Sometimes things in life just stop you in your tracks and fill you with a sense of dread and helplessness. Mold is one of those things, because it feels like it just comes out of nowhere, and your gut instincts to fix it just make it worse. About a month after purchasing a beautiful home in San Diego, California, my wife and I found over a foot of water under our house, and embarked on a long journey filled with mold, humidity, and lots of fear. I have learned so much since that time, and I hope by sharing what I have learned that I can help relieve some of those fears, and provide insight into the best approach to fix your mold problem.
Here is what I learned:
1 – Stop. Breathe. It will be ok.
As homeowners, or just people, our first instinct when we discover an issue is to… FIX IT! With mold, this means we just want to make it go away. Usually we do this by spraying it with bleach, scrubbing it off, and vacuuming up the remains. But all of these actually make the problem worse, not better. When you agitate visible mold, it will release invisible, tiny mold spores into the air that spread it into new places.
It’s important to note that in most cases exposure to common (non-toxic) household molds is not dangerous in the short-term. According to the CDC, exposure to moldy environments may actually have no effect at all. They do warn, however, that people with mold allergies may have more severe reactions, and anyone who is immune-compromised can be at risk of infection and should take extreme caution.1 If this is you, please consult a physician to know how to best proceed. Otherwise, stop, breathe, and keep reading. Take your time to fix the problem right and restore your home to its pristine, mold-free self.
2 – Talk to the pros, don’t just write a check
As I mentioned above, my first reaction to discovering mold in my home was to fix it myself, but my second reaction was almost just as bad. I was ready to write a check to someone, anyone, no matter what they were going to do, as long as they promised they would fix my problems. Amazingly, every water restoration company I talked to had something totally different to say, and all of them offered to charge me thousands of dollars with no promise the mold wouldn’t just come right back.
To be clear, I am not suggesting you become a mold remediation expert overnight and solve this yourself. Remember, a lot of the approaches we naturally take to get rid of mold on our own actually make it worse. Instead, use the pros to help gather information about what is going on and then create a comprehensive plan of action before you proceed. If you have determined there is no immediate health risk, it is better to wait on remediation until you have located and fixed whatever caused the mold growth in the first place.
To help determine if the mold in my house was dangerous to me or my family I used a DIY test called My Mold Detective. Their product lets you take air quality samples and surface swabs (where mold is visible) and send them off to an accredited lab for testing at a fraction of the cost of hiring a pro to do the same thing.
3 – Stop it at the source
According to the World Health Organization, mold requires two main things to grow: moisture and time. They have actually developed very precise formulas for when microorganisms will grow, but on a very simplistic level they recommend ensuring relative humidity never goes above 75% for long periods of time.2 To be conservative, some species can grow with less moisture, so the EPA actually recommends keeping it below 60% at all times.3 In any case, the first step is to figure out where the excess humidity is coming from and resolve the issue.
Fortunately for me, the source of the problem was fairly obvious, but I once again learned my lesson about reacting too quickly to fix it. My crawl space filled up with water after a heavy rain, and I hired a company that said they would dry it out. What they did was place fans in the the crawl space vents, blowing air into the crawlspace, and in turn, forcing moisture into my house (WHOOPS!). If I had taken time to find the right solution instead of letting my fear control my actions, I would have been MUCH better off. For you, the problem might not be water in your crawl space. The CDC recommends:
- Checking for leaky roofs, windows, and pipes
- Thoroughly cleaning and drying after a flood
- Ventilating shower, laundry, and cooking areas
Whatever the source of the moisture may be, make sure to take the time to fix it right, so you don’t have an issue again in the future. To find out which areas of your house have excess moisture you can use a Smart Hygrometer called the Moat Smart Climate Sensor which will connect to your phone to track humidity over time so you know if you are over the recommended humidity level for extended periods. It will also help you gain insight into how consistent the issue is, and if the humidity changes are consistent with weather changes.
4 – Fix it and keep it fixed
Once you have resolved the source of the excess moisture in your home, it’s time to clean up the mess. Depending on how much mold is found and what your skill level is, you can either hire a professional to clean it up, or do it yourself. This is certainly the most sensitive step, so if you are not confident you will be safely cleaning it up, it’s time to let the pros go to work. If you do choose to clean it up yourself, the CDC recommends the following:
- Never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners. Mixing bleach with ammonia or other cleaning products will produce dangerous, toxic fumes.
- Open windows and doors to provide fresh air.
- Wear non-porous gloves and protective eyewear.
- If the area to be cleaned is more than 10 square feet, consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guide titled Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using bleach or any other cleaning product.
Additionally, as I alluded to earlier, bleach should never be used to treat mold growth in your home, because it can actually make the problem worse. There is a great article about this on a site called the Mold Blogger. Instead use an antimicrobial spray such as Mold Control.
Once it is all cleaned up, I would recommend setting up a system to keep an eye on the moisture levels in your home. I recommend the Moat Smart Climate Sensor which allows you to set up custom alerts to your phone so you know as soon as the humidity is too high and can solve the problem long before mold beings to grow.
Finding mold in your home can be one of the scariest things, but if you slow down and thoughtfully create a plan of action, you can avoid a ton of hassle. I wasted thousands of dollars and gave myself countless sleepless nights by reacting too quickly and doing the wrong things. I hope you can avoid some of the mistakes I made, put your fears to rest, and get rid of your mold problem for good.
You can also read this story at: https://medium.com/@moattech/mold-fear-not-7b18df8804f7