Mold and mildew have a bad habit of overstaying their welcome
The relationship between houses and humidity has always been spotty. Mold can find its way into our homes no matter what we do—and latch on if it's wet and humid enough. But even though it's commonplace, take action the moment you see signs of mold in your home. Let's walk through how to get rid of mold safely—from wearing the proper protective gear to choosing a product that will get the job done right.
Why Do I Have Mold in My Home?
Even sneakier than an insect infestation, mold spores can slip into our homes through open windows, doors, clothing, or shoes. Keeping mold out of the air in our homes is nearly impossible. The trick is learning how to kill mold before it can latch onto a surface and grow out of control.
However, as we know too well, mold growth may remain hidden out of sight long before we smell it, see it, or note its damage. The largest contribution to mold growth in a home is too much moisture, either from a leak or high humidity.
Here are some of the most common places that mold grows:
Basements or crawl spaces
Bathroom caulk and plumbing
Sinks and appliances
Shingles or roof rafters
Ceiling or wall leak
Garage and sheds
HVAC systems and ventilation ducts
Things to Consider Before DIY Mold Removal
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends only handling mold removal yourself when it covers less than 10 square feet of space in your home. If you recently experienced flooding or a major leak, it's important to hire a professional mold remediation specialist for assistance.
In addition to mold removal, you must also remove the source of excess moisture to halt the mold's ongoing growth. This step may involve identifying a hidden water leak or lowering the humidity in your house.
Wear Protective Equipment
The EPA has the scoop on how to keep yourself safe during the removal of mold and mildew. The agency recommends wearing a N95 mask, gloves, and goggles to avoid inhaling or coming in contact with disrupted mold spores. Mold exposure can cause negative health responses in some people, including respiratory issues, a runny nose, itchy eyes, or a rash, so protect yourself accordingly.
Be Wary About Bleach
Yes, it's easy to reach for the bottle of chlorine bleach when learning how to kill mold. However, it is not necessary for most small residential cleanups. And not only can bleach be hazardous when used incorrectly—such as when mixed with other cleaners—but it can also leave dead spores behind, which still lead to allergic reactions.
How to Get Rid of Mold
Now that you've donned your protective gear, welcome in as much air as possible to your home before attacking the mold. If possible, keep all pets and children away from the area you plan to clean, as even non-bleach cleaning solutions are potent.
Borax and Water
Borax is a common household cleaner with a pH between 9 and 10. Its alkalinity makes it a great cleaning product for mold and mildew removal without the risks of bleach. For more cleaning power, you can create several solutions with borax and water, such as by adding baking soda, dish soap, and vinegar for more cleaning power. Borax solutions are excellent for removing mold on walls, tiles, or around plumbing.
Here's what to do:
Combine one cup of borax with one gallon of warm water.
Add several tablespoons of soap, vinegar, or baking soda when targeting more difficult areas.
Use a soft cloth to remove as much of the visible mold as possible.
Let the area dry and air out with the borax solution.
Vinegar and Water
Diluted and undiluted vinegar are excellent options for mold removal. Vinegar has a pH of between 2 and 3, making it a strong yet gentle cleaner for some fabrics, rugs, and walls. Always check the fabric tag of rugs and upholstery before using any water-based cleaning solutions, even homemade ones.
Use undiluted vinegar on harder areas like counters, tiles, appliances, and basement walls. Combine one part vinegar and three parts water for fabrics, leathers, and drywall. You can even use it when cleaning your coffee maker, which tends to harbor mold.
Dish Soap and Water
Removing mold and mildew when cleaning hardwood floors or other wood panels can be tricky. Too much moisture or harsh products can lead to more water damage or strip the stain. Clear dish soap combined with water is often safe to use on wood but can also remove minor mold issues. However, if the mold has permeated the wood beyond the surface, you may need to replace the board.
Combine one part dish soap and three parts warm water.
Dampen a soft cloth without soaking it.
Lightly scrub the areas to try and remove the visible mold.
Let the area dry and repeat until it is clear.
Monitor the area for several weeks to ensure the mold is done.
