What to do about musty, toxic mould and mildew?

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A number of researchers have linked mildew, or its more prolific form, mould, in homes with feeling poorly or more chronic health conditions. Here’s how to say goodbye to mould spores.

Wet, humid months followed by damp winter days and poorly ventilated south facing rooms create perfect conditions for mildew growth. You don’t want smelly, ugly mould spores reproducing in your home – it’s simply not good for you or your housemates.

So what can you do to send mildew away for good?

How to remove mildew

Before you get started, make sure you’ve got plenty of protective gear on hand. Mould is a common allergen that can play havoc with your respiratory system and skin. At the very least you’ll need gloves, long pants, a long sleeve protective shirt and a mould safety mask – you can buy safety masks from a hardware store. A hat or protective covering for your hair is a good idea too, so you’re not ‘catching’ spores and spreading them later.

Mould removal products don’t always kill mould or mildew

According to CHOICE, cleaning products that claim to kill mould and mildew are rarely effective in killing it. Most contain bleach that removes the colour of the mildew, but doesn’t kill the spores. So the mildew will continue to grow and spread.

If it’s very porous and mouldy just get rid of it!

We’re taking the surest and the least conservative approach here. If the mildew affected areas are very porous, such as clothing, wallpaper, books or carpet – throw them out! If you want to keep your carpet – and understandably, due to the cost of resurfacing your floors – consider bringing in a professional mould removal specialist or carpet cleaner.

How to remove mould or mildew from less porous sufaces

To remove mould from non-porous or slightly porous surfaces, you’ll need litres of cleaning vinegar (fortunately cleaning vinegar is cheap), a good micro-fibre cleaning cloth (from your grocery or hardware store), three large buckets and a laundry sink.

In the first bucket, pour a 80:20 vinegar to water mix. Fill the second and third buckets with water, and be prepared to regularly flush these out and refill. Dip your micro-fibre cloth into the first bucket and then squeeze out enough liquid that you can use the cloth without having vinegar and water running down your arms.

Start working away to rub off and kill the mildew one small area at a time. Once you’ve cleared one small area, rinse off the micro-fibre cloth in the second bucket, squeeze out the liquid and head to a third rinsing bucket – or straight to your laundry sink – to do a final rinse. Then it’s back to the first bucket again for you.

Don’t plan to have guests for dinner that night! But you may well have earned a glass of something relaxing to end your day of hard labour.

How to keep mildew or mould away

Once you’ve removed, and hopefully killed the mildew and mould in your home, chances are you won’t be keen to repeat this labour intensive exercise. Now it’s time to put a plan in place to mildew proof your home for the long term.

1     Fix EVERYTHING that leaks

Potential leaky channels that invite water or moisture into your home include your roof, guttering, windows, any pipes, air-conditioner ducts and the foundations of your home. White goods can be another source of excess moisture – particularly leaking fridges and freezers, washing machines and clothes dryers. If your yard and gardens all slope toward the foundations of your house, you may want to consider landscaping your yard so that water drains away from the foundations of your home. If there are any signs of rising damp or condensation in your home, you need to investigate the condition of your damp courses, or call in the experts to sort it out, fast.

2     Consider floor and wall surface renovations

Traps for mildew include old wallpapers and the inviting spaces between the wall, the glue and the paper; old carpets that don’t have built in mildew protection; and ceramic floor and wall tiles that have deep grouts or have started to come away from the surface they were glued on. Steam off that old wallpaper (maybe with a dehumidifier running at the same time!), rip out the old carpet, smash off those old tiles, remove the mildew left behind and then replace with less porous, or non porous surfaces and anti-mould linings. Most carpets, carpet underlay and wall and floor waterproofing or linings nowadays have anti-mould properties.

3     Vent, vent and vent

A well ventilated kitchen, laundry and bathroom are unlikely to end up mildew infested. By well ventilated, we mean having enough power in your ventilation to draw any moisture or humidity inside, outside. Clothes dryer vents, stove top exhaust fans, bathroom exhaust fans and air purifiers are all essential artillery for sucking the moisture right out of your home. And wherever possible, don’t hang wet laundry inside. The moisture that comes out of your fresh laundry has to go somewhere. Best if it goes outside!

4     Maximise sunlight in to south facing rooms

If you have mildew scented and coloured interiors, they are most likely to be south facing spaces. In a south facing room in Australia, it is tricky to catch enough natural light and heat from the sun. Fresh air and direct exposure to sunlight will help eliminate growth of mould.  So, the south facing areas of your home are NOT the spots to host shady trees and shrubs, or wide, low awnings or covered pergolas. If this is the case, it’s time to strip out that shady garden and remove anything that stops sunlight from coming in.

5      Floor drains are essential in wet areas

If you don’t have at least one floor drain in your laundry, your bathrooms and even your toilet areas, it’s time to call in the plumber and tiler. Your wet areas are always at risk of flooding and you need to be able to drain water away, fast. If your bathroom or laundry floor is almost always wet, all your doing is feeding those hungry mildew or mould spores.

6      Dehumidifiers and moisture absorbers can be effective

If the costs associated with the suggestions above are just too inhibitive, once you remove all the mildew or mould from your home, consider investing in a dehumidifier to help reduce the moisture in your home. You’ll also find moisture absorbing buckets in grocery and hardware stores. These can be great for keeping the damp at bay in wardrobes and rooms where ventilation isn’t great. You do need to replace them every few months, but they are effective if you have the right quantity for the space you’re hoping to cover.

Useful resources

Choice > Home and living > Laundry and cleaning > Surface cleaners > Getting rid of mould

Better Health > Environmental Health > Mould removal at home

Archicentre Australia > Treatment of dampness


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