This past week, Hurricane Florence barreled its way through the Carolinas, bringing with it substantial amounts of rain, high winds, and subsequent flooding. Though the actual hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm over the weekend, the impact and damage have continued.
Most significantly, the entire coastal area has been hit with widespread and catastrophic flooding from a combination of record rainfalls and massive storm surges.
Water has filled streets, homes, basements, and businesses, leaving residents stranded and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the destruction and the cleanup.
As the water recedes, the threat of mold will be very high. Mold grows in damp and wet conditions, and the drying process for building materials and furnishings takes time. Mold will be a natural result of the flooding in these areas, especially given the amount of standing water and time it takes to remove it.
But no matter where you live, it’s important to know how to properly get rid of mold whenever and wherever it is found and these tips will help you in that process.
1. Don’t Panic
In recent years there have been widespread, panic-inducing, fear-based stories regarding the catastrophic effects of mold on human health.
In many cases, these cases are anecdotal, have been embellished and inflated for the sake of litigation or by the media, and they are not actually substantiated by scientific research.
While it is important to be aware of the very real health risks mold presents, it is also important to seek out the truth, understand the scientific evidence, and not exaggeratethe health dangers that mold can create.
First, recognize that mold is old. It is one of the simplest and earliest forms of life. It has existed for hundreds of thousands of years and is as present in our regular, everyday lives as dust or pollen. Mold is a member of the fungi kingdom, which also contains yeast, mushrooms, and mildew.
“Mold is everywhere,” said Gailen Marshall, director of the University of Texas Medical School, Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in Houston. “For most, mold is a mostly ignored part of their lives.”
Mold spreads from area to area by releasing spores into the air, much like a plant spreads its seeds. When these spores accumulate in large quantities and you breathe them in, they can trigger allergies and asthma, and in some cases, even more severe respiratory problems. Additionally, it is common for the spores to irritate the eyes and skin.
“Mold only becomes a health issue when there is too much of it,” said Harriet Burge, a mold expert from the Harvard School of Public Health and the chair of the committee that conducted reviews on mold for the CDC.
Scientists are discovering that the “too much” threshold varies from person to person and mold spores impact every immune or respiratory system differently. Obviously, those with weak or susceptible immune systems are particularly sensitive to the effect of these accumulated spores.
There are about a dozen mold species (including the black mold species, Stachybotrys)
that secrete mycotoxins which are known to be deadly to animals that eat them in large quantities, but most scientists agree that toxins from mold are not readily airborne—meaning that unlike spores, they are contained in the mold itself and not toxic unless ingested.
According to industrial hygienist, Coreen Robbins, of Global Tox, “Even if the toxins piggyback on spores, it’s nearly impossible for them to enter the human body in large enough quantity to cause illness.”
Despite this, there is a widespread fear that unseen mold might be quietly and deviously poisoning you or your family without your knowledge. Keep in mind that toxic poisoning from mold won’t just sneak up on you out of the blue.
Very moldy conditions are required in such cases and enormous amounts of mold particles would have to get into the air before you could breathe in enough to be toxic. Robbins points out that first that much mold would trigger allergic reactions or eye irritation long before toxic doses were inhaled.
So, don’t panic.
2. Understand the Threat
While you do not need to panic, recognize that mold is by no means harmless.
There is a strong link between mold and respiratory problems, such as worsening asthma.
Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, also independently determined that molds may be responsible for the majority of sinus infections in the U.S. And it’s important to note that a connection between mold and other more serious neurological and systemic problems have not been conclusively ruled out.
Mold spores can also cause skin and eye irritation. Sometimes these are the first signs of a mold problem.
As it stands, the scientific and health communities advise cleaning up mold, regardless of the type, and to fix any ongoing, continuous water leaks that contribute to mold growth. Always quickly dry or remove water-soaked materials to prevent the spread of mold.
Molds thrive on moisture. It grows in wet, damp, humid, or moist conditions. Removing the moisture kills the mold and doesn’t allow it to grow and spread. Mold will not consume and take over a house or a property unless there is a constant supply of water allowing it to spread its spores and grow.
3. Identify the Source of the Problem
As we said, mold cannot grow without moisture.
If you can’t seem to halt the spread of mold on your property, you need to correctly identify the ongoing source of the water, dampness or excess moisture.
Even when mold grows in places that you can’t see—behind drywall or under building materials—Harvard’s Harriet Burge points out that there are still “a lot of clues if you pay attention” that you might have a mold problem.
For example, if you find a musty smell when you enter the property or go into a basement, there is likely to be an abundance of mold.
