How to Clean Mold (And How to Prevent It from Growing)

Learn how to get rid of mold, identify if it's in your home, and when to call the pros.

We may not want to think about it, but knowing how to clean mold in your home is necessary. Wherever there's an excess of moisture, unsightly, unhealthy mold is likely to follow. A small leak in your kitchen turns into a black spot on the ceiling. An unventilated bathroom grows mold in the shower. 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.

To show us how to get rid of 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 know when it's time to call in the pros for a bigger job.

How Often to Clean Mold

Mold should be cleaned whenever spotted. If left untreated, mold can grow and spread, causing a greater concern and possibly affecting your household's health. Mold prevention is best, of course, but even with the best efforts, it can occur, so it's important to clean and get rid of the mold as soon as possible.

Considerations Before You Get Started

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 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 any drywall, removing the drywall 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 professionals.

What about cleaning mold from the 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.

What You Need

  • Rubber gloves
  • Googles, unventilated
  • N-95 face mask
  • Liquid dish detergent
  • Bucket
  • Scrub brush
  • Soft sponge or cloth
  • Fans (optional)

How to Clean Mold

Step 1: Protect Yourself

Before starting, protect yourself by wearing rubber gloves, unventilated goggles, and a properly fitted face mask.

Step 2: Mix Solution

Mix a solution of dish detergent and water in a bucket.

Step 3: Scrub or Wipe Mold

If 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.

Step 4: Remove Absorbent Materials

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.

Step 5: Dry the Area

Once all 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, open windows, or set up fans to speed up the drying process.

Pro Tip

Avoid painting or caulking any 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 wants to spend a weekend scrubbing mold off the bathroom ceiling, your best bet is to prevent mold growth. 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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