Mold and Moisture
Please note: the PCHD does not test for mold
Mold is a type of fungus; its spores can be found in both the indoor and outdoor air, but they will only grow if there are within the right conditions. There are three key elements that drive mold to grow:
- Moderate temperature
- Nutrients (food)
Mold and Your Health
Health effects from mold differs between people. Common symptoms may include runny nose, coughing, wheezing, and sore throat. Persons with compromised immune systems can have worse symptoms.
Molds are a potential health hazard
Many molds are capable of producing health harming substances. Molds can produce allergens and irritants that can cause illness. Because of this, all indoor molds should be removed promptly regardless of the type of mold that is present.
Some people may have more adverse reactions to presence of mold:
- Individuals with respiratory conditions such as allergies and asthma
- Individuals with conditions that weakens their immune systems such as people with HIV, chemotherapy patients, and organ transplant recipients.
Anyone with concerns about health effects from mold should contact their medical provider.
The most practical way to find a mold problem is to simply use your eyes and nose to find signs of moisture and mold growth. If mold is detected, you should assume that a problem exists.
Look for signs of moisture and mold:
- Mold may have a cottony, velvety, granular, or leathery texture
- Mold may vary in color such as white, gray, brown, black, green or other colors
- Mold damage can look like discoloration or staining on the surface or building materials or furnishings
- Noticeable mold odors are described as musty or earthy
Look for signs of water damage or excess moisture:
- Water leaks
- Standing water
- Water stains
- Condensation problems
Look behind and underneath furnishings, stored items, and building materials. (Examples: under carpeting, vinyl flooring,wallpaper, sink cabinets, or dry wall)
Mold and water can show up in many areas:
- Condensation on windows and exterior walls
- Flooding in basements
- High humidity in bathrooms and kitchens
- Leaking pipes
- Leaking roofs and ice dams
- Pooling water at foundation
Moisture in Your Home
Mold requires water to grow. The key to preventing mold problems is controlling moisture in your home.
Repair Spills and Leaks Quickly
- Dry wet materials in 1 to 2 days to avoid mold accumulation
- Insulate and seal air leaks between attic and house to prevent ice dams
- Periodically check attics, crawl spaces, foundations, gutters, plumbing, roofing, and sump pumps
Divert Water Away From House
- Clean and maintain gutters
- Slope the ground and surfaces away from foundations
- Use a sump pump
- Install and use exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens that are ducted to the outside
- Insulate or seal cold spots, such as plumbing
- Raise the temperature and increase the air circulation to colder parts of the home
- Reduce the usage of humidifiers
- Vent appliances outside
To keep indoor surfaces as dry as possible, try to maintain the home's relative humidity between 20% to 40% in the winter and less than 60% the rest of the seasons. You can purchase devices to measure relative humidity at some home supply stores. Ventilation, air circulation near condensation areas, and dehumidifiers are efforts to minimize moisture in the home, which are important in controlling high humidity that frequently causes mold growth.
Please note: the PCHD does not test for mold
In most scenarios, PCHD does not recommend mold testing. The reasons for this are as follows:
- True mold testing is costly- If you can see or smell mold in your home, you have a mold problem. It is better to use your money fixing the mold and moisture problem than on paying for a test to confirm you have a mold problem.
- There is no health based standard for airborne mold- Everyone reacts differently to mold and there is not enough research to determine how much mold is "safe"
- All mold growing inside is a problem- PCHD recommends that any type of mold be considered a potential health hazard.
There are rare occasions where testing needs to be done. This could be to document that a mold cleanup has met expectations. It is important to use a skilled investigator to interpret and help you reach a decision.
Usually cleaning up mold can be a do-it-yourself project.
Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling or working around mold. Consider using the following PPE:
- N95 or N100 Respirator
- Outer Protective Clothing
- Rubber Gloves
- Safety Goggles
If you decide to remove the mold yourself, it is important to protect yourself and others in the building. When removing large amounts of mold, consider:
- Consider renting an air scrubber to operate in the area (available at cleaning supply companies)
- Cover air supply and return vents in the work area.
- Contain the mold in plastic containers or bags before carrying them through the home.
- Remove furnishings and items from the work area.
- Remove the outer layer or work clothing inside the work area and wash separately, or bag and discard the clothing
- Separate the work area from the rest of the home using plastic sheeting.
- Use a fan to pull contaminated air out of the area and exhaust it outside.
- Identify and Fix the Moisture Problem- This is a key step into fixing the moisture problem. If the moisture problem is not fully corrected, mold will likely return.
- Dry Wet Materials- Dry any wet areas as soon as possible. The use of wet/dry vacs, dehumidifiers and fans will help. Materials dried within 1-2 days will more than likely not grow mold.
- Remove Mold Growth- Removal depends on the type of material or surface contaminated.
- Optional Treatment with Bleach- Bleach may be used to kill mold missed by Step 3. Always handle bleach with caution. Never mix bleach with other chemicals and only use it in a well-ventilated area. Protect your eyes and skin from the bleach solution.
- Keep Looking for Mold- Keep an eye out for signs of moisture problems or mold growth. If mold returns fix the moisture problem and repeat the cleaning steps again.
- Rebuilding- Reconstruction needs to wait until the affected areas are completely dry. This may take several days, weeks, or even months.
- Porous materials such as carpet, drywall, insulation and paper should be contained and thrown away if they are producing mold.
- Non-porous materials such as hard plastic, solid wood, concrete, metal, or glass can be cleaned if they are structurally sound.
Cleaning steps include:
- Scrub surfaces with a brush, hot water and household detergent. The goal is to remove the physical mold growth.
- Collect any excess cleaning solution.
- Rinse area with clean water.
- Completely dry the item.
To apply bleach:
- Dilute ¼ to ½ cup bleach to 1 gallon of water.
- Apply to the area with a sponge or rag. Make sure to not oversaturate the item.
- Collect any access solution.
- Allow at least 30 minutes before finishing the area.
- Dry the area completely.
If the damage and mold growth are due to overland flooding or sewage back- up, use bleach.
The PCHD does not provide inspection or testing services. The PCHD provides technical advice by phone and email, and advise people to investigate potential mold problems on their own first. Homeowners can hire indoor air quality service providers to assist them in investigating and removing mold. These specialists may have tools such as moisture meters, scoping cameras and infrared cameras that may be of assistance in an investigation. There are also mold remediation professionals that specialize in cleaning and removing mold. Neither the state of Indiana nor any federal agency licenses or certifies mold investigators or remediators.
- Indiana State Department of Health Indoor Air Quality
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Mold
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Mold
Usually, the landlord is responsible for preventing and fixing moisture problems and removing mold, unless it is an issue related to the tenant's actions. Renters can fix some minor moisture problems on their own.
Tenants and landlords should work together to investigate and remediate moisture and mold issues. If the owner is not willing to help, the renter may seek outside advice. PCHD does not inspect rental properties.
If the issue cannot be addressed with a local building, housing or health inspector, a renter may want to contact an attorney or tenants' organization to discuss.