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How to Clean Mold

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 07, 2022

Mold is a fungus that requires water or moisture to grow. It is found naturally in many environments and can grow on a wide variety of materials. Mold grows when spores land on damp areas and find a hospitable environment. When mold is left to grow for a while, it basically digests whatever it is growing on. This can cause damage to items and structures and can have adverse health effects for people in the environment where it is growing.

Mold growth looks like a green, black, grey, or brown discoloration on a surface. If you see mold in your home, you should check other areas to see if it has spread. Make sure to check under furniture, under carpets, in cabinets, and in crawl spaces to see if it is hidden. Mold can also grow in insulation, drywall, and behind wallpaper. 

If you have a persistent mold problem, you may want to work with a professional to clean it up.

How to Get Rid of Mold

Many cases of mold removal, also called mold remediation, require professional help. However, if the moldy area is less than 3 feet by 3 feet, you should be able to tackle it on your own.

The first step to stopping mold is to remove the source of moisture. Check pipes and fix leaks or any other water and moisture issues. Then, dry all of the wet items thoroughly.

Next, use soap and water to scrub the mold off of damaged non-porous items. Clean porous or semi-porous items with an EPA-registered fungicide.

Porous items, like carpet or fabric, may need to be thrown out. It may not be possible to fully clean the mold out of them, and it is essential to get rid of all of the mold that has grown so it doesn't come back.

After cleaning, allow the items or surfaces to fully dry for at least 48 hours. You can enhance drying by opening windows, using fans, and using heaters to heat the space to more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you use an HVAC system for heating, have a professional verify it is free of mold before you turn it on. 

Paint or caulk over the items only after they have fully dried.

It's important to know that mold spores are always in the air and will grow if moisture is present. So, the best way to prevent mold is to manage the moisture in the area. If you clean up mold growth but do not fix a moisture issue, it will likely come back. 

Be vigilant, catch mold in its earliest stages, and clean it quickly. Doing so can save you money on professional mold cleanup in the future. It can also help you save your belongings from damage and prevent adverse health effects resulting from mold exposure.

How to Remove Mold Safely

When cleaning mold, you must protect yourself from mold exposure, which can have potentially harmful effects on your health. Wear an N95 mask. These masks filter particles in the air, like mold spores, so you don't breathe them in. You should also wear protective gloves that go at least halfway up your arms and goggles to protect your eyes. 

Make sure your goggles do not have any holes or vents in them.

You can also wear disposable coveralls with a hood to fully protect your skin and hair, as well as rubber boots.

At the end of each day that you spend cleaning mold, throw out any disposable personal protective equipment like coveralls or masks, and clean reusable equipment. Wash any clothing you were wearing separately from your regular laundry and use hot water.

Should You Use Bleach for Mold?

The EPA and the CDC do not recommend using bleach to clean mold. Bleach does not efficiently kill mold. Additionally, bleach will not penetrate porous materials and may allow the mold to come back. Instead of using bleach for mold, use a fungicide. These products are specially formulated to kill mold.

How to Tell When Your Mold Treatment Is Finished

You can consider your mold cleanup completed only when the following conditions are met:

  • You have fixed the moisture or plumbing issue
  • You can no longer see or smell mold
  • There are no new signs of water damage or mold reoccurrence after a few days
  • A moisture meter shows the structure is below a moisture level of 15%

You may want to get a professional to verify that there is no more mold present.

What Causes Mold?

Mold spores, which can be thought of as being like mold seeds, are naturally in the air. Outdoors, mold helps to break down organic matter over time, turning it back into soil. Indoors, mold spores do the same job, even in places where they are not wanted. They grow in moisture, on damp spots, and in flooded areas. 

Mold can grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours if the surface is not promptly dried.

Why Do You Need to Clean Mold?

Mold can cause adverse health effects, especially in people who are allergic to mold. There are many different kinds of mold, and some are more harmful to humans than others. Symptoms of mold exposure include:

  • Stuffy nose
  • Coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Asthma attacks (if you already have asthma)
  • Red eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Itchy skin
  • More frequent respiratory infections
  • Inflammation of the lungs
  • Fungal pneumonia (if your immune system is compromised)

Some people believe that mold exposure also causes memory loss and lethargy; however, more research is needed to find out if this is true.

Studies show that between six and 10 percent of people are allergic to mold

Additionally, mold can cause structural damage to buildings if it is allowed to grow for too long. It can also exacerbate or lead to other building issues like attracting cockroaches or causing lead-based paint to peel.

In general, you do not need to test mold to find out which strain it is. However, mold testing can help doctors to diagnose a mold allergy or mold-related sickness. 

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Basic Facts about Mold and Dampness."

FEMA: "MOLD & MILDEW IN YOUR FLOOD DAMAGED HOME."

National Center for Healthy Housing: "Mold."

United States Environmental Protection Agency: "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home."  "Mold Cleanup in Your Home," "What Are Molds?"

SBP: "Mold Remediation Guide."

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