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Mold Control for Water-Damaged Houses: Mistakes I Made That You Can Avoid

Maren is a one-person fixer of "TLC Needed" houses. She explains methods simply to homeowners who are not in the construction trades.

Face Mask Respirator

The 3M N95 NIOSH respirator mask is very comfortable.

The 3M N95 NIOSH respirator mask is very comfortable.

Fixing a Moldy, Flooded House

My heart goes out to families who have had their home, their “castle,” flooded.

Hurricanes, severe weather events, and sea rise put water into our living spaces.

The global climate crisis is only making it worse for many more peoiple.

For families suffering through this, the mildew and fungus left by water inundation is an attack of one’s safe shelter. Long after the water subsides, the mold festers.

I've been there in the "mold trenches" and this is what I learned.

I lived in a heavily water-damaged home. With my non-existent budget, here is what I did, learned, and recommend.

Use Face Mask RIGHT AWAY

Recommend Strongly

Immediately go to a home improvement store or hardware store to buy one of these 2 types of face masks – N95 or P100.

A pack of two N95 masks at my local Home Depot cost about $20. Use right away and all the time.

My Stupid Mistake

I did not use one of these in the beginning of my DIY mold remediation.

I was afraid of the cost, which was unknown to me.

Also, I think I was practicing a bit of denial – distorted thinking along the lines of “my mold problem isn’t that bad, I don’t need a fancy mask.” Even the term “respirator” for these masks was a bit scary to me. I did not want to think that my home, my sanctuary, was in such bad shape that a person needed a respirator.

Because I was lucky enough (?) to be doing the beginning work in the summer, I had windows open and the areas I was cleaning had good ventilation. However, I was just scratching the surface of the mold encrustation.

When the weather turned colder, my windows and doors were closed, and I was starting serious demolition (it is not fun to do demo while also living in the house), more serious molds were being unleashed and released into the air. I got very scared when I started having a congested cough.

Then, I bought masks and I could have kicked myself when I found out how inexpensive they are. Plus, the N95 is super comfortable to wear. It is more comfortable than the cheap dust masks I have used for dusty sawing projects. More kicking was in order.

P.S. I did not get ill. The cough was a warning from my guardian angels.

Lesson Learned

For about $20 or so, do not risk your health. Use the mask and buy enough for your helpers.


Bleach Does Not Kill Mold Fungi

Household bleach is good for many uses, but NOT for mold removal.

Household bleach is good for many uses, but NOT for mold removal.

Don't Rely On Bleach - It Does Not Cut It for Mold

Recommend

Use a soap and bleach solution to attack dirt, bacteria, and viruses, but do not count on it for mold elimination.

My Stupid Mistake

I swabbed the decks and everything else I could reach with a soapy water and very strong bleach solution. The bleach amount was so strong that I could barely breathe. (I probably compromised my health doing that, but I practiced denial at the moment.)

I do not regret doing general cleaning, but I really regret that I didn't use high-pH solutions (discussed below) from the start to kill the mold.

I was ignorant about mold physiology.

With my bleach solution, visible mold that had been on some window frames and painted walls reappeared after a month.

Lesson Learned

If you have the time, the energy, and desire, do a bleach cleaning for bacteria and other dirt, but it does not replace Borax and whitewash for mold killing.

Use HEPA Vacuum Cleaner

Recommend Strongly

Use a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner to suck out mold-laden dust and debris. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Arrestor and it does what its name says. It catches tiny microbes that conventional vacuums blow back out into a room.

My Stupid Mistake

I used my Rainbow vacuum to suck up mold-filled dirt. I didn't know I was just rearranging the mold spores and mildew cells around my house.

[Background:

My realtor had been pressing for me to hire a microbial consultant who takes swabs of your house surfaces and air samples, then educates you on how to as-greenly-as-possible combat the bad guys. I knew I could not hire a $10,000 mold SWAT company and I resisted the idea of a consultant. I think this was my denial operating again.

I regret that I did not hire her earlier, because she somehow convinced, frightened, and reassured me about the states of the “moldies” in my house. She also taught me why a HEPA vacuum and the high pH solutions work.]

I had been a long-time owner of a Rainbow brand ™ vacuum. Its theory of operation is that the water in its tank traps more particles of dirt than conventional vacuum cleaners with bags. Have you ever smelled foul scents while using a conventional vacuum? That is the dirty stuff blowing back out of the exhaust.

My consultant used an instrument to show me how many micro-particles are floating around in a cubic foot of air at various points in and outside my home. Then, she measured the number of particles at the back end of my Rainbow as it worked. The number was disgustingly high; higher than in the rooms. So, this means that not enough tiny particles really do land in the water and stay there.

It is no favor to your family or guests or yourself to suck mold from cracks and floorboards just to jettison it into the air we breathe.

Lesson Learned

Get a HEPA vacuum.

I ordered a HEPA vacuum online immediately for about $400. This was pushed into my budget and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than doctor bills or a $10,000 mold team.

Borax - My Best Friend

Good 'ole 20 Mule Team Borax is full of mold-killing lime borate good stuff!

Good 'ole 20 Mule Team Borax is full of mold-killing lime borate good stuff!

See the white streaks in the left of the photo.  Not a bad residue for the Borax rinse.

See the white streaks in the left of the photo. Not a bad residue for the Borax rinse.

