Ask any homeowner what their biggest fear is when it comes to keeping their home healthy and you'll likely get a similar answer: mold. Unfortunately, when the fungal growth arises, it can spread like wildfire—and you might not even know that it is there.
Getting ahead of unchecked mold growth, then, is critical. "Mold can impact your air quality, which can greatly jeopardize your health," says Dallas Nevill, owner of Rainbow Restoration of Southwest Mesa, a Neighborly company. "It can also damage the structural integrity of your home, which can cause long-lasting issues down the road with the value of your property and how safe it is." Industrial Exhaust Fan
Ultimately, mold loves moisture and feeds on wallpaper glue, the pigment in paints, and acoustic ceiling tiles, which are all common in buildings and homes. One of the easiest ways to protect your property (and family) from mold is to prevent it before it forms, which can be done by limiting that moisture.
Related: How to Prevent Dust Before It Forms, According to Cleaning Experts
In order to understand how to prevent mold, you have to know why it forms in the first place. "It helps to think of a three-legged stool," says Karen Peissinger, industrial hygiene generalist in the Environment Health and Safety department at University at Buffalo. One leg is nutrition, the second is moisture, and the third is a good environment. "If the stool has three legs, it will stay upright," she says. "If one of the legs is removed from the stool, it will fall over."
The same goes for mold. If you take away food or water—which create a habitable environment—mold will not grow.
One of the most important resources for mold growth is moisture. "Preventing mold growth indoors requires recognizing sources of moisture and nutrition," says Peissinger. Moisture can form in a variety of ways, including cooking and bathroom activities; combustion appliances, like water heaters, gas stoves, and gas fireplaces, also create moisture.
Mold feeds on many materials found in homes, including wood and wood products—think cardboard, gypsum wallboard paper, and engineered wood products. The fungi also consumes dusts that contain paper fibers, plant matter, and food particles. If mold forms in your home, it already has a major food source that will encourage it to spread, so prevention is crucial.
You don't typically see mold growing in your home, but it still might be there. Look for visual signs of potential build-up, including water damage or discoloration on the walls. "Strange and unknown smells might determine if something is wrong," says Nevill. "You can also use a drywall scale meter to detect moisture inside a wall."
Keep in mind that in order to use a meter, you have to create a small hole in your wall first, which may not be feasible if you're renting.
One way to prevent moisture in your home is to prioritize good air flow. Luckily, you can utilize appliances and items already inside your home to do this.
Your home likely has exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom; it's important to use them when you are bathing and cooking. "Moving moist air that naturally occurs in your home—like when showering or boiling water for cooking—out efficiently will reduce the amount of moisture in your home," says Mary Gagliardi, in-house scientist and cleaning expert at Clorox.
Let the fans run until it no longer feels humid, and if you don't have one in the kitchen or bathroom, crack a window, instead.
Utilize the furnishings in your home to improve air circulation. "Position furniture so it is not against walls and there is room for air to circulate to reduce the potential for condensation" says Peissinger.
Another way you can do this is by keeping your curtains open, which allows air conditioned or heated air to contact the windows and reduce moisture. "Consult with a heating and cooling professional if window condensation is persistent," she says.
Check your home regularly for any signs of damage that may lead to mold growth if left neglected. In the bathroom, look for any cracked shower tiles or a leaky seal at the base of your toilet bowl, which can ruin floorboards, ceilings, and walls. Continually check that your roof, windows, walls, and pipes are undamaged. "It is best to make sure leaks and cracks in the home are fixed without delay," Nevill says. "The longer these sit, the higher a chance mold will develop and grow to become an even bigger issue."
While this is likely built into your homekeeping checklist, cleaning your floors regularly is a must for mold prevention.
Regularly sweep and dust hardwood floor and vacuum carpeting to remove dirt and debris. "Using a high efficiency particulate air vacuum is especially helpful in minimizing dust released to the air by vacuuming," Peissinger says.
"When mopping floors, be sure to wring the mop to remove as much excess water as possible, and open windows and run a fan to help dry the floors quicker," says Peissinger. Clean up any spills as soon as they happen to prevent the moisture from seeping into your floorboards.
Basements are one of the most common areas of the house to see mold build-up because the space is prone to flooding, but there are a few ways to prevent this.
If your basement is damp, run a dehumidifier. "Set the dehumidifier for 40 to 45% humidity level," Peissinger says. "Mold tends to grow at humidities at and above 60%."
In the case of flooding, ensure that your sump pump is operating correctly. "If you do not have a sump pump or it is working fine, then consult with a professional waterproofing firm on what further actions can be taken to prevent water intrusion," Peissinger says.
Large Airflow Fan It's temping to let your used, damp towels sit in a pile on your floor or in the hamper, but even this can cause fungal growth. "Always hang up damp towels back in the bathroom and not in your bedroom to keep moisture down," says Gagliardi. "Make sure they hang loosely so they can dry out quickly."