How to Get Rid of Mold: The Ultimate Guide

woman cleaning mold from her home

How to Get Rid of Mold: The Ultimate Guide

Mold is an unsightly and smelly nuisance that can crop up practically anywhere from your bathrooms and kitchen to your basement. More importantly, mold in your home is dangerous. It can damage your home and even threaten your health.

Many homeowners realize the importance of getting rid of mold quickly. But most people don’t realize that if mold isn’t removed properly, it will continue to grow.

This guide will help you identify mold, determine the tools you need for removal, and teach you how to get rid of mold once and for all!

Can You Get Rid of the Mold Yourself, or Should You Call an Expert?

Mold is unpleasant, but sometimes it can be actively dangerous and toxic — even during the removal process. While getting rid of mold is a DIY job that you may be able to do yourself, there are times when you should call a professional mold remediation service instead. Consider calling in a pro for the following situations.

  • You can smell the mold, but you can’t find the source of it.
  • Individuals in your home suffer from respiratory conditions or a weakened immune system.
  • Mold has created structural damage.
  • You know or suspect that your home may be built with hazardous materials that will be disturbed (like lead or asbestos).
  • There is a large amount of black mold that can’t be easily removed. Serious infestations of black mold should generally be handled by black mold removal specialists.

How to Know If Your Home Has Mold

Learning about the appearance of mold is an important part of figuring out how to get rid of mold. When it comes to mold in your home, there are a variety of factors to consider. You need to determine if you have mold, if the types of mold present are dangerous, and if you can safely get rid of it yourself. Mold isn’t always visible, but it can be smelly, dirty, and even cause structural damage to your home. If you have invisible mold, the EPA recommends sampling or testing to uncover potential problems.

What’s the Difference Between Mold and Mildew?

The words mold and mildew are often used interchangeably. While they are both a type of fungus, mold and mildew aren’t quite the same. Mildew grows on surfaces and usually doesn’t cause damage. It typically starts out white or yellowish, then turns dark and is easily mistaken for dirt. A simple way to test whether you have dirt or mildew is to dab the affected area with a mixture of bleach and water. If the spot lightens quickly, it’s likely mildew.

Mold can be slimy or fuzzy, and it can appear black, brown, yellow, green, or blue. Mold grows in patches and goes beneath a material’s surface, making it harder to spot and clean.

When you’re trying to determine if you have mold or even black mold, look for these tell-tale signs:

Musty Odor

While the musty smell of mildew is often associated with damp areas like the basement, it’s an indicator of hidden mold.

Visible Mold Growths

Visible mold is easily identifiable. However, it’s important to realize that additional hidden mold is likely in the affected area. It can be found behind walls, wallpaper, and under carpets.

New or Worsening Respiratory Symptoms or Allergic Reactions

People with allergies and respiratory illnesses are especially susceptible to the side effects of mold. Coughing, sneezing, throat irritation, increased asthma attacks may signal the presence of mold.

Chronic Health Issues

Headaches and nosebleeds can signal a variety of health issues, including the presence of mold in your living space. Some other symptoms caused by mold include sinusitis, chronic fatigue, rashes, and conjunctivitis.

Flood History or Spaces Where Water and Moisture Collect

Even if you don’t see evidence of mold shortly after flooding occurs, homes with a history of flood damage may be more likely to harbor mold growth.

How Did I Get Mold?

Mold can grow anywhere, including in clean homes. It starts when one tiny mold spore lands on a damp surface and begins to multiply.

Mold spores are invisible and can be found in all climates. There are thousands of species of mold spores floating in the air at all times that can be carried into your home on your clothes, shoes, or your pet’s fur. Mold is most likely to root and grow in areas where there is dampness or moisture like basements, kitchens, and bathrooms.

Tools and Supplies for Mold Removal

When it’s not taken care of properly, mold can continue to grow (often out of sight) until it causes serious damage to your home. Additionally, it’s important to determine how to get rid of mold safely. Finding the right tools and supplies is the first step to effective mold removal. These tools will help you safely remove mold and avoid spreading spores to other areas.

  • N-95 or P-100 Respirator
  • Goggles
  • Protective gloves
  • Box fan (You want something inexpensive or old you can dispose of after cleaning is complete.)
  • Plastic sheets
  • Tape
  • Spray bottle
  • Paintbrush
  • Drywall saw
  • Scrub brush
  • Garbage bags
  • Bleach
  • Utility knife
  • Wet/dry vac (for use in situations with structural damage)
  • Vinegar
  • Peroxide
  • Dish soap

Pro Tip:

It is important to avoid mixing chemicals when cleaning any surface. When combined, some chemicals (like bleach and ammonia) form a poisonous gas that can be lethal when inhaled. We recommend using nonreactive chemicals or, for heavy-duty jobs, a single mold remover.