This means that somewhere there is excess water or moisture keeping building materials wet.
It could be plumbing leaks or flooding, poor ventilation, or seepage of ground water through the foundation or walls of a basement.
Check the seals around windows, doors, and roofs, as well as flashings around vents or air conditioner equipment for possible leaks that allow moisture into your property.
Before you start getting rid of mold, you need to find the source of the problem so that you can stop ongoing growth and prevent any future reoccurrence.
In one case, an office manager noticed that there was a musty smell in the office but could not see any evidence of water or water damage.
Air quality equipment showed the spore count was tens of thousands of units above normal, indicating mold growth somewhere in the building.
When the problem was investigated with moisture reading equipment, we found that the air conditioner units had been leaking very slowly for years, with the water accumulating under the carpets and carpet padding. There was now a significant mold problem underneath the carpet.
Once the source of the moisture problem was accurately identified, the air conditioning units were repaired and reinsulated and checked for leakage.
After this was completed the rest of the work could then move forward, including disinfection and removal of contaminated flooring and carpets and removal of all the mold from the office.
4. Act Quickly
If you have a mold problem, one of the most important things to remember is to act quickly.
Mold not only puts mold spores into the air causing health problems, but it actually damages the surface it grows on.
The longer it is left to grow, the more damage occurs.
Mold will negatively impact the air quality in your property. The EPA estimates that we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and that the air in our homes and businesses is actually more polluted than the outdoor air.
Having good indoor air quality is an important component of good health. If you suspect or know you have a mold infestation, address the problem as quickly as possible so that health complications can be avoided.
When a leak or flooding occurs, remove the water as quickly as possible to reduce the chance of mold growing in the first place. Once materials have been exposed to water for more than 24-48 hours, mold will start to grow and the materials may no longer be salvageable.
One of the reasons that hurricane damage leads to such rampant mold problems is because the water cannot be removed in a timely manner. It can be days or weeks before the water recedes and drying can begin.
Home and business owners are often not allowed back into the area for many days following flooding. This creates ideal conditions for mold to flourish.
We had a client who had a flood in her basement. Unfortunately, a different restoration company was hired to address the water damage and they did not arrive to begin the drying process until 6 days after the flood occurred.
This allowed time for the moisture to travel up the porous insulation behind the wall. When they arrived, the restoration company did not remove any of the wall or flooring materials, instead electing to drill aeration holes in the drywall and install fans and dehumidifiers.
This is a common water damage mitigation technique that can work if the problem is addressed quickly, but is no longer effective after 72 hours of water infiltration. Unfortunately, that window had long since closed for our client.
As a result, mold had already started to grow inside the basement walls and the fans only served to blow the spores throughout the entire basement area.
Because quick action was not taken, a full-scale mold remediation project had to be undertaken for a job where simple but effective drying techniques would have sufficed.
5. Dry Things Out
Before cleanup can begin, you need to completely dry the damp, mold infested area and materials.
Remove unsalvageable items from the property and dispose of them in thick plastic bags to reduce the spread of mold spores.
Improve the ventilation of the area by opening windows and using fans or industrial drying equipment and dehumidifiers to speed the drying process. Remember the faster the drying can occur after exposure to water, the less chance there is for the mold to grow.
Keep in mind that moisture may not necessarily be visible. Porous surfaces like wood, fabric, and even cement, can hold moisture for a long time and it may not be apparent to the eye.
Water travels easily through these materials from one area of a property to another. Use moisture readings to ensure the wood or other building materials are completely dry.
Whenever flooding occurs, remove the standing water as quickly as possible and then use industrial fans and dehumidifiers. This will go a long way to preventing a mold infestation.
In Arizona we have a summer monsoon season that brings high winds and dust storms that can be accompanied by very heavy rains. Our restoration company gets water damage calls with every storm.
We dispatch crews around the clock, 24/7 to begin the water removal process as quickly as possible by installing pumps and siphoning off the excess water. Fans and dryers are set up immediately after that.
Completely drying out all building materials is absolutely essential for effective mold management and elimination.
6. Size Up the Problem
Next, you need to figure out how big the problem is because this will help determine who should do the mold cleanup.
According to the EPA, if the mold is contained in an area less than 10 square feet (like a 3 ft. x 3 ft. patch of mold), then you can handle the job yourself.
However, if the growth is bigger than that, the EPA recommends that you have a professional with experience and knowledge in mold remediation address the cleanup.
Likewise, if the mold has contaminated the heating/ventilation/air conditioning system you need to have a professional clean up the mold before you run the HVAC.
