It’s not a pretty topic. It’s not a fun topic. It’s not something anybody wants to even consider— but somebody’s got to do it. Friends, today we’re tackling one of nature’s peskiest, most disgusting creatures: mold. We don’t use the term “creature” mildly, either; it’s just accurate. You might already know this important fact, but it’s one that’s easy to forget: mold is an organism, reproducing and infiltrating our homes in ways not dissimilar to insects or other pests. As such, simply cleaning it or wiping it away isn’t enough. It’s alive, and we have to kill it.
Sound dramatic? Maybe. But considering that mold – and its annoying little brother, mildew – are linked to respiratory issues from a persistent cold to full-blown asthma attacks, we’re not really overstating the issue. We’re also not about to scare you and leave you in the lurch! Oh no. Instead, we’ve gathered up everything we know about mold to give you the most comprehensive guide we can to understanding it, killing it, preventing it, and ridding our lives of it. Read on.
The Basics: Mold vs. Mildew, And What It All Is
If you had to define mold, how would you? Most people get stuck describing it as “green, fuzzy stuff,” and while that’s not untrue, there’s a little more to it, and understanding it – and the differences between full-grown mold and mildew – can go a long way with helping you prevent and treat it. Here’s what you should know.
- Is a fungi, and a basic microscopic organism. It’s also a common allergen, which is one of the reasons it’s such a health concern.
- Has a purpose— really! It’s nature’s way of regenerating environments, since it feeds on and breaks down dead organic matter. Great for the outdoors; less great for our homes.
- Thrives in moist environments, which is why the most likely place you’ll find it is your bathroom or in the walls as a result of storm or flood damage.
- Can be black, brown, white or green, and in its most advanced, ick-worthy stages, is often thick and fuzzy. (Think of those old leftovers you definitely don’t want to eat.)
- Grows in colonies, and can form in as little as 24 to 48 hours on a moist surface. It spreads by creating airborne spores that land on organic materials close to the source.
- Is a type of mold in its early stages.
- Is the most common type of mold but also – thankfully – the least harmful, though it can still cause health issues, especially of the allergen type.
- Can be black, brown, yellow, white, pink or orange, and can often look flat and/or dusty. Everybody’s seen the pink and/or orange kind in their bathroom at some point, but worry not— while it’s disgusting, it’s also essentially harmless.
- Grows more predictably than other types of mold.
- Is super common. We can’t stress that enough— if you see mildew in your home, it doesn’t mean you’re disgusting! It’s absolutely possible to both treat it and prevent regrowth.
Since mold and mildew thrive in damp places, you of course should be on high alert for it in your bathroom and around your kitchen sink. Other places you should look include in drywall and insulation, on carpets, on wallpaper and painted walls, on fabrics and, of course, in your food.
Killing Mold, Part 1: Your Partners In Cleaning
You’ve got a few options when it comes to killing mold and preventing it from growing back, and you’re not even limited to specialized, artificial cleaners, either. There are more natural and organic options for you, too, so choose the one that makes the most sense for you and the areas you’re cleaning.
Hydrogen Peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide is both antifungal and antibacterial, making it the perfect tool to go after mold and/or mildew on a variety of surfaces. Just grab a bottle of the 3% concentrated kind from your local pharmacy. You can also use the powdered kind and mix it in a 50-50 solution with water.
Bleach: It’s often the simplest and easiest way. If you can stand the smell and the item you’re cleaning can withstand it, it might be your best option, whether you’re spraying it on directly or adding it to your laundry.
Undiluted Vinegar: Plain white vinegar is naturally antimicrobial, kills 82% of mold species, can clean any service and, as we know, is a general cleaning superstar.
Distilled Ethanol: If you can’t stand the smell of vinegar, you might want to raid your liquor cabinet. Bottom-shelf, less-distilled grain alcohols like vodka can be used exactly the same way as vinegar.
Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil is a natural fungicide, and easy to incorporate. Just add 10 drops to a full spray bottle, shake well, and spray over the affected area. It’s also a great preventative for regrowth, especially when used repeatedly.
Concrobium: Yes, it’s a specialty product, but sometimes it’s good to have one in your corner. This one is nontoxic, doesn’t smell, and is easy-to-use.
Scrubbing brushes, rags, sponges, toothbrushes, etc.: Whatever you use to scrub, make sure you clean it thoroughly before and, especially, after cleaning, and allow it to dry thoroughly. You can’t get rid of mold with a moldy implement!
Killing Mold, Part 2: The Usual Areas
So we know that the most likely areas for mold to take over are our bathrooms, kitchen counters, walls, and other flat surfaces to regularly come into contact with water. It can seem like a lot— until you know how many options you have to fight them. Pick one or use them all to attack and defeat that mold, and prevent a resurgence.
If you’re using hydrogen peroxide: Whether you’re using it straight or in the 50-50 water concentration, the method is the same. Spray the affected area and let it sit for 10 minutes. Wipe away the area – you might need to scrub hard, depending on how bad the infestation is – rinse, and dry the area off. To prevent regrowth, spray one more time and let it air dry.
If you’re attacking shower caulking: Bleach could be your best bet, especially if you’re looking for a return to pristine white caulking and/or if the mold has gone beyond pink or orange mildew to the black stage. Spray the bleach on thickly and wait a few minutes. As you do, you’ll actually see the black start to disappear— that’s the mold dying! Using a scrub brush or a toothbrush to scrub it away, and scrub away any debris while you’re at it. Rinse the area by spraying it down with your shower nozzle, and use a paper towel to pat it dry.
