How to Clean Up Minor Mold Issues in 1 Hour—And Mistakes to Avoid

Here’s what to do when there’s a fungus among us

Candace Nelson
Written by Candace Nelson
Reviewed by Asya Biddle
Updated May 20, 2022
Clean interior of modern apartment bathroom
Photo: Westend61 / Getty Image
Difficulty

Intermediate

Perfect for handy homeowners.

Time to complete

1 hour

Cost

$10–$50

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • N95 mask $2
  • Gloves $3
  • Goggles $10
  • Bucket or tub
  • Wire brush or rag
  • Clean rag
  • Fan or dehumidifier

SUPPLIES

  • Borax

If you’ve discovered mold in your home, your first instinct might be to dump a bottle of bleach on the problem and vow never to return to the room. We don’t blame you. Untreated, a mold infestation can lead to property damage and mold-related health issues, including asthma, upper respiratory problems such as coughing and wheezing, or allergic reactions (think itchy eyes or skin).

If you don’t know how to clean up mold, removing it on your own could actually make the problem worse, so it pays to take the time and make sure you get it right to prevent future mold growth.

What Is Mold?

Mold is a multicolored fungus that grows on damp surfaces, which is why it’s commonly found in kitchens, bathrooms, between walls, and basements. This quick-growing fungus can easily spread from a small, penny-sized spot to cover a large area. Not sure what to look for? Mold can be white, green, purple, black, or orange, and may look fuzzy.  

Mold spores can blow in through open windows or come in on clothing. And once it’s in your home, mold spreads easily. The spores can thrive in common materials such as cellulose, ceiling tiles, wood, drywall, insulation materials, carpet, and fabric. Mold spores especially love moisture from a leaky pipe or humidity build-up.

5 Steps of DIY Mold Cleanup

A woman cleaning bathroom tiles
Photo: DNY59 / E+ / Getty Images

Mold removal from large areas should be handled by professionals. But, if the affected area is under 10 square feet, you can tackle it yourself.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Get Your Protective Gear On

    Protect yourself with an N95 mask, gloves, and goggles.

  2. Mix Your Mold-Fighting Solution

    Walls: Mix 1 cup of borax, a white powder cleaner you can find in the laundry aisle at most grocery stores, with 1 gallon of hot water in a bucket or your tub.

    Wood: Combine soap and water to fight off mold on wood surfaces. If you need a stronger solution, use vinegar instead.

    Tile and Other Hard Surfaces: Mix together warm water and detergent to rid tile and other hard surfaces of mold. 

  3. Scrub the Mold From the Affected Area

    Using a rag or wire brush, apply the borax solution to the affected space, avoiding porous materials such as drywall. Scrub the area until the mold is gone.

    If the mold issue is in porous surfaces, such as wood or drywall, use a soft rag. If that method isn’t working, you may have to remove and replace.

  4. Dry the Area

    Wipe off the area with a clean rag and make sure it dries completely. To speed this process along, you can run a fan or dehumidifier for 24 to 48 hours.

    Borax prevents new mold from growing, so you don’t have to rinse it off the area once it’s dry.

  5. Contain Those Spores

    Mold spores are small and can spread easily from one area of your home to another. When cleaning mold, you want to prevent it from getting all over the place. But once you start scrubbing, spores can start flying.

    Mold removal pro will set up containment and negative airflow environments, then dispose of materials correctly. If you’re removing the mold yourself, make sure you dispose of any rags used and immediately wash your clothes in hot water to prevent moving spores around your house.

Additional Questions About Cleaning Mold

The goal of mold cleanup: Make sure it’s gone, and it doesn’t come back. Here are some answers to common questions to keep in mind.

Should I use bleach to clean mold? 

It’s a widely believed myth that bleach kills mold. But when the area is treated with bleach, mold comes back. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, bleach is not recommended for routine mold cleanup. Bleach changes the color of the mold to be clear or white (just like it does with your white jeans after a barbecue). So while you think the space is now squeaky clean, mold is still lurking. The bleach also doesn’t change the conditions the mold grew in, so it’ll continue to grow.

What kills mold instantly?

As mentioned above, mold-killing solutions vary by the type of material you’re cleaning. However, hydrogen peroxide is a reliable product for killing mold and lightening mold stains. Plus, it doesn’t have harmful fumes or residue like chlorine bleach.   

How long after mold removal should I wait to paint?

Mold-killing paint might seem like an easy one-step solution to getting rid of a mold problem (and making your space look fab!). Unfortunately, mold can continue to grow beneath the paint and, sooner or later, it'll make itself known again. 

The first job is to get rid of the mold entirely using the borax cleaning process outlined above. Once the area is clean, dry, and mold-free, you can finish it with a pretty coat of new paint. Make sure the wall is bone dry to ensure the paint doesn’t peel. 

DIY Mold Removal vs. Hiring a Pro

If mold has invaded your bathroom or another large area, it’s worth hiring a local mold removal pro who has the skills, tools, and know-how necessary. Mold removal includes containing the infected areas to prevent the spores from spreading, and a pro will also have a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum to thoroughly clean the space. You can also hire a local professional for mold inspection to find more mold spots you weren’t aware of, but make sure to hire separate mold testing and mold remediation companies to prevent conflict-of-interest issues.

Typically, you should expect to pay about $10 to $25 per square foot for professional mold mitigation. The average cost of professional mold remediation is $2,200, with a typical range between $1,120 and $3,330.

Mold Prevention Tips

Cleaning up mold is just step one, but it'll come back if you don’t address the root cause of the problem. That might mean:

  • Improving a room’s ventilation

  • Cleaning gutters and downspouts and making sure they drain away from the home’s foundation

  • Fixing any plumbing leaks

  • Installing (and using!) exhaust fans

  • Running a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels between 30%–50%, especially in a basement that’s known to take on moisture

  • Fixing any leaky roofs, windows, or pipes

  • Cleaning and drying thoroughly after flooding

  • Removing carpet from bathrooms, basements, or other areas that have moisture

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