Controlling mold growth in the home

The storm last week dumped several inches of rain on Ellis County and caused localized flooding problems. The excess moisture has created mold and mildew problems for some Ellis County residents. I’ve received a few calls about controlling mold growth in homes. Since some have called, I suspect others might be experiencing problems with mold growing in warm, moist areas of homes, offices and other buildings.

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The storm last week dumped several inches of rain on Ellis County and caused localized flooding problems. The excess moisture has created mold and mildew problems for some Ellis County residents. I’ve received a few calls about controlling mold growth in homes. Since some have called, I suspect others might be experiencing problems with mold growing in warm, moist areas of homes, offices and other buildings.

A publication from K-State Research and Extension is available free of charge to help with mold and mildew problems. For your copy, contact the Ellis County Extension Office, 601 Main in Hays, or call (785) 628-9430 and ask for “Controlling Mold Growth in the Home.” You also can find it on the K-State Research and Extension website at www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu. Use the search function to search for the publication title.

Molds grow best in warm temperatures, and they require moisture to survive. The moisture can come from water leaks, flooding, seepage, high humidity and condensation. Molds require oxygen to grow, but not light, so molds can continue to grow indefinitely in darkness. Molds thrive on organic materials like natural fibers (such as cotton and wool), paper, leather, wood or surfaces coated with the slightest amount of organic matter such as food, grease and soil.

How do you know if there is mold in your home? Many times, mold can be detected first by a musty odor. Growths of mold often can be seen in the form of a stain or discoloration, ranging from white to orange or green to brown or black.

To control the growth of mold in your home, remember these three steps: 1. Clean it; 2. Dry it; and 3. Disinfect it.

Keep it clean — Regular cleaning of surfaces and household textiles will reduce the food supply molds need to survive. Use a grease-cutting solution of detergent and water to wash hard surfaces such as walls, floors, tub or shower enclosures and other susceptible areas. If mold growth already has begun, scrub the hard surfaces well with a brush to remove the discoloration.

Keep it dry — Reduce the moisture produced inside the home. Turn off the humidifier if the humidity level is more than 50 percent. Use exhaust fans when cooking or showering and repair any plumbing leaks. Also reduce the sources of moisture coming in from the outside. Seal cracks in the basement, slope the earth away from the house to promote drainage, and be sure gutters and downspouts are clear and working properly. Adequate insulation in walls will help to reduce condensation, and increasing the air circulation with fans in problem areas will keep the moisture level down as well.

Disinfect it — Disinfectants kill mold growing on hard surfaces such as walls and floors. One of the most effective and least expensive disinfectants is chlorine bleach. After the area has been thoroughly cleaned, disinfect with a solution of 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water. The area must be kept wet with the bleach solution for 10 to 15 minutes to kill the mold. If large areas of an unfinished basement need to be disinfected, a clean garden sprayer can be used to apply the bleach solution to concrete floors and walls.

Other household items such as carpeting, upholstered furniture, leather goods, clothing and textiles, books and paper products might support mold growth and are much more difficult to clean and disinfect. The publication “Controlling Mold Growth in the Home” contains specific techniques for preventing and removing mold growth on these items. If flooding or mold damage to home furnishings is extensive, consult a professional with experience in mold clean-up.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has a helpful website for information on mold prevention and control. For online access, see www.epa.gov/mold.

• Note: This column originally was published last May after torrential rains created mold problems in the area. The information bears repeating this week.

Linda K. Beech is Ellis County

Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.