Dr. Wood: 5 tips for getting rid of mold for good

In our rainy climate, mold growth is common, because mold grows where moisture is present.

You are likely to see mold in your shower, around a window or under the sink.

But mold exposure and damp living conditions are linked to upper respiratory illness. Infants, small children, the elderly and people with asthma, allergies, lung disease and compromised immune systems are more susceptible to the effects of mold exposure.

To address mold, you must address the conditions that allow mold to grow. If you clean mold but don’t eliminate the moisture, it will grow back.

Here are the steps to preventing and addressing mold:

▪ Reduce moisture.

Moisture can be present in the form of a leak, standing water, humidity, steam or condensation. Reduce moisture by using bathroom fans while bathing and for 30-45 minutes afterward, and using kitchen fans while cooking. If your bathroom or kitchen doesn’t have a fan, open a window to let the moisture escape.

Using a squeegee to wipe water down the drain in the shower can reduce moisture too.

Fix leaks right away and dry out the area within 24-48 hours.

If you have standing water in your home, like fish tanks and drip trays under house plants, be mindful that they add to the moisture content in the air of your home. A humidity reader, available at local home improvement stores, can help you monitor the humidity in your home. You can then adjust your behaviors to keep relative humidity between 40 percent and 50 percent.

▪ Increase ventilation.

Fans are installed in homes to allow moisture and indoor air contaminants to escape. Use fans and briefly open windows each day, even in winter, so the air movement can help reduce mold growth.

To allow air to flow throughout your home, leave about 1 inch of space between furniture and walls. Also keep the doors between rooms open as much as possible.

Don’t cover windows with plastic unless it is in a removable frame or covered for safety purposes. Windows should be in good condition and able to open.

▪ Control the temperature.

In winter, keep indoor temperatures between 61 degrees and 68 degrees. Insulation should help keep the home warm and prevent condensation on walls.

However, insulation can slip down and result in mold growth near the top of the wall. The same can happen on the ceiling when attic insulation is missing.

Insulate pipes to prevent condensation on them.

▪ Control dust.

This may sound like someone is just trying to make you dust more often, but it’s true that mold grows easily on dusty surfaces. If you notice mold growing on the outside of your toilet tank, it is likely growing there because of condensation and toilet paper dust. Frequent dusting, especially in damp areas like the bathroom and around windows, can discourage mold growth.

▪ Clean up mold properly.

Clean up mold by creating a paste with water and a powder detergent (dish or laundry). Then scrub the mold off of the surface and wipe clean.

Bleach is no longer considered appropriate to clean up mold because it bleaches the mold so you can’t see it. Even if it “kills” the mold, dead mold can still cause health issues. The mold needs to be removed to be cleaned properly. Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning.

If the area is not dried out within 24-48 hours, the damaged materials may need to be replaced.

Need more help?

The Thurston County Healthy Homes Program offers free, confidential Healthy Homes Visits to residents and child-care facilities in Thurston County. The visit includes a questionnaire to identify areas of concern and a walk through to take a look at possible housing-related health risks. Healthy Homes visits address preventing mold, exposure to toxics, asthma triggers and more. For more information or to schedule a visit, call 360-867-2674 or email HealthyHomes@co.thurston.wa.us.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501 or woodr@co.thurston.wa.us.