Turning on the system before complete and proper cleanup could spread the mold throughout the entire home or building.
And whenever the mold or water damage was caused by sewage or contaminated water, a professional mold remediator with the right tools and expertise in containment and safety needs to handle the cleanup.
Hire a company with experience in dealing with hazardous materials.
If your property has a moldy smell (as mentioned in tip #3) and you suspect but cannot see the source, the mold may be hidden behind building materials like dry wall, wallpaper, tile, paneling, under floorboards or carpets, etc.
Mold may also be hiding in wall spaces near leaking or condensing pipes, in roof materials or attic insulation—wherever there is a hidden water source.
Investigating the hidden mold problem requires careful work because disturbing the building materials can release a huge amount of mold spores in to the air.
If you suspect a hidden mold problem, it is recommended that you hire a professional who can do tests on the air quality and carefully remove the mold without disturbing the spores more than necessary.
7. Get Dressed Up
If the moldy area is small and you decide to clean it yourself, you need to wear the proper clothing and use the right equipment to keep yourself safe and reduce exposure to and inhalation of mold spores.
To avoid breathing the mold spores into your lungs, wear a respirator.
You can find one at most hardware stores for about $15-20 dollars. Look for an N-95 respirator that is equipped with removable cartridges that trap mold spores from entering your respiratory tract.
Always wear gloves and avoid touching moldy surfaces with your bare hands.
Depending on the surface you are cleaning, you may need to use a disinfectant like bleach, so make sure the gloves are made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, or polyurethane.
Wear goggles. Many times, when mold spores are in abundance, people complain of eye irritation.
Wear a pair of non-ventilated goggles to avoid getting mold spores in your eyes as you work.
When mold remediation professionals do their work, they usually wear protective suits to cover their clothes and skin.
This reduces the chance of irritation from mold spores and the likelihood of transferring mold spores off-site.
8. Assess the Surface
If you have decided to clean up the mold yourself, the cleaning solution you use will be determined by the surface you are working on.
Some hard, non-porous surfaces can be cleaned with soap and water, but usually it will require more stringent chemicals to kill the mold.
Many of these chemicals work to kill the mold by interfering with the proteins in the cells either by raising or lowering the pH in the environment.
Understand that absorbent or porous materials like carpet, rugs, furniture, ceiling tiles or drywall, may have to be removed and thrown away if they become too moldy.
These materials have lots of empty spaces that can fill with mold, and these items may be impossible to clean completely.
Also, keep in mind that even after cleaning, mold can leave staining and cosmetic damage. While you may be able to clean an item and remove the mold, you may not be able to restore the surface’s former appearance.
You can scrub small areas of mold by yourself with a combination of water, detergent, and household chemicals, depending on the type of material you are cleaning, as indicated in the chart below. Always dry the surfaces completely after cleaning to inhibit further mold growth.
|Cleaning Agent||Ratio to Water||Surface||Caution||How it Works|
|Bleach||1:16||Non-porous||Caustic||“Cooks” the mold’s proteins|
|Vinegar||Do not dilute||Non-porous||Non-toxic||pH 2.5|
|Baking Soda||1:2||Non-porous||Non-toxic||pH 8|
|Hydrogen Peroxide||Do not dilute||Porous and non-porous||Non-toxic||Oxidizes the surface of the mold|
|Borax||1:16||Porous and non-porous||Non-toxic||pH 9.5|
Since most molds thrive in environments with a pH range of 3 to 7, many household chemicals are effective in removing small, mild mold growth. Of all the solutions, bleach and borax are probably the most effective and the most often recommended, but be mindful that bleach does not work on porous surfaces unless combined with a detergent as well.
Carefully monitor the result of your cleanup. Many times, do-it-yourselfers will inadvertently miss spots, fail to kill all the spores, or even transfer mold spores while they are scrubbing, resulting in additional, more serious infestations. Watch the area to make sure that the mold does not reappear.
9. Don’t Cover Up the Problem
Cleaning up a mold problem can seem overwhelming.
There can be a temptation to simply want to cover up the problem by painting or caulking over the mold.
Remember you need to find the source of the moisture first. Then completely clean and dry the surface before you paint or caulk.
Paint that is applied over moldy surfaces is likely to peel and you will still have the underlying health threat contaminating the air of your property. Out of sight does not mean the problem has been eliminated.
One of our customers was renting a property that had been newly repainted. After a couple of weeks in their new apartment, he noticed the bathroom paint was peeling and there were dark black spots appearing on the walls.
The landlord thought he could just ignore the mold problem caused by a leaking pipe by repainting the apartment after the plumbing repairs had been made.
