Like it or not, mold is all around you–and that includes in your home. Thousands of different mold strains exist in the world, and many can reproduce and thrive easily with just water and a living–or once-living–biological source. A good example of the latter is wood.
Wood creates an ideal habitat for mold as it naturally soaks up water and holds it in. But unlike other areas in your home where mold grows–such as, bathroom walls, shower stalls, and locations surrounding drippy faucets–wood is a more problematic surface from which to wipe away the different colored spots and musty smell typical with mold.
Above and beyond the eyesore or unpleasant aroma, mold can also be harmful to you and your family’s health. Side effects from non-toxic molds include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and skin rashes. And for those individuals sensitive to allergens, they may experience hay fever like symptoms and asthma attacks.
No matter what kind of mold situation you are trying to clean, it’s always best to work with a skilled mold remediation specialist if you have any hesitation about how to remove the mess safely and without harm of further spread. That said if the mold covers less than a ten-foot area, there are steps you can take to remove mold from your wood surfaces if you’re comfortable doing so all on your own.
Protect your lungs from inhaling mold spores by wearing an air mask when cleaning or removing mold, as well as safety goggles to prevent eye irritation. If you are using chemicals, you’ll also want to wear protective outer clothing and rubber gloves to avoid skin contact.
Because mold spores can easily spread in the air, use a HEPA-filter vacuum to remove any of the loose spores present on the wood before moving ahead with other cleaning.
Untreated wood is more porous than painted wood, and thus needs to be treated differently. Proceed using the best cleaning option for your type of wood.
Mold has a tougher time penetrating through paint, so it’s likely any mold present is sitting on top of the surface and is not within the wood itself. To clean, use a mixture of mild detergent and water, and wipe away the mold using a cloth, sponge, or scrub brush.
Use a stronger cleaning solution with water, bleach, and small amount of detergent if mold has soaked into the wood. Gently work this solution into the surface with a scrub brush before letting it air dry. If in a damp or humid area, use a dehumidifier and/or fan to help speed the drying process and prevent any further mold growth.
Even after cleaning the mold from a wood surface, it’s possible some stains may want to stick around. The good news is the stains, while cosmetically unpleasant, don’t pose a mold hazard in your home. If the moisture is under control, so you shouldn’t have mold problems. Still, if you’re not a fan of the leftover spots, you have a few options to make them go away. One is to lightly sand the area once the wood is dry from cleaning. A second option is another round of the bleach solution. Use this cautiously with dark woods as this may cause the color to lighten in some instances. If neither option works, you can also stain and varnish the wood, or paint over a coat of mold-killing primer. This will both hide the stains while simultaneously protecting the wood from any mold issues in the future.
Most non-toxic mold can be easily controlled when dealt with quickly and efficiently. Don’t leave it for too long or you could have a big problem on your hands. When mold makes a mess of your home, remember that you’re not alone. As mold remediation specialists with over 30 years of mold remediation experience, we are here to help return your home to pre-loss condition, as well as help to identify ways to prevent mold in your home in the future.
A&J Property Restoration DKI provides 24/7 emergency services for homes, businesses, and commercial buildings around Madison, Middleton, Sun Prairie, Waunakee, Portage, Milwaukee, Brookfield, WI Dells, Fort Atkinson, Watertown, Oconomowoc, Waukesha, West Allis, and surrounding Dane County Wisconsin areas.
Gather Supplies, Find the Moisture Source and Dry Out
Proper preparations are critical. Gathering supplies is the first step. Then, permit yourself one inspection trip, armed with personal safety equipment, to determine the scope of the problem and to eliminate the source of moisture, if possible.
- Plastic sheeting, 4-millimeter thickness minimum
- A respirator
- Spray bottles
- Disposable rags or paper towels
- Large garbage bags
- 5-gallon buckets
- Rubber or latex gloves
- Measuring cup
- Borax or vinegar
- Commercial-grade HEPA vacuum (optional, but recommended)
- Goggles or similar eye protection
- Scrub brush or broom
If the basement is wet from a flood, the source is obvious. Other possibilities include gutters that end too close to the house, improperly graded soil around the house, leaks in the foundation, a dryer that isn’t vented to the outside and leaking pipes. Closely examining the area of mold should quickly reveal the water source. Then, take steps to eliminate the source. Call in a professional for foundation issues or other repairs as needed. Only after the problem is resolved will you be successful in eradicating the mold. All it takes, after all, is a single spore to grow into a colony again.
