of the stain and the mold may grow back.
Wood: Though wood is a porous surface, you can clean it using vinegar (a 1:1 ratio of water and vinegar is your best bet) and by giving it a good sanding. If vinegar doesn’t do the trick, borax is your next defense. Mix one tablespoon per cup of water, scrub it into the wood (use a toothbrush or other soft-bristled brush) and really allow it to soak in. Normally, you don’t want to add to the moisture issue, but in this case, you want to allow it to soak in and get into the crevices so it can kill off the mold deep within the wood. Let it sit for a few hours and then dry it as much as possible and use a dehumidifier or a fan to continue the drying process. When it’s dry, you can sand away any persistent mold with 100-grit paper.
Rugs: If you are treating a musty-smelling rug, you can spray a half-and-half mix of vinegar and water on the rug (without soaking it – you don’t want to add to the moisture problem) and sprinkle baking soda on top. Leave it there overnight, if possible. If not, give it as long as you can before vacuuming it up. Use this technique for rugs that do now show signs of mold. If it’s been infested with mold, you will have to throw it away.
MAKE SURE IT DOESN’T COME BACK
Mold remediation doesn’t rid your house forever of mold. Mold spores are everywhere, so the only thing anyone can do is take steps to keep it at bay. To do that, you have to keep the moisture levels in your house low. Water and moisture can find their way into your house in a multitude of ways, through cracks in your foundation, mulch too close to your house, openings around your eaves, water breaks within your walls, humidity from the air outside—the possibilities are endless, so you just have to keep your eyes open and clean up wet surfaces when you see them.
Once you’ve wiped up obvious areas of dampness or standing water, use a fan and/or a dehumidifier to keep the area as dry as possible. There are a variety of options when it comes to dehumidifiers, so make sure you get one that is the appropriate size for the space it needs to keep dry. If you’re getting one for your basement, you may want one that will pump directly to the outdoors so you don’t have to worry about emptying it.
WHATEVER YOU DO….
DON’T USE BLEACH ON WOOD: You can use bleach on other surfaces if you want (though I’d advise not, since it usually isn’t necessary and the smell is toxic), but for wood, it is a major no-no. Because of its chemical composition, the chlorine in the bleach doesn’t reach far enough into the nooks and crannies of the wood but the water (aka, the enemy) will. Inadvertently, you will be feeding the very mold you want to kill.
DON’T PAINT OVER THE MOLD: Painting is not an effective technique for getting rid of mold. If the cleaning techniques suggested above don’t work, it may be time to throw it away. Otherwise, the mold will eat its way out and you’ll have peeling paint within no time.
CALL A PROFESSIONAL IF YOU’RE IN OVER YOUR HEAD
My final word on this topic is this: don’t place the value of money over the value of your health. If you can’t conquer mold on your own, bring in a specialist. It may be expensive. I won’t lie. But the consequences of taking the thrifty route with mold could be your long-term health and well-being.
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