If you’re using vinegar: The method here is similar to using the hydrogen peroxide or the bleach! You can use undiluted vinegar or a mixture of 1 part vinegar and 1 part water. Whichever you choose, spray the area and let it sit. Scrub vigorously in a circular motion, rinse, dry and spray again to prevent regrowth. If you’re cleaning grout, you can also follow it up with a paste made of baking soda and water, and repeat the scrubbing method.
If you need intense saturation: Use cotton coil to give your grout cleaning a boost. Soak it in bleach or your chosen cleaner, lay it on the area, let it soak overnight, and scrub in the morning.
If it’s on your shower curtain: Wash it in the regular washer and dryer with detergent and bleach. The folds of your shower curtain are prime mold breeding ground, so make sure you’re cleaning it regularly! Alternatively, wash it in the regular washer with half the recommended detergent and 1 cup of vinegar, with some towels in there too for extra scrubbing. After washing, put the washed shower curtain in your clean tub. Cover with water, and add 1 cup of salt to the water as it runs. Stir the water so the salt dissolves and covers the shower curtain. Soak for three hours, then hang to dry.
If it’s a painted wall: You can use the other methods here, but if you’re worried about bleach or hydrogen peroxide on your paint, there’s another way. Just fill a bucket with detergent and water. Wash with one rag and dry with another. Then – this part’s important! – vacuum around the area to get rid of any remaining spores and to stop them from growing back.
Killing Mold, Part 3: Other Suspects
The thing about mold? It spreads, and sometimes it spreads to unsuspecting places like our clothing, our shoes, even hats. It makes you shudder to consider, doesn’t it? Here’s how to handle those more delicate items.
Clothing: Does your closet share a wall with some pipes? If those pipes leak, you can get closet mold, and it can spread to your clothing. Luckily, fixing it is as easy as changing your washing routine. Add 1 cup of vinegar to the detergent compartment and wash on hot. Hang dry in sunlight, if you can, to kill any last remaining vestiges and make your clothes inhospitable to regrowth.
Towels: Even mold-free towels can retain a mildew smell. Get rid of it by washing towels on the hot cycle twice: once with an added cup of white vinegar, and a second with ½ cup of baking soda.
Hats: A delicate or vintage hat will need a professional cleaner, but you can take care of felt or baseball caps yourself. Go outside and use a rag or paper towel to brush off what you can. Sprinkle the area with talcum powder and leave it to sit for a few minutes. Brush the talcum powder away, then take a wet cloth or wipe and pat away the rest, wetting and cleaning the entire hat. Let it dry in the sun.
Leather Shoes: Like with hats, do this process outside. Take off as much as you can with a damp cloth and allow the shoes to dry, then clean the entire shoe with a mild soap or special leather cleaner.
Curtains: Some might need professional cleaning, but you can decontaminate cotton and linen ones yourself. Wash them the same way you would clothes, with a cup of vinegar in the detergent. If stains remain after washing, remove them by applying a paste of lemon and salt. Let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes, then rinse the curtains with water and wash again.
Tents: As outdoor shelters set up on damp ground, it makes sense that mold would eventually invade a tent— but that doesn’t mean it gets to stay! Clean a moldy tent with a sponge and soapy water, then soak it in bathtub or large container filled with a solution of water and technical fabric cleaner. Hang in the sun until it’s halfway dry, then move it into the shade to dry the rest of way. Treat stains by scrubbing with a mixture of 1 cup salt, 1 cup lime juice, and 2 ½ gallons water, and allow to dry. Be sure to repair any tears and re-coat with waterproofing, and make sure it’s thoroughly dry before packing it away.
Prevention: Moldy No More
So you’ve managed to remove all the mold from your home, or you’re lucky enough not to have any in the first place. Now it’s time to make sure it doesn’t come back, and that means making your home as unfriendly to mold as possible. That means:
Keeping It Dry.
We can’t say it enough— mold loves a wet environment. While you can’t avoid some dampness occasionally, there are plenty of things you can do!
- Consider investing in a dehumidifier.
- Figure out if you have any leaky plumbing – especially in areas you wouldn’t normally notice – and fix any problems as soon as possible.
- Air out your home as often as possible by opening windows and, if safe, doors.
- Use the ventilation fans in your bathrooms! After all, that’s exactly why they’re there. Leave it on during and after you shower for at least 60 minutes. If you don’t have an exhaust fan, leave the door to the bathroom and any bathroom windows open.
- Keep the shower curtain closed to allow it to dry completely. This tip also prevents it from sticking to itself and forming wet, folded areas where water can collect.
- Avoid leaving anything wet around— that means wet clothes, towels, etc. Hang them up to dry, and don’t let them collect on the floor.
Keeping It Clean— And Smart
- Since spores are airborne, keeping your air clean is a great step for preventing mold from spreading. Consider investing in a purifier, or adding a mold-and-mildew spore-catching filter to the air conditioning return vent.
- Reseal grout and tile as often as needed to prevent future growth. You can use beeswax and natural oil if you like!
- Tackle mold as soon as you spot it. The sooner you take care of it, the less time it has to spread and colonize.
- Consider cutting your losses. If you have carpet, wood furniture or upholstery that’s heavily affected, sometimes it’s just better to replace it outright.
- Clean your shower curtain on a regular basis.
- If you use storage baskets in your bathroom, use ones with holes to allow air to pass through and dry things.
- After washing, don’t just dry yourself off. Use a squeegee or a towel to dry the shower and tub, too.
- Keep the shower and bath area as clear from bottles and other items as possible. They can hide pooling water that leads to mold.
- Use a daily shower spray! You can make your own by mixing 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil with 1 cup of water, or using 1 part vinegar with 1 part water.
Not so scary when you’re prepared, now is it? Commit this info to heart, experiment and pick your favorite attack method, and practice prevention, and you’ll never have to worry about mold affecting your health again. If you have any tips or tricks of your own to add, be sure to tell us about them!