How to get rid of black mold
Black mold is a double whammy for homeowners. Not only are toxigenic fungi potentially harmful to your health, but it’s a sure sign of a serious moisture problem in your home. Luckily, like any mold, it can be eliminated with the right combination of supplies, know-how, and some good old-fashioned elbow grease.
What is “black mold”?
The truth is that there is no Single black mold species there. Many different molds are black in color, but you could never know what’s going on in your home unless you had it tested by a lab (and it almost never makes sense to do so).
When people say “black mold” they are usually referring to Stachybotrys chartarum, a greenish-black mold that can grow on damp building materials, including drywall and fiberboard explains Kevin Kennedy, director of the environmental health program at Mercy Children’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.
What are the health risks of black mold?
Natural molds are all around us, indoors and out. But it’s when mold lands on something damp, say a damp bathroom wall, and begins to colonize that it becomes a problem. This is when mold spores produce allergens and irritants that can trigger asthma attacks and allergic symptoms, including sneezing, skin rashes and a runny nose, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. In the case of Stachybotrys chartarum, the spores can also produce toxic chemicals called mycotoxins. But so do many molds, given the right conditions. This is why the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says, “It is not necessary to determine what type of mold you might have in your home. All mold should be treated equally with respect to potential health risks and their removal.”
How to get rid of mold fast
First, you’ll want to determine the size of the outbreak. This will tell you if you can clean the mold yourself or if it has reached a point where you need to call in the pros. If the outbreak is less than 10 square feet, the EPA says it’s safe to handle the cleanup yourself (FEMA sets the limit at 25 square feet, so there is some wiggle room). Professional mold removal is expensive, costing around $2,000 on average. This is another reason why it’s worth jumping on mold outbreaks before they have a chance to spread.
Assuming the mold cleanup situation is still DIY, start by gathering your tools and materials, then follow these step-by-step mold removal instructions.
- Facial mask
- Eye protection
- rubber gloves
- Scrub brush
- Dishwasher soap
- Specialist mold and mildew cleaner
- Bleach (if needed)
Step 1: Protect yourself with the right gear
To avoid breathing in mold spores, wear an N-95 mask. Put on gloves and goggles (without ventilation holes) to protect your hands and eyes from mold, as well as cleaning products.
Step 2: Remove all wet items
This is especially important after a flood, when furniture, rugs, bedding and toys can get soaked. As long as you get them within 48 hours, there is a chance that they can be dried, cleaned and reused. Monitor items for several days and discard them at the first sign of mold.
Step 3: Clean contaminated surfaces
The mold cleaning process varies by surface. Our experts recommend starting with a mild cleanser and only switching to bleach if mold persists. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners as this will produce poisonous gas.
- Walls and ceilings: If the surface is very porous, such as an acoustic ceiling tile, it is best to replace it. For smooth drywall or plaster, mix a solution of a few drops of dish soap, such as Platinum Dawn, with a gallon of water. Apply the solution to the mold with a sponge, then rinse with clear water. If mold remains, mix a solution of ¾ cup bleach to a gallon of warm water, apply with a sponge or brush, and rinse.
- Bathroom tile and grout: Treat small areas of mold with a specialized cleaner, such as Clorox Tilex Mildew and Mildew Remover. Spray grout, allow formula to penetrate and rinse. If mold persists, try a solution of bleach and water; an old toothbrush comes in handy for applying the solution and scrubbing the grout.
- Shower curtains and liners: If it’s made of plastic, spray the moldy areas with a specialized cleaner. Wait for the stains to disappear, then rinse with clear water. You can also wash the plastic liners in the washing machine on the gentle cycle with warm water, laundry detergent and bleach. If the shower curtain is fabric, wash it at the hottest temperature possible, according to the care instructions on the label.
- Wooden surfaces: Mildew can grow on wood cabinets, panels or furniture, especially in humid environments. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to suck up loose spores with the soft brush attachment. Apply a detergent solution to the mold with a sponge. Continue with a cloth soaked in clear water, then wipe the surface dry. If the mold persists, switch to the bleach solution.
Step 5: Check for mold regrowth
Unfortunately, there is no clear guideline on how long to wait to find out if your mold problem is fixed. Monitor the area over the next few days for the return of visible mold or musty odors.
If you’ve thoroughly cleaned and taken care of the underlying moisture problem (more on that below), you should be clear. If not, the mold may be hidden, for example behind wallpaper or on top of ceiling tiles. Experts strongly advise hiring a professional remediation service to investigate the situation in this case. “In the rare cases where a homeowner’s health is seriously affected by mold, it’s usually because it has started to tear through the walls and caused a massive release of spores,” says Kennedy. “It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.”
How to keep mold from coming back
No matter how diligent you are in removing visible mold, if you don’t fix the underlying problem, it will come back. “Where there’s mold, there’s moisture,” says Larry Zarker, CEO of Building Performance Institute, which trains and certifies professionals specializing in the creation of healthy, safe and efficient homes. Here are some common mold haunts in homes, along with ways to eliminate their source of moisture.
- Basements: Make sure gutters channel water away from the house. Fill cracks in foundation walls with an epoxy injection system or hire a professional to repair. Install a sump pump to evacuate water in the event of flooding or heavy rain. Put on a dehumidifier to remove the moisture in the air.
- Bathrooms : Ventilate the room by opening a window, especially after showering. If you have an exhaust fan, run it while showering and then leave it on for at least twenty minutes afterwards; also leave the door ajar. Periodically check for leaks under the sink, as well as a spongy floor, which could be a sign of a leak in the toilet, shower stall or bathtub. Regularly clean shower grout lines with a specialized grout cleaner designed for this task.
- Ceilings and Walls: Leaky roofs are the common culprit here. Check for missing shingles or defective flashing around openings in the roof, such as a chimney or skylight. Inspect the siding for any cracks or openings, including where vents and plumbing lines enter the house.
- Kitchens: Regularly open a window to ventilate. If you have an extractor hood, run it while cooking and then for twenty minutes afterwards to ventilate steam, as well as smoke and cooking vapours. Check under the sink for leaks. Inspect the seal around your refrigerator; if there are signs of mold, air is probably escaping, so you will need to replace the gasket.
- Window sills: Seal any cracks around the window where rain enters with caulk. If condensation forms on the windows and they are double glazed, you may be able to replace the glass panel to stop the moisture. But it may be necessary to replace the entire unit.
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