How to Get Rid of Mold on Walls: Your Step-by-Step Guide

someone applying antifungal and mold cleaning chemicals in a room before reinstalling the trim

To safely remove mold from your home, it’s essential to use a process that will help you avoid harming the surfaces and spreading mold spores to other locations. Taking safety precautions to secure the area and using the right equipment will help you avoid future problems and irritation or illness. Following these steps will help you determine how to get rid of mold and avoid the spread of airborne spores.

1. Prep the Room for Cleaning

Before determining how to get rid of mold, it’s essential to take certain safety precautions. Careful preparation will help you stay healthy and avoid spreading mold spores. Begin by putting on a mask, gloves, and safety goggles. Then follow these steps before beginning the cleaning process.

  1. Place a box fan in the window to assist ventilation.
  2. Tape plywood or cardboard around the remaining open space to avoid spores blowing back in.
  3. Turn off the furnace or air conditioner and cover the air ducts.
  4. Cover nearby doorways with plastic sheeting to contain spores.
  5. Moisten moldy areas while you work to contain airborne spores.

2. Remove Moldy Carpet

Moldy carpet and pads must be disposed of properly. Cut stained, moldy carpet into 6×8 foot sections with a utility knife. Mist the sections with a garden sprayer or spray bottle to control the spread of spores. Roll the damp carpet sections and double wrap them in plastic secured with duct tape for proper disposal.

Pro Tip:

Contact your city to learn how small the carpet sections need to be so they can pick them up with general trash removal. They may give you specific dimensions or the maximum number of square feet per piece.

3. Open Up Moldy Walls

Mold can hide behind wallpaper, baseboards, and even inside your walls. Cleaning surface mold is possible, especially on nonporous surfaces. Scrub hard surfaces with a commercial cleaner. Porous surfaces must be cleaned more carefully by wiping with only a rag. However, where mold is visible, there is often hidden mold, as well. If walls are spongy, stained, or swollen, mold damage has already occurred.

Probe damaged walls with a screwdriver to expose the extent of mold damage. Pry off baseboards and trim from damaged walls with a pry bar. Also, you can poke holes in the drywall to expose electrical wires. Cut away all moldy drywall past the damaged area. Remove moldy drywall, insulation, and crumbling wood. Remove and replace soft spongy wall studs and damaged wall sheathing. Where removal is difficult, treat wood then double the studs with pressure-treated wood.

Pro Tip:

If you suspect you have mold in the walls, turn off the power to the room before you start. This will keep you safe during the initial exploration. If you have a stud finder, we recommend using it to make sure areas are clear of wiring before you puncture that bit of wall.

4. Moisten and Bag Damaged Materials

Moistening materials before moving them will prevent mold spores from becoming airborne. While working, mist moldy drywall and insulation to avoid the spread of airborne mold spores. As you remove drywall and insulation, double bag all moldy materials and tie the bags shut before moving them.

5. Vacuum the Debris

Use a wet/dry vac to remove additional debris from the room before the final cleanup. Thoroughly vacuum up moldy debris. After the cleanup is finished, clean the wet/dry vac. Dispose of the vacuum filter, then wash out the tank, hose, and attachments with a bleach and water solution.

Pro Tip:

Purchase an extra-long hose and keep the wet/dry vac itself outdoors to avoid further spreading mold spores.

6. Scrub Moldy Surfaces with Mold Cleaner

After you’ve removed all accessible moldy insulation and crumbling wood, you’ll likely still see mold growth on surfaces you can’t remove. These surfaces must be thoroughly cleaned and sealed to prevent a regrowth of the mold. These steps will teach you how to get rid of mold on the remaining surfaces before repairing your wall.

  1. Mix 1 quart of water with a half cup of bleach.
  2. Apply the cleaning solution to moldy surfaces with a soft-bristled scrub brush.
  3. Clean mold away from the surfaces until all signs of mold disappear.
  4. Allow the bleach mixture to penetrate surfaces while drying.
  5. Wipe off the affected surfaces, but do not rinse them.
  6. If you treated trim or baseboards, set them in direct sunlight to dry.

