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Mold and Mildew

After too many years cessation, I’ve finally finished painting my home office. Due to a number of reasons, it was one of those deals where we moved furniture away from a part of the room, painted, moved them back and moved onward. Guess what I found on the back side of a bureau and a secretary? Mildew! This isn’t the first time this has happened despite my best efforts to control the humidity in my home, leaving space between the walls and furniture and having good air circulation. I’m not alone, chances are there might be mold or mildew in your home too.

As a professional organizer, I’ve been in hundreds of homes and 9 out of 10 basements that I’m in have mold and mildew issues, sometimes on a severe level. Basements are mold and mildew’s favorite place to live but there are other places they thrive, anywhere their little spores can bloom and grow. Dark, dank, humid places with little air circulation, tightly packed and the more things to grow on, the better! There really is no way that we can remove mold or mildew spores completely from our homes as they number in the millions but it is possible to keep them from growing or spreading. Anytime there has been water where there shouldn’t be water, there is potential for mold to grow which is why so many flooded homes after hurricane Sandy had to be gutted or destroyed. Where water has leaked or basements that take on water during heavy weather are prime growing zones. If you’ve had some sort of leak or saturation it’s best to deal with it right away, after 48 hours is when the mold will start to bloom.

How do you know if you even have an issue? Visible is first but there are plenty of times when mold is hidden from our sight, it’s growing on drywall or plywood or is covered by carpet or linoleum. Mold can be a variety of colors but is most often black, white, or pink. Mildew is often green with a dusty white, powdery appearance that shows up in splotches. Sometimes it’s easy to smell, I can sniff it out in a heartbeat and other times, it’s so innocuous that a home owner only knows there is a problem because of a recent water leak or health issues such as allergic reactions, headaches, itchy throats and eyes. The young, the old, allergy and asthma suffers and those with compromised immunity are most at risk. One sign of possible mold growth is condensation on pipes or the inside of windows. A popular place for mold growth is the underside of the water tank on toilets, go check, you might find some! There was an influx of tainted drywall from China a few years ago and so many homeowners simply had the local volunteer fire company burn their home down because it was so infected. Of course that’s a dramatic example.

Here are just a few tips as to how to deal with mold/mildew issues:

• How do you know when to call in a professional? If the molded area is larger than a 4’ x 4’ area, infecting walls and floors, it’s probably best to let a professional handle the situation.

• Deal with the source of the leak or the mold will simply grow back again.

• Painting or trying to stain or caulk over mold won’t work in the long run because it will have difficulty adhering to the molded surface. The surface needs to be properly cleaned and dry.

• Clean up gear includes googles, an N-95 respirator, gloves and you’ll want to wash the clothing that you wear and take a shower afterwards.

• When cleaning a non-porous surface that has mold such as glass or metal, FEMA suggests using a 10% bleachy water solution which is 1 ¼ cups of bleach to a gallon of water. Be careful as the solution will bleach clothing and be sure to wear protective gear. Wash skin well afterwards if you’ve come into contact with the cleaning solution.

• Try to keep humidity levels between 30% – 50% by using a dehumidifier or air conditioning. Keep humidity levels in check. Dehumidifiers are essential in basements and can supplement air conditioning in some homes.

• If you suspect that your ventilation system or heating and cooling ducts have been compromised, it’s a job for the professionals.

• Be very careful to NOT mix household cleaners, chemicals or even natural products like hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. Never mix any other substance with bleach or a bleachy water solution.

• Ventilation in tight areas is so important so always use the exhaust fan in your bathroom when showering. Don’t place furniture too closely against walls in areas where mold has been an issue before.

• I generally advise against trying to keep anything fabric, wood, paper, keepsake, porous, photos, or things that you would be sad if they got ruined in the basement.

Depending on the affected area, your health and other family member’s health, I would highly suggest consulting with a professional about serious mold removal. It’s just not something you want to tackle on your own unless it’s a little mildew on the shower curtain, a little bit of mold at the base of a window sill or a few spots of mildew on a backpack you’ve stored in the basement. I am not a mold removal professional and these tips are just that, tips. If you are vulnerable to respiratory issues, you may want to contact a mold remediation specialist for advice!