How can I prevent mold from growing in my home?
While mold spores are all around us, mold growth can be prevented. Mold growing in your home requires moisture, warmth, and food. Depriving mold of any of these three items will stop it from growing, but it will not kill the mold that is already there. Mold spores will remain dormant, and if the moisture, warmth and food all reappear, mold will begin to grow again.
The most important steps in controlling mold growth are to clean any existing mold and to eliminate excessive moisture. You can take numerous precautionary steps:
- Vacuum and clean regularly to remove possible sources of mold growth. Pay special attention to bathrooms and other areas of your home that are likely to generate a lot of moisture.
- In portions of your home that are susceptible to moisture, use area rugs or washable floor surfaces rather than wall-to-wall carpeting. If you use area rugs, launder them periodically.
- Do not store materials such as paper, books, clothes, or other possible sources of food for mold in humid parts of your home.
- Repair water leaks in your roof, windows, or any other part of the home as soon as possible.
- Clean refrigerator drip pans regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your refrigerator and freezer doors do not seal properly, moisture can build up and mold can grow there. Remove any mold on the door gaskets and replace faulty gaskets.
- If you live in a house, make sure that your gutters and downspouts are clear of debris that may block the flow of water from your roof. Make sure the area under your downspouts is properly graded so that rainwater from the roof flows away from your foundation. Splash blocks can help rainwater to flow in the proper direction. If necessary, extend your downspouts.
- Make sure other areas around your foundation are graded so that rainwater does not flow toward the house. Do not put gardens or plants too close to your foundation so that watering them could cause water to flow toward your house. If you water your lawn with a sprinkler, make sure the water does not hit your house or the area next to the foundation.
- In the kitchen and bathroom, open windows or use exhaust fans when engaging in activities that produce moisture. Exhaust fans should be vented to the outdoors and not to an attic or crawl space.
- If you have a clothes dryer, make sure it is vented to the outdoors.
- If you use a humidifier, make sure it does not produce an excessive amount of humidity. During the summer, 60 percent relative humidity or lower probably will prevent condensation and mold growth in most parts of the country, but that is too moist for the middle of winter, when 40 percent relative humidity or lower will prevent condensation on windows.
- If you live in a house with a basement, consider using a dehumidifier there. The cool basement floor and walls can be a source of moisture build-up.
- If your home has an attic, make sure it is properly insulated and ventilated.
- If you have a crawl space under your house, cover the soil in the crawl space with waterproof polyethylene plastic. If your crawl space is ventilated, close the vents in the summer and keep them open in the winter.
- If you have water problems in your basement or crawl space, clean up affected areas as quickly as possible and take immediate steps to resolve the source of the problem.
How can I determine the level of moisture in my home?
Weather forecasters talk about the relative humidity outdoors. Likewise, the inside of your home has a relative humidity, which is a measure of the moisture content in the air. Hardware stores sell instruments to measure the humidity inside your home.
Humidity is an important factor affecting the comfort level in your home. Have you ever awakened in the middle of a winter night to discover that your throat and nose feel very dry? That could mean the humidity in your home is too low. To remedy the problem, some people use humidifiers, which are designed to raise the humidity in a home. Your goal should be to have enough humidity in the air so the members of your household can stay healthy and comfortable.
Too much humidity can cause droplets of water to form on your walls, floors and windows, which can lead to mold growth. This formation of water droplets is called condensation. It occurs when warm moisture comes in contact with a cool surface. If you pour a glass of ice water and leave it on your kitchen table, the glass soon will begin to sweat. The sweating does not come from inside the glass. It is created when moisture from the air condenses when it comes in contact with the cold outer surface of the glass.
A sign of excessive humidity in a home can be condensation on the inside of windows, especially if you have double- or triple-pane windows. If condensation is present for prolonged periods, take steps to reduce the level of moisture or increase ventilation in your home. Condensation also can result from the use of unvented fuel-burning appliances, such as kerosene heaters or wood-burning stoves. If you use such appliances, have them inspected by a professional contractor or a utility company representative.
Another sign of excess moisture could be the warping of floors or difficulty in opening wood windows and doors. In such cases, the moisture from the air is absorbed into the wood, causing it to expand.
How can I control the humidity in my home during the winter?
Mold growth on inside walls can occur during the heating season, especially on the surfaces nearest the outside of your home. Moisture traveling through the air from the bathroom, basement, kitchen or other sources may condense when it comes into contact with a cold wall. By having well-insulated walls, you not only can save energy, but you also can reduce the likelihood of condensation and mold. You can raise the temperature of your walls by increasing the circulation of warm air from your heating system.
During the heating season, an indoor humidity level below 40 percent will prevent condensation in homes in most parts of the country. A lower level of humidity or extra insulation may be needed to prevent condensation in homes in very cold climates.
How can I control the humidity in my home during the summer?
Humidity has an important effect on comfort during the summer. Some weather forecasters in the summer talk about the comfort index, which attempts to show how much hotter the air temperature is likely to feel to you because of the humidity. The higher the humidity, the hotter you will feel. One of the ways air conditioners operate is to remove humidity from the air, which makes you feel cooler.
If you live in an area with high humidity, be careful about leaving windows and doors open during the summer. This will allow moisture from the outside air to enter your home. A way to control indoor moisture during humid summer months is to run an air conditioner and/or a dehumidifier. If you use a dehumidifier, clean it often. Also, empty it daily or have it drip directly into a drain.
Warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. Therefore, when your home is warm in the summer, more moisture is likely to stay in the air rather than condensing on the surfaces of walls and windows. In most climates, keeping an indoor humidity level below 60 percent in the summer probably will prevent condensation and mold growth.
Even though your air conditioner removes moisture from the air, the areas around your air conditioning system can be a source of water build-up. Make sure the drip pan on your air conditioner has not overflowed, and check near your air conditioning system for traces of dampness where mold can grow.
Looking for more info about mold?
Learn more about what mold is, health hazzards, and the basics of clean-up and remediation.
More facts about mold and clean up, as well as tips for spotting the warning signs of mold growth.
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