To clean concrete surfaces, scrub the concrete with automatic dishwasher detergent or Trisodium Phosphate (TSP).

7. Allow Adequate Drying Time

When learning how to get rid of mold properly, it’s essential to ensure you don’t provide an environment for new mold to grow. Place new (clean) fans and dehumidifiers in the freshly cleaned area to promote complete drying. Allow treated spots to dry for at least three days before moving forward. Check the newly cleaned, dried areas for the appearance or smell of mold. If you discover more mold, clean again with a bleach mixture and repeat the drying process.

8. Seal Off Moldy Areas

When the mold has been completely eliminated, seal off the areas to protect surfaces and prevent regrowth. Use a pigmented shellac like BIN or an oil-based primer like KILZ to seal wood surfaces. Follow the manufacturer instructions for application and drying times. Paint cleaned wall surfaces with a latex-based paint that contains a mildewcide to add an extra layer of protection against future mold growth. After all of the surfaces have been properly sealed and dried, replace the insulation, drywall, and trim for complete restoration. Choose a specialized mold-resistant caulk for finishing up the trim.

Pro Tip:

No amount of product will eliminate mold growth if moisture is still present. You must remove the source of moisture from the area to protect newly cleaned areas from future mold growth.

How Can I Clean Up Surface Mold?

Mildew and surface mold can be found in practically any area that harbors moisture. Clean these surfaces with a bleach-based cleaner and apply a sealer to prevent regrowth.

Grout between shower tiles is one of the most common places homeowners find mold. Determining how to get rid of mold in the shower is fairly simple. Mix a quart of water with a half cup of bleach and a squirt of dishwashing liquid to scrub away mold from your shower stall and tub. If mold doesn’t disappear after a light scrubbing, reapply the cleaning solution and allow it to sit for a few minutes before scrubbing again. Apply a grout sealant to clean, dry surfaces to protect against regrowth.

How to Get Rid of Mold on External Home Surfaces

man washing mold off of his home's exterior siding

Mold is not only dangerous indoors. It can also cause problems when it grows on the outside surfaces of your home, like around your windows, on your deck, and by your gutters. Chlorine bleach is effective for scrubbing away mold on most outdoor surfaces. Anytime you see visible mold growth on the outside surfaces of your home, you should clean them as soon as possible to prevent damage to your home. Follow these steps to get rid of external mold.

  1. Cover all plants near the home with heavy plastic sheeting. Most plants and grasses will be damaged if they come into contact with the cleaning solution.
  2. Mix a gallon of water with a cup of chlorine bleach. Pour the mixture into a garden sprayer or a bucket for hand scrubbing.
  3. Wet the moldy sections with water, then follow with the bleach solution. Allow the bleach to work for several minutes.
  4. If mold lightens, move to another section and repeat the process. If the mold remains, scrub the area and reapply the bleach mixture.
  5. Allow freshly cleaned areas to dry completely.
  6. Rinse any nearby areas with grass and plants to avoid chemical damage to your lawn.

For hard and durable exterior surfaces, you can even pressure wash them. Just be sure to protect nearby surfaces and use the appropriate pressure levels for the material.

Pro Tip:

Always wear old clothes when using chlorine bleach. Clothing will be discolored from contact with the cleaner.

How to Get Rid of Mold Without Bleach

While bleach is a very effective tool for mold removal, it is a strong chemical that many people prefer to avoid. These cleaning solutions may take longer to get results, but they are effective at mold removal.

Hydrogen Peroxide

A 3 to 10% solution of hydrogen peroxide has a lightening effect similar to bleach. It works more slowly than bleach. But it will lighten mold stains without the fumes associated with bleach and leaves no residue behind.

Distilled White Vinegar

The acidic makeup of vinegar makes it effective at breaking down the structure of mold and killing it. However, vinegar won’t remove the stains left by mold. Additional scrubbing with a household cleaner will likely be necessary.

Baking Soda

The high pH levels in baking soda inhibit the growth and survival of mold. It is one of the most inexpensive products used to kill mold, and it is easily mixed with water.

Borax

When mixed with water, borax works the same way as baking soda. While it doesn’t lighten stains as effectively as strong cleaning products, it does work to fade mold stains.

Pro Tip:

When you’re using cleaning solutions to remove mold, avoid rinsing the solution away after application. Any remaining residue will help inhibit future mold growth.

