Mould: A growing problem

Waging war on household mould

You can smell it on the towels the kids leave on the bathroom floor or see it on the cheese in your fridge. But sometimes, before you know it, mould begins to thrive inside your home, and that can lead to a host of health problems for your family. With more than 270 species of household mould alive and well in Canadian homes today, what can you do to keep it at bay?

Spotting the enemy

Mould needs moisture to grow. So when the humidity level indoors rises — from plumbing leaks, water seeping in through cracks, or even from bathing, cooking or washing clothes — mould can start wreaking havoc. Not only does it ruin fabrics and rot wood, it also releases spores that can cause illness and allergic reactions and aggravate asthma. So how can you tell if mould is taking hold?

• You spot a coloured stain — black, white, red, orange, yellow, blue or violet — on carpets or fabrics. (Is it mould? Test a spot by dabbing with a drop of bleach; mould should disappear.)
• You breathe in that musty, rotten smell — usually in a space with little air circulation, such as the basement, kitchen, bathroom or laundry room.
• You notice paint peeling or persistent water stains on ceilings or floors.
• You see cracked wood or siding outside your home or drainage pipes that are backed up.
• Your windows constantly fog up.
• You’ve never had allergies, but feel asthma-like symptoms.

Fighting the battle

Once you’ve discovered mouldy patches, it’s time to wage war. If the problem is too big to tackle alone — there’s been a flood or you suspect mould in the ventilation system, for instance — you can always call a professional mould company that will provide inspection, testing and removal. But for smaller jobs, just arm yourself with safety goggles, a dust mask and rubber gloves, and get to work.

For mould on non-porous surfaces, such as glass, plastic or metal, wipe the area clean with a mild detergent. Once it’s dry, use a stainless steel sponge to scrub it with a mix of bleach and water. Wait 20 minutes and repeat, then rinse with water. Be sure to toss those cloths and any gathered mould, and continue to treat the area with borate-based detergent to prevent regrowth.

If, however, the mould is growing on a rough surface, such as carpet or drywall, simple cleaning won’t help. You actually have to strip and remove the contamination from the house, which likely means calling on a cleaning professional to help. You won’t want to replace carpet or paint walls until you know for sure that the mould won’t come back.

To keep your home mould-free for good, try these tips:

• Use exhaust fans when you’re cooking and showering.
• Clean air and furnace filters on a regular basis.
• Dehumidify your basement during the warmer months.
• Keep drains free of debris.
• Cut down on your potted plants — soil is fertile ground for mould.
• Heat all areas of the house.
• Make sure eavestroughs and downspouts are working.
• Fix leaks and spills immediately.
• Remove wet carpets, dry your walls and furniture, and trash anything that’s still damp.

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