This week we’re talking about a subject I get asked about all the time: what to do about mold and mildew. So curl up on the couch, and get ready for things to get moldy!
What are Mold and Mildew, and What’s the Difference?
Mold and mildew are fungi, microscopic organisms that can thrive in any moist environment. In nature, molds are actually quite important. They break down dead organic matter and help regenerate soil. (One quick shout-out to mold: We do have to appreciate that it gave us antibiotics and funky cheese.)
Indoor mold, on the other hand, is not great. Mold is usually green, black, or white, and can look thick and fuzzy. Mold grows in colonies and starts to form on a damp surface after 24 to 48 hours. It creates mold spores, which are airborne and can land on surfaces close to the original source. This is annoying, because they can spread like a moldy wildfire.
Mildew is just mold in its early stage. Mildew is usually black, brown, yellow, or white, occasionally orange or pink, and can look dusty or flat.
Why You Don’t Want Mold in Your House
There are health risks associated with mold, which is why people take it seriously. Mold spores are considered allergens that can cause a runny nose, sneezing, red eyes, rashes, and in more severe cases can lead to asthma attacks. For people with compromised immune systems, it can be even harder to bear. Mold can be an irritant, but it can also be potentially toxic. That’s why if you do have a serious mold issue, be it from a flood or lack of ventilation, you need to get it treated by a professional ASAP. Mildew can produce less severe instances of these symptoms, but a little bit in a bathroom is more of an eyesore than a health threat, so please don’t worry about ordinary household mildew.
Mold can also ruin any surface it settles upon. I had a mold infestation in my old condo. At first, I kept coughing and had itchy skin and I didn’t know why. Then I picked up on an earthy smell coming from my closet. Eventually, I took a look behind my clothes and saw a giant mold infestation on my closet wall and carpet (the closet shared the wall with the bathroom). You can guess how this one ended. I had to tear out an entire wall and replace my shower. I had to throw away clothing and shoes that were covered in mold, which meant a lot of cold hard cash right out the window. It was not a good scene.
Mildew, on the other hand, won’t cost you a ton of money to combat. It is common in damp environments and just needs to be managed. Once it forms, it can be cleaned and treated to prevent regrowth.
How to Clean Mold
Again, if you have a mold issue in your home, call in a professional company to handle it. They have special protective gear to prevent it from spreading further; they can use specialty products; they can test for mold spores in the air; and they’ll know exactly how to eliminate the entire problem, not just what meets the eye.
How to Clean Mildew
If you have mildew in the house (and we all do), there are some terrific options for cleaning it. One quick note here—bleach does help remove mold and mildew, but we don’t use bleach here at the CMS HQ because there are so many alternatives that work just as well, and here they are.
Option #1: Vinegar (A Clean My Space Favorite!)
Be certain the surface you are cleaning can tolerate vinegar—this is a no-no on natural stone and other sensitive surfaces. Simply pour undiluted white vinegar (or cleaning vinegar if you have it) into a spray bottle and spritz generously onto the surface; leave it for 30 minutes. Scrub vigorously with a scrub brush, then rinse, dry and re-spray with vinegar and let it air dry. That will help treat the surface and prevent re-growth.
Option #2: Oxygen Bleach or Hydrogen Peroxide
Create a 50/50 mix of either oxygen bleach or hydrogen peroxide with water in a spray bottle. Apply generously to the area, leave for 10 minutes, and scrub well. Then rinse and re-spray the area and allow to air dry.
Option #3: Specialty Products
I found a product called Concrobium after the aforementioned condo drama. I like it because it’s non-toxic and easy to use, and it works really well.
PRO TIP: Remember to clean your cleaning tools after this so that you don’t have any mold or mildew left behind!
How to Prevent Mold
It’s no surprise that prevention is key and that the easiest way to deal with mold is to stop it from forming in the first place. Mold thrives on moisture, so if you can control the moisture in your home, you won’t have to worry about mold. So, here are a few handy tips to help you prevent this nasty stuff.
Use the exhaust fan in your bathroom. That’s what it’s there for! The exhaust fan will help eliminate excess moisture from your bathroom, especially after showers. Run one during and after your shower for a minimum of 1 hour. If you don’t have one, leave the door open, and ideally a window as well.
Clean your shower curtain on a somewhat regular basis. This helps reduce the soap residue that mildew feeds on.
Use storage baskets with holes that allow air to pass through, so that moisture can’t build up in these areas.
Hang damp towels to dry entirely. Hang them folded in a manner to allow air to pass through them to avoid that sour dank-towel smell. The same goes for sponges—don’t just leave a sopping-wet sponge in a puddle in the sink. When you’re done with them, wring them out well and put them somewhere where they can dry out completely, like a sponge holder.
Use a squeegee after you shower or towel-dry the tiles and tub. It’s the best way to eliminate water build-up on tiles, grout, and other areas where it can puddle and attract mold and mildew.
Keep your shower and bath as clear of bottles as possible. That toiletry jungle collects tons of moisture and gives mildew a banquet. Try to reduce your shampoo options (how many do you really need, anyway?) and keep the bottle crowding at bay.
Use a daily shower spray containing 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil to 1 cup of water. Mist the walls and curtain or shower door after each shower. (You can also use 1 part vinegar and 1 part water.)