How To Get Rid of Mold on Your Household Items

Whether you’ve been exposed to floodwaters, had a particularly damp season, or left a pile of damp towels in the hamper too long, your household items can easily be subject to mold growth. While some objects might not be salvageable, you can often clean items if you catch the problem quickly. Glance through these processes to learn how to remove mold from common household items:

How to Get Rid of Mold on Fabrics

Catching the problem early is the key to effectively removing mold from fabrics. Clothing or other fabrics fully saturated and left for days will likely have to be thrown away. However, for fabrics with small amounts of mold growth, these techniques will likely lead to success.

  1. Take the item outside and brush away all surface mold.
  2. If the item is washable, use the hottest water safe for the fabric, and add disinfectant.
  3. If stains remain, allow clothes to soak in a solution of oxygen bleach and water for at least 8 hours.

For items that require dry cleaning, brush away the surface mold and take them to a professional as soon as possible. Make sure to point out the stains and explain the cause.

How to Get Rid of Mold on Leather Items

Leather items like shoes, coats, and accessories are especially susceptible to mold when stored in damp places. If possible, take items outside to avoid spreading mold spores. Begin by wiping down the object with a soft cloth dipped in distilled white vinegar. Follow up with quality leather soap, then dry the item completely. After items are completely dry, treat with a leather conditioner.

How to Get Rid of Mold on Paper Items and Books

Mold can completely destroy paper over time. That’s why it’s important to consult a professional curator when working with expensive books and to store books properly. If you have general paper items and books that have been exposed to dampness, use these steps to remove the mold:

  1. Allow the paper in the books to dry thoroughly before attempting to remove the mold. Trying to remove mold from wet paper will cause smearing and make it impossible to remove. Dry in full sunlight or in an enclosed container with an absorbent material to remove moisture.
  2. When the book is dry, take it outside for safe mold removal. Using a soft paintbrush or cloth, gently wipe mold from the cover and the pages of the book.
  3. Place a sheet of wax paper between each page to protect the page beneath. Slightly dampen a clean cloth with hydrogen peroxide and wipe down each page. Clean one page at a time, waiting for it to air dry before moving on to the next.

How to Get Rid of Mold on Household Appliances

Appliances that require water for use are a perfect breeding ground for mold, both in the kitchen and your laundry room. Use these cleaning methods to remove mold from your household appliances.

  • Washer: Each month, run a washer cycle without clothes. Use hot water and chlorine bleach to avoid mold growth and musty smells. Inspect front-load washer seals for visible mold regularly.
  • Refrigerator: Use white vinegar to clean seals and shelves in your refrigerator and freezer.
  • Coffee Maker: Heat and water make coffee makers especially susceptible to mold growth. Pour white vinegar into your empty coffee pot. Without using a filter, pour the vinegar into the coffee maker’s water receptacle and run a cycle. When the cycle is complete, dispose of hot vinegar and scrub the pot. Rinse out the coffee pot and allow the coffee maker to dry completely.

Mold Prevention Tips

After your mold removal process is complete, you’ll want to learn how to keep mold problems from coming back. Certain areas in your home are more susceptible to mold growth than others. Rooms in your home that harbor moisture or have the potential for plumbing leaks are more likely to have mold. Use these techniques to prevent mold growth in your home.

Kitchen

  • Check behind appliances frequently for moisture buildup or spills.
  • Routinely check for plumbing leaks and have leaks repaired immediately.
  • Use an exhaust fan while cooking to remove excess moisture from the air.

Basement

  • Prep your basement to prevent mold before completing a basement renovation.
  • Seal basement walls against moisture.
  • Use a dehumidifier in damp basement spaces.
  • Regularly check walls for leaks and cracks.

Bathrooms

  • Leave on lights and exhaust fans at least an hour after showers or baths.
  • Squeegee shower walls after bathing.
  • Routinely check all plumbing for leaks and have leaks repaired immediately.
  • Keep your tub and shower neatly organized to prevent pooling water and hidden mold.

Crawlspaces

  • Make sure storm runoff isn’t building up under your home.
  • If the ground under your crawlspace is bare, dry it thoroughly and cover with plastic.
  • Use an exhaust fan or dehumidifier in damp crawlspaces.
  • Keep your home’s gutters in good working condition.

Learning how to get rid of mold is an important lesson for homeowners. Under the right conditions, mold can grow in any climate, even in the cleanest of homes (though it’s important to know how to thoroughly clean your home). Mold can be destructive to the structure of your home and even your family’s health. Whether you take care of it yourself or call in a professional, proper mold removal will make your home a safer, healthier space.

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