Apply Borax Rinse

Recommend Strongly

After vacuuming, wipe down areas with a solution of 1 part Borax and 4 parts water. (My mold consultant recommends one cup of Borax to one gallon of water.) Insure that these dry quickly after wiping.

My Stupid Mistake

I counted on bleach alone and you read above how well that worked.

I mixed up and used small quantities of the Borax solution. The gallon mix is too large of a quantity for me to use, because I tried to go to my job, kinda run a household, and clean the place. Small spurts are what worked for me.

My home is on the dry side, so the Borax solution dried quickly without requiring me to wipe it with a dry cloth. For my strength mixture, it leaves a white crust which I actually like to see. When I see it, I know it's there working for me.

Also - I found that using boiling water and making the mixture in a glass measuring cup helped in dissolving the solution. I feel as though the good guys are there killing mold. Why Borax? Because it is a borate; borates are mold resistant and fight fungi. Mold is a fungus.

Lesson Learned

As soon as possible, Borax wipe everything – especially wood surfaces which are buffet tables of food to molds.

Borax Powder

Next: Whitewash

Recommend Strongly

Seal the roots of the mold and protect surfaces from future mold growth.

My Stupid Mistake

I had counted on bleach and keeping the area dry to solve my house mold problems.

When the mold consultant took surface and air samples, she showed me that my abode had very high (a/k/a dangerous) levels of yucky stuff.

It was funny-sad-scary that she was slightly delighted (from a scientific point of view) at how many hideous, copiously-covered slides of goop she was seeing in her microscope.

Perhaps you have observed that during the predictions of strong hurricanes, some meteorologists try hard to hide their glee at this once-in-a –lifetime “perfect storm” which is organizing itself. Although they realize that property and lives will probably be hurt by the upcoming extreme weather, their "scientific selves" are excited to witness the storm.

I think my mold consultant was experiencing the same conflicts. She kept saying “Come LOOK at this slide!” to me while I kept thinking “This is my HOME; please go away!”

Her recommendation was to follow the Borax wash with two coats of encapsulating paint: either old-fashioned whitewash (powdered lime, salt, and water) or a product called Caliwel (an EPA registered biocide and biostat.) Caliwel is expensive - about $70 per gallon.

I used the homemade whitewash. I found it good for making a plaster to fill in cracks between the wood boards of my floors, but not so good as a paint. Whenever water drips on it, it dissolved. So, I painted regular housepaint over it.

Lesson Learned

To seal the mold roots from pushing out new growth, painting the mixture of powdered lime, salt, and water fit my budget and they are not toxic to me.


Lime Whitewash Paint

Stack of bargain table salt.

Stack of bargain table salt.

How one coat of homemade whitewash looks using garden brown lime product, salt and water.

How one coat of homemade whitewash looks using garden brown lime product, salt and water.

Run a Dehumidifier Every Day

Recommend Strongly

Get a dehumifier and operate it every day - during clean-up and then every day for the rest of your life!

My Stupid Mistake

Before I had my face-to-face experience with a flooded house, I thought that a musty smell in a basement was either normal or tolerable. Wrong!

Lesson Learned

A mildewy musty smell in a basement or a bathroom should NOT be tolerated. It is a signal that organisms which can degrade your health are present. For a hundred bucks or so and the cost of electricity to run the dehumidifier, make your house unwelcoming to mold.

Due to my personal experience, I run it every single day. The love of my life shakes his head over my running it during the cold Pennsylvania winters, but too bad for him. On this matter, we agree to disagree and that machine is protecting my castle.

Aggressively Take Care of Yourself

Strongly Recommend

Take extra vitamins and do anything that works for you to boost your immune system.

My Stupid Mistake

Not realizing how much risk I was taking and not starting super-vitamins soon enough.

Lesson Learned

I am okay, however, if I could do it all over again, I would start a super-health- supporting regimen immediately.

Recap of Mold-Fighting Recommendations


  1. Buy for approximately $20 a good face mask/respirator. Use it.
  2. Do not expect bleach to do complete mold elimination.
  3. Borrow, rent, or buy a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner.
  4. Wipe everythingwith Borax ™.
  5. Seal mold roots forever with a lime-based paint.
  6. Run a dehumidifier.
  7. Aggressively support your own health.


For You, I Wish the Best

I hope all turns out as well as it can for all of us.


Knowledge about molds is power against them.

Knowledge about molds is power against them.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on February 05, 2013:

My understanding is that the concentration of bleach needed would definitely take your breath away! I also used bleach in the beginning of my clean-up. But, the mold scientist, who is grenn-conscious, recommends the borax and whitewash approach.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on February 05, 2013:

Very informative! I had always thought that bleach would do the trick. At least Borax does not take your breath away. I need to go after some mold in the basement caused by a water leak. Thanks for the tips!

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on December 02, 2012:

Housexpert - yes, VERY personal experience. Welcome to Hubpages!

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on December 02, 2012:

Dirt Farmer - thanks. I also hope you do not need it - ever!

David H Longford from Blind River Ontario Canada on December 01, 2012:

Good, solid info. Obviously comes from a personal experience. Messy, resilient stuff mold,/or is it mould? DHL

Jill Spencer from United States on November 30, 2012:

This is a really helpful hub with lots of practical information. Hope I never need to take your advice!