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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dealing with Mold and Mildew in Your Home

My apartment building, including my own apartment, has had ongoing moisture problems, including leaks, floods, and general humidity. This brings mold and mildew...we have even had areas with that deadly black mold that can ruin a home if you don't catch it early enough.

I also want to draw your attention to my earlier article regarding the role of mold and mildew in the allergy and asthma epidemic. Keeping your home free of mold and mildew can reduce (not eliminate) your allergy, asthma and other respiratory problems. I know I used to get a respiratory infection every cold season that wouldn't go away. Once my building solved the leak and moisture problems and I got on top of cleaning and preventing mold, my respiratory problems largely went away.




So over the years I have spent a fair amount of time battling mold and mildew. I would like to pass along the more successful treatments I have found.


MOISTURE:

Mold and mildew grows where moisture collects. Areas that get damp are likely to get mold. Areas where dampness is chronic, mold will take strong hold and may be hard to get rid of. These are the conditions, particularly within walls, that can cause the deadly black mold that has closed down entire buildings in worst case scenarios.

If you see wet areas, look for leaks and get them fixed. Particularly near walls because moisture within walls are the hardest to deal with and the most common source of mold infestations. If there is a wet area, treat it for mold ASAP...see below for ways to kill and prevent mold. Apply where you can when you see a damp area. Note that bleach is what I list below as the most effective mold killer...be careful using this on carpets or fabric since it can damage the color and the fabric.

Dehumidifiers can be useful when moisture has built up. Sometimes, particularly in humid weather, moisture just stays put for days or weeks, which is a guaranteed mold environment. A dehumidifier can help. These are noisy, energy hogs, generate tons of heat, and need frequent emptying. But sometimes they are what you need to do the job. We have only had to use them when there was like a foot of water in our apartment, ruining our floors, during humid weather. But my building uses them in a common carpeted area to deal with moisture and they definitely help. Here's one that is Energy Star Rated, so that would limit the energy use, something you will appreciate if you need to use it for any length of time:



Deal with leaks and dry out damp spots...these are the first line of defense against mold and mildew. But you can also reduce the chances of mold growing by one simple treatment.


PREVENTING MOLD:

There is a safe, simple product that helps prevent mold and mildew. Many products make this claim, but this is the ONLY one I have found that seems to actually help. It is based on sodium carbonate, a simple compound not to be confused with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) which is a related but different compound. Sodium Carbonate (probably the carbonate itself) keeps the mold from being able to germinate and grow. If not washed off it can be effective for weeks. But even if used on shower surfaces it helps reduce mildew growth when used after some bleach treatment (see below under killing mold).

If you can get sodium carbonate itself, you can mix your own solution (see how on How.com).

But I found a product I find very effective where everything is pre-mixed: Concrobium Mold Control. Of course this is a more pricey option than mixing your own as described in the How.com link above, but it is easier and I know it works.



Apply this from time to time anywhere that is damp or where you have seen mold before. When mold grows this won't work well alone. Use it AFTER you kill mold as indicated below.


KILLING MOLD:

X-14 Professional Instant Mildew Stain Remover is the most effective treatment for killing mold and mildew that has gotten established. This is nasty, bleach-based stuff. But it works!



Generally when I see any mold or mildew on a surface, I hit it with this, let it sit a few minutes, then wipe it off. In general this single treatment gets rid of it. Sometimes a second, longer treatment is needed. NO OTHER CLEANER I have tried works as well as this one for killing mold.

On a more routine level, when the weather is hot and humid and I know of surfaces that we get mold or mildew on, I do a preventative treatment with a plain bleach solution. Take regular laundry bleach, dilute around 1:5 to 1:10 in a spray bottle (be careful what you use...do not reuse a spray bottle that had previously held a non-bleach based cleaner!). Then just spray this on a site you are concerned about, let sit a few minutes, then wipe off. This is far cheaper than the X-14 Professional Instant Mildew Stain Remover. It doesn't work as well once mold or mildew gets established, but it can help prevent mold or clean up the very first growth. Usually I use a more gentle cleaner, like are available through Seventh Generation/Gaiam.com.

Gaiam.com, Inc

These gentler cleaners do basic cleaning on all surfaces, get grease, smell better and are safer for kids and pets.

But when it comes to getting mold and mildew, I break out the bleach or the X-14 Professional Instant Mildew Stain Remover because they work!

After you have used one of these treatments to kill mold or mildew and have washed it away, you can increase the time before mold or mildew comes back by applying Concrobium Mold Control or homemade sodium carbonate solutions (not as effective, I think, but cheaper) and letting it sit. Together these treatments are very effective. You still have to repeat from time to time (at least once a year when things get hot and humid, often every month or so in humid weather), but in combination these work better than anything else.


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