Hydrogen peroxide is a mold removal alternative to extreme biocides like bleach and ammonia, and it’s safer for DIY cleaning, especially because you won't need to worry about lingering fumes. Keep in mind that store-bought hydrogen peroxide typically comes in a three to six percent solution concentrate that’s safe enough for residential use.
Spray the hydrogen-peroxide solution on moldy areas that need a gentler touch, such as the pages of a book, some clothing (depending on the fabric tags), and moldy appliances. Warning: Like bleach and ammonia, never combine hydrogen peroxide and bleach.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil can be a natural solution for some mold problems. The oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties and is safe on walls, tiles, and other hard surfaces. Keep in mind that tea tree oil—and many concentrated essential oils—can cause irritation on the skin, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. You should never consume tea tree oil or allow pets or children access to the bottle.
To treat mold in your home:
Add several drops of tea tree oil to a spray bottle filled with warm water.
Spray on the molder surface such as walls, counters, caulking, or tiles.
Let the solution sit for 30 minutes.
Gently rub the area with a cloth covered in warm water.
Let the area thoroughly dry and repeat if necessary.
Rubbing alcohol and strong liquors like unflavored vodka can also remove some mold on delicate items like fabrics, book pages, and soft packaging. Since it is a drying agent, it can also inhibit mold growth if you're concerned about a recently exposed item.
Opt for a high concentration of rubbing alcohol to kill mold, preferably around 70 or 80 percent. Spray the solution on the affected item and lightly brush away the spores with a damp cloth.
Bleach and Water
Bleach still makes the list of how to get rid of mold, even with all its caveats. As noted by the EPA, bleach is not a common cleaner for small around-the-house mold issues without professional assistance.
Remember that bleach will kill the mold, but it won’t always remove the dead spores. Here's how to kill mold with diluted bleach.
While wearing protective equipment, combine half of a cup of bleach with a gallon of water.
Carefully pour into a spray bottle.
Spray the affected area.
Let it sit for 30 minutes before wiping with a clean towel.
Let the ventilated room and fans fully dry the area.
Tips to Prevent Mold From Growing in Your Home
They key to controlling mold in your home monitoring water and humidity levels. Think of mold like a pest problem—the sooner you remove the mold, the less chance of an infestation. Here are some things to prevent mold growth at home.
Know the signs: Mold is not always obvious. Musty smells, wall discoloration, or loose boards can be a sign of a hidden mold problem. Hire a specialist for a mold inspection as soon as you spot signs of mold.
Associate leaks with mold: Whether water seeped in during a storm or you recently burst a pipe in the wall, check the area for mold several days and weeks after the water damage occurred for mold growth.
Keep humidity in check: The ideal humidity of a home is under 60 percent in the summer and up to 40 percent in the winter. Consider using a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels in check, especially in your basement and attic.
Keep up with leaks: Hire a professional plumber every few years for a full plumbing inspection. The plumber can prevent leaks, breakages, and overflows from happening before they threaten your home with mold.
Toss moldy items: If you're on the fence about whether to save a moldy item, you’re likely better off tossing it. Moldy fabrics, cushions, furniture, and rugs may be too tricky to clean, and therefore risk the surrounding surfaces.
Maintain a cleaning Schedule:. If you live in a high-humidity area with poor ventilation, clean your tiles, counters, and appliances on a regular schedule to prevent mold spread and buildup.
DIY Mold Removal vs. Hiring a Pro
As mentioned above, the EPA recommends that any area larger than 10 square feet of mold is best left to professional removal. Mold remediation costs can range between $1,100 and $3,300 on average, or about $10 to $25 per square foot. Mold remediation specialists can test your home for mold, advise on what to replace, and perform ongoing checkups to ensure a mold-free home.
Frequently Asked Questions
A solution of bleach and water is the quickest method for killing mold, but not always the best for DIY use. For safe mold and mildew removal, consider using cleaning products like borax, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide—though never combined with bleach—for a quick and safer clean.
The symptoms of mold exposure for sensitive parties include a skin rash, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, burning eyes, and even more severe allergic reactions. If you notice signs of mold exposure, contact a medical professional right away.
Dehumidifiers do not directly remove mold or spores from the air. However, by lowering the room’s humidity, spores are less likely to flourish when landing on surfaces.