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Mold Removal - Tips from The Mold Survival Guide

Breathing in mold spores can cause allergy or asthma symptoms like sneezing, coughing, chest tightness, swelling, rashes, and itchy, watery eyes. Some highly sensitized individuals may even experience neurological symptoms such as headaches and “brain fog.” If you or anyone in your family experiences symptoms like these in your home - and especially if you’ve had a flood - there may be a mold problem present.


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Sometimes you can see black mold growth on drywall where the flood occurred. Other times, the growth may be more subtle and you’ll need to hold a bright flashlight parallel to a surface to see the colonies, which can look like white, yellow or blue-green round or oval patches. And unfortunately, if the flooding was substantial enough, there may be mold growth concealed inside walls or ceilings.


Whether or not you can see the mold, if you smell a musty odor there’s mold somewhere, and it should be cleaned up. On the other hand, if you don’t smell mold, don’t assume that you’re home free. Mold doesn’t always smell.

Of course, one of the first things you want to do if you have a flood, whether caused by a broken pipe or severe weather, is to stop the water and dry up the area. In dealing with a flood, home occupants usually turn to shop vacuums and fans for help. Unfortunately, this equipment can disturb spores from mold that may have grown before the flood occurred, and you may end up breathing in high concentrations of spores. One of my clients, after a small flood in her moldy basement, spent six hours cleaning her basement with a shop-vacuum. She wasn’t wearing a mask. Soon afterwards, she was hospitalized with severe breathing problems. So look carefully around the area to see if there is visible mold before you turn on that vacuum or fan. And wear a NIOSH N95 mask or half-face respirator when investigating or cleaning mold growth.

There are other precautions to take when dealing with flooding. If the flood was in your basement, keep the door between your basement and the house closed when cleaning. If there is no door to close, hang a plastic sheet over the opening and tape the edges to make an air seal. If you need fresh air for drying, open the bulkhead door or the door leading to the garage, but not the door to the rest of the house.

Look inside any furnace, air conditioner or heat pump that rests on the basement floor, to make sure there is no water inside. If a throw-away filter or any interior fibrous insulation got wet, it must be replaced. If you have a carpet in the basement and it remained damp for more than 24 to 48 hours, the carpet as well as the pad should be removed. I recommend to my clients that they have a vinyl or tile floor installed in their basements rather than wall-to-wall carpeting, because then if there’s flooding, mopping up will be a snap.

If a flood was caused by a burst pipe inside a ceiling or wall cavity, the cavity must be opened up and wet insulation removed so the wood can dry out. Of course, the pipe must be repaired or replaced. If you have mold sensitivities, hire someone else to do the work. Lastly, don’t wait too long to deal with the flood, because with moisture, mold can grow within 24 to 48 hours. Moving quickly is crucial.

It’s best, of course, to avoid the flood in the first place, if you can. Don’t ignore stains on ceilings and walls. Call the plumber. Check rubber hoses periodically for leaks. Make sure you know where your water-main shut off is and label it, so if necessary, you can shut off the water flowing into your house. Have a battery-operated floor-water alarm in the basement, next to your hot-water heater, boiler or washing machine. If you have a central alarm system, install a floor-water alarm on a dial-up.

For Web site references and more specific directions on dealing with floods, refer to my book The Mold Survival Guide: For Your Home and For Your Health.


Reprinted by permission of Basil & Spice.



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Mold Removal - Tips from The Mold Survival Guide:  Created on January 3rd, 2009.  Last Modified on May 12th, 2013


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About Jeffrey C. May

Jeffrey C. May is a building consultant, Certified Indoor Air Quality Professional (CIAQP), and author of My House is Killing Me! The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma(2001) and My Office is Killing Me! The Sick Building Survival Guide (2006), as well as co-author of The Mold Survival Guide: For Your Home and for Your Health (2004), and Healthy Home Tips: A Workbook for Detecting, Diagnosing, and Eliminating Pesky Pests, Stinky Stenches, Musty Mold, and Other Aggravating Home Problems (2008), all published by Johns Hopkins University Press. A former educator and organic chemist (M.A. Harvard University), Jeff is principal scientist of May Indoor Air Investigations LLC in Cambridge, Massachusetts.



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