We removed the drywall with its mold and peeling paint, both hazardous and unsafe conditions. Once we determined that the plumbing problems had been resolved sufficiently, we completely dried the bathroom and restored the damaged wall.
10. Get Help with Contents Cleaning
Sometimes when there is mold, it is not only on the building materials, but on the “contents” of a property as well.
Each category of contents—like electronic equipment, furniture, toys, rugs, books, clothes, dishes, etc.—all have their own specific cleaning requirements.
Many times, the cost of cleaning or salvaging the items, far exceeds the actual worth of the item. In these cases, mold remediators recommend carefully discarding and disposing of the item unless it was irreplaceable or had significant sentimental value.
In these cases, you may need to consult a specialist in order to restore the item.
There are organizations and businesses that specialize in the restoration of specific items like art, rugs or furniture, books, documents, or other items.
Always ask for references when seeking the help of specialist to restore your irreplaceable property contents.
11. Avoid Cross-Contamination
When home or business owners try to clean up mold by themselves, one of the common mistakes they make is failing to set up a containment area when they are cleaning.
Once you start scrubbing or wiping the mold, the spores will become airborne and can easily travel and contaminate other parts of your home or office.
This is why calling a professional mold remediation specialist can be so valuable. Mold removal experts set up negative air flow environments with carefully constructed containment areas to ensure the mold spores will not spread.
They are also experts at disposal of containment, cleaning, and unsalvageable items so that future mold outbreaks are avoided.
12. Call an Expert
While it may be possible to clean up small mold infestations yourself, because of the risk of mold spores spreading and the possibility of future, worsening infestations, it is recommended that you seek professional help when dealing with a mold problem at your home or business.
Especially in cases where the mold may be hidden or the area is larger than 10 square feet, the job should be left to a professional.
But no matter the size or scope of the job, their knowledge and experience of a reputable mold remediation contractor can be invaluable. When you find a mold removal expert with a proven track record, they can give you incredible results and significant peace of mind.
At Titan Restoration we have been eradicating mold from homes and businesses for over twenty years. We have the equipment, knowledge, and expertise, to avoid cross-contamination and completely kill and remove the mold from your property.
The following video will give you an idea of the methods and techniques that we use when getting rid of mold on a property:
First, we identify and resolve the moisture source and then dry the work site completely with efficient, industrial equipment and specialized tools. The work area is completely sealed and contained with plastic sheeting to prevent the spread of spores to other areas of the property.
We run HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuums and air scrubbers to clean the air of airborne mold spores and prevent unintended transfer or contamination. Only HEPA filters are designed to capture particles as small as mold spores. Regular filters will not work and can actually make the problem worse.
The affected area is then completely cleaned and sanitized with industrial-strength disinfectants and antimicrobial chemicals, as we simultaneously employ HEPA air scrubbers with the proper number of air exchanges to trap the airborne mold and spores in the HEPA filter.
If any porous materials like drywall cannot be entirely sanitized and salvaged, they are properly disposed of and replaced. We follow industry standards and remove all dry wall 2 feet from the appearance of any mold.
Once the drywall has been removed, we check the inside of the wall, the insulation, and the wood studs for evidence of mold and remove those or sand down as needed.
Titan then uses an industrial hygienist, a third party, to determine if we adequately cleaned and disinfected area before we do any repairs to the structure. If the Hygienist determines that the area is not clean enough or there are too many mold spores, they will have us re-clean the area until they are satisfied with our efforts.
HEPA air scrubbers are put in place for 24 hours to ensure the air is free from mold spores, and then the area is sealed and treated with to prevent any possible future mold growth.
We also schedule regular checks after the mold removal to ensure that no new growth has occurred and all mold and spores have been completely eliminated without cross-contamination.
Throughout the process, the utmost care is taken to thoroughly eradicate your current mold infestation according to the highest safety and industry standards and preventing any and all subsequent outbreaks.
Your health and safety are important to us, and so is the careful restoration of your property. Our training and our technical expertise allow us to provide the very best service as we guide you through the mold remediation process.
Mold can be persistent and pernicious. But our record and our reputation can give you complete confidence in our team’s ability to completely eradicate it from your property with efficiency, care, and meticulous workmanship.
While mold has been a part of human history since the beginning, harmful amounts of concentrated mold spores needs to be a thing of the past in all our homes and businesses.
By following these tips you can help prevent mold infestation and remove the threat if it appears, reducing potential respiratory illnesses and helping you, your family, your employees, and your customers to breathe a little easier.