How to Clean Mold (And When to Call in the Pros)

Plus, how to prevent mold (yuck!) in the first place.

A small leak in your kitchen turns into a black spot on the ceiling. An unventilated bathroom grows mold in the shower. Wherever there's an excess of moisture in your home, unsightly (and unhealthy) mold is likely to follow. To learn how to clean mold from walls and furniture and even HVAC systems, we reached out to the experts at SERVPRO and the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) for their best advice. They walked us through how to clean a small amount of mold on your own, plus how to tell when it's time to call in the pros. More than just an aesthetic issue, untreated mold can cause breathing problems, trigger allergies, and even damage walls and furniture, so this is one home maintenance task you'll want to tackle ASAP.

How to Tell If You Have Mold in Your House

"Visible growth may seem like an obvious sign you have mold, but don’t forget to use your sense of smell," the team at NADCA says. Sometimes a small amount of mold is assumed to be dirt, or mold may be lurking out-of-sight in your HVAC system—this is where your sense of smell comes in. "Is there a strange, earthy smell in your home that won’t go away, no matter how much air freshener you spray? Mold may be at the root of the issue." That earthy scent is caused by microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs), or the gases produced by mold. If you suspect that mold may be hiding in your home's air ducts, call in the pros to inspect your HVAC system and run tests for mold.

When to Clean Mold Yourself

"The general dividing line between homeowner cleanup versus professional remediation is whether the mold is covering under or above 10 square feet," says David Ragsdale, a production operations specialist at SERVPRO. Also consider the location of the mold and how involved its removal might be. If there's mold on drywall, removing it could reveal even more mold behind the finished surface, resulting in a more complex process. Plus, those with mold allergies should probably leave the cleanup to the pros.

And what about cleaning mold from your home's air ducts? Don't even think about it, warn the specialists at NADCA. "It’s a complex process that requires advanced knowledge of HVAC systems, as well as specialized tools." Use their directory to find a trained HVAC professional instead.

How to Clean Mold

What You'll Need:

  • Gloves
  • Googles
  • N-95 face mask
  • Liquid dish detergent
  • Scrub brush
  • Soft sponge or cloth

Follow These Steps:

  1. Before you get started, protect yourself by wearing rubber gloves, unventilated googles, and a properly fitted face mask.
  2. Mix a solution of dish detergent and water in a bucket. If you're cleaning a non-porous surface like a cabinet or vanity, dip a brush into the solution and use it to scrub the mold away. For more delicate surfaces, use a sponge or soft cloth.
  3. Absorbent materials that have gotten moldy, like carpet or drywall, will typically need to be removed. Once mold gets into fibers or porous materials, it can be very difficult to get rid of the mold completely.
  4. Once all of the mold has been cleared away, make sure the area dries completely—after all, moisture is what got us into this situation in the first place. Use a cloth to dry off furniture, or open windows or set up fans to speed up the drying process.

Pro Tip: Avoid painting or caulking moldy surfaces. It may cover up the mold, but it's not guaranteed to stop its growth and could lead to peeling paint later.

How to Prevent Mold in the First Place

Since no one really wants to spend a weekend scrubbing mold off the bathroom ceiling, your best bet is prevention. Mold needs moisture to thrive, so the first step is to look for signs of leaks or water damage throughout your home. "Some signs of possible moisture issues can include bubbled paint, uneven hardwood flooring, or discoloration of finished exterior or interior surfaces," says Ragsdale. Fixing leaks as quickly as possible will help you avoid a headache later.

To prevent mold in air ducts, you'll want to regulate the moisture in the air. "Along with running a dehumidifier and increasing the airflow within your home, consider scheduling an air duct inspection and cleaning to help ensure no mold is hidden in your home’s ductwork," the pros at NADCA recommend. Add this to the list of reasons to invest in a dehumidifier.

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