Closely examining the area of mold should quickly reveal the water source. Then, take steps to eliminate the source. Call in a professional for foundation issues or other repairs.
Once you’ve cut off the moisture source, hang sections of plastic sheeting over door openings and heating or air conditioning vents to isolate the infected areas from the remainder of the basement or house. At this point, there’s less mold outside than indoors, so open a window, if possible, to provide ventilation and fresh air circulation. A fan, set in the window and pointed outside, or aimed at the ceiling, will also help circulate the air. Avoid blowing it directly at the mold or turning it on high, which will stir up the mold and encourage it to release spores.
Consider running a heater or dehumidifier to aid in drying out the basement. Be sure to wipe the appliance down with a disinfecting mold cleaner when you are done with the removal to prevent a re-contamination.
Step by Step: Attack Mold Like a Savage
So, you’ve found the source of moisture, fixed the problem and dried out the basement. You’ve gathered your tools, chosen a mold removal solution and donned your protective wear. It’s time to give the mold in your basement eviction papers.
- Look for mold not only on exposed surfaces, but also in cracks and crevices that surround the source of moisture. Whenever you find mold, spread your search farther than the original spot. In many cases, visible mold turns into invisible or hidden spots of contamination.
- Remove boxes, bags and other items stored in the area. Place them in garbage bags so as to contain the mold while you are cleaning the basement. You may need to tear away wall sheathing – drywall, paneling or similar – to expose the wall interior. Throw away sheathing or insulation that comes in contact with mold. There’s no good way to clean it.
- Rip up carpets and other flooring material if you suspect mold underneath. If you find it’s okay, often you can reuse the material after wiping it down with solution or steam cleaning the carpet. If you do find mold, however, just throw it away. The cost to replace it is insignificant in comparison to your family’s health.
- Fill a spray bottle with vinegar, borax and water or bleach. Spray the walls, pipes, windows or other permanent fixtures until they are thoroughly coated with the solution. Allow it to set for an hour or two. Take advantage of the break to slip out of the basement (remember to remove your protective wear before you walk through the rest of the house) to carry the bagged items outside.
- In your driveway or backyard – well away from windows or doors – sort the bagged items. Contaminated building materials should go immediately to the trash. Cardboard, paper and other absorbent materials are best thrown away, with the exception of clothes, which may be washed in hot water with bleach or borax added. Plastic, metal and other moisture-resistant materials are often safe to simply wash down with fresh solution and air dry in the sun. Use your best judgment to decide what can be saved and what cannot.
- When you return to your basement, spray the surfaces down again to refresh the mold-killing properties. Spray past the contaminated surfaces – overdoing it is better than leaving spores to grow again. Use a brush on vertical surfaces such as walls, wood framing and windows to scrub the moldy surface. Rinse brushes frequently in fresh solution to prevent re-contamination. Scrubbing physically removes much of the now-dead mold. Try a broom on floors or hard-to-reach spots and switch to cloths as needed.
- Now that the mold is dead and scraped from the surfaces, you must remove it from the property. Scrubbing and wiping with fresh water is tedious, but effective. Go over the area repeatedly, changing your rinse water every few minutes. Experts also recommend that a HEPA vacuum be used to clean contaminated areas (at a pace of one minute per foot) to ensure that all traces of mold are gone.
- If you used borax to clean the mold, lightly spray the surfaces one final time. Then, when you are satisfied that every contaminated item has been removed and all areas are cleaned and thoroughly rinsed, you must allow your basement to dry. It can’t be stressed enough: You can’t allow moisture in your basement. Wipe down treated surfaces with clean rags to start. Ideally, purchase a dehumidifier, if you don’t already have one, and set it up in the middle of the area.
- After the basement is dry, repair and redecorate it. Install new insulation, sheathing and flooring, if necessary. Replace items removed from your basement during cleanup (provided they are mold-free). Just take your time in treating, rinsing, drying and repairing your basement. Rushing generally results in an unwelcome, permanent guest.
Stop Mold From Inching Its Way Back
You’ve evicted the mold, but that’s not enough. More is sure to come if you don’t take steps to keep it away. Remember, mold needs a source (spores), food (biodegradable building products, dead insect parts, skin particles, etc.), water, hospitable temperatures and darkness. So, your job is to eliminate as many of these factors as you can.
- Any source of moisture, from over-watering plants to leaks, should be eliminated. This is especially true in the basement, where temperature differences between the upstairs and downstairs encourage the formation of humidity and condensation. Running a dehumidifier year round and installing vents, especially in the bathroom, helps significantly.
- It might seem unrelated, but even proper insulation helps control moisture. Insulation always pays for itself in several ways. Vapor barriers are also essential, even in a dirt-floor area. Run unbroken sheets of plastic across the dirt floor and cover with more dirt to prevent moisture migrating up from the soil.
- Install a hygrometer to monitor your relative humidity in the basement. Humidity levels above 50 percent indicate that the environment is ripe for mold growth. When used in combination with a dehumidifier, it can also tell you when you may have a moisture problem. That is, in a temperature-controlled environment with a dehumidifier running, your RH levels should remain fairly stable. If the level suddenly rises, you should suspect you have a leak or other moisture source and investigate.
- Speaking of controlling the temperature in your basement, it’s true. While you may not want to heat it to the same temperature as the rest of the house, heating it to about 60 degrees during the winter months is a smart move. Below-ground structures – especially concrete or masonry – easily stay musty and damp as they are more absorbent and transfer temperature differences through their thickness. Heating your basement helps to maintain consistent relative humidity levels.
At this point, your basement should be free of mold and unlikely to host any more. Not only should it look much better, but it’s healthier, and you saved a lot of money by doing it yourself.
Steps to mold removal
Before you clean, you may want to find out whether the mold you’ve found is toxic or merely of cosmetic concern. Our visible mold test kit will let you know for sure. If it is toxic, you may want to call a mold removal specialist even if the area is small.
When you clean the mold in your home, please take precautions. Disturbing mold releases harmful mold spores into the air, which can worsen allergy and asthma symptoms or cause your family to feel ill if the mold is toxic. For complete instructions on how to remove mold safely in your house (remember extensive mold contamination requires removal by trained people), read the Mould Guidelines for the Canadian Construction Industry available at the website of the Canadian Construction Association.
Enclose the area with plastic to contain dust and spread of spores, wear gloves and a dust mask . Turn the furnace or air conditioner off before you start. Use a throwaway cloth, and enclose it, the plastic enclosure, your gloves and mask inside a plastic bag before you throw it away.
The best cleaner for small amounts of surface mold is ordinary household detergent. Simply wash, and dry the area thoroughly. It’s a good idea to check the area the next day because very fine particles can remain as mold dust, which is every bit as harmful as the original mold was.
If it’s clean, but still stained, you can paint over it with a good latex paint.
If the mold has grown unchecked for awhile, it may have caused more extensive damage to your home than surface mold can cause. Cellulose is one of mold’s favorite foods, and that means it likes drywall. Mold that’s underneath the drywall’s surface may have to be replaced.
Mold also likes wood and insulation. If mold is growing inside the wall cavity (see Hidden Mold), you may have to replace some wall studs, ceiling or floor joists and the attic insulation. Or you may have found mold that won’t wash off your hardwood floor (Don’t sand wood with mold growth. If it can’t be washed off, it should be cut out). If you’re not confident with home repair, you may need to hire someone in construction to fix this more serious damage.
When mold has caused structural damage, it’s always a good idea to consult a professional.
There’s always a reason why that mold grew where it did in the first place. So, cleaning alone may not get rid of your mold problem for good. Remember that mold needs three elements to survive: oxygen, a food source and water.
And that means that if you have or had mold in your home, most likely there is or has been a water leak nearby. A pipe may be leaking. Your roof or window sills may be letting some moisture in.
Mold removal on non-porous, hard surfaces can usually be done by thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the surface and then quickly drying it. If you notice mold growth on hard, non-porous surfaces within your home, you can remove it by using a bleach solution. However, if you aren’t sure of the cause or source of moisture, it would be wise to consult a professional for inspection and repair. If any part of your home suffers from extensive water damage, you should call a restoration company within the first 24 to 48 hours to avoid extensive molding. Mold grows quickly and will begin to grow in fabrics and porous surfaces within 24 hours.
The time it takes for the completion of mold removal process depends on factors such as how much mold is present, the size of the building, where the mold is growing (behind walls, etc.), and the materials it is growing on. Most mold removal (remediation) takes anywhere from 1 day to 5 days or more if it’s a large building.
Your house mold’s moisture source must be fixed first. Otherwise the mold will simply grow back.