Eek. I have black mold (Mildew or similar icky stuff)! What do I do?

Posted on August 16, 2015

Mold?! Mold in the bathroom or kitchen along the tile is very common, and you can and should clean it up yourself. These situations can usually mostly be prevented by regular normal cleaning and proper use of exhaust fans.

You see black mold on a surface in your home or apartment, you’ve heard about black mold being bad for you. You freak out. What should you do?

“You live in Indiana. You will have mold.” That, according to a representative of a government housing agency.

Every house has mold. This is an unpreventable fact of life. Molds and mold spores are all over our environment. If you find some mold in your home, apartment, or townhome, don’t freak. Mold usually is not a big deal, is easy to clean up, and you can take steps to reduce its occurrence or its recurrence.

Walls with mold? Yeah, not good, and please let know about that. Mold in a shower, bath, or kitchen area? Just clean it up, but do it right… see below!

If you don’t believe us,  check out these two great resources from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

So, let’s talk molds….

Not all black molds are “black mold”

Let’s set the record straight on this one. MOST molds are black looking, that does not mean that all molds that are black, are actually the infamous “black mold.” The black mold that received a lot of coverage in the media is Stachybotrys chartarum, a specific type of mold (and EVEN the Stachysotrys genus has 50+ species, only a small number of which can be toxic, and only under very specific conditions) . More common molds in the home are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria.

Stachybotrys chartarum (also known by its synonym Stachybotrys atra) is a greenish-black mold. It can grow on material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint. Growth occurs when there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding. Constant moisture is required for its growth. It is not necessary, however, to determine what type of mold you may have. All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal. —Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

So, true “black mold” is actually usually a little greenish, relatively rare compared to other molds, and it is unlikely to grow on metal, tile, bathroom grout, etc.

In fact, mildew, which is very common, is just a black looking mold.

Even true “black mold” isn’t always as bad as its reputation and “toxic mold” is a misnomer

According to the CDC, “toxic mold” is an inaccurate term, and the evidence that any mold can cause health problems in healthy adults is quite limited.

That said, you should take all the steps you can to prevent mold growth, clean up any that happens, and report any ongoing problems to us.

How to Clean Up and Prevent Mold

First, who should clean up mold? You should, but…

If you see something like this, report it immediately. You can start cleaning up, but its a sign of a water issue that we want to address too, or it will just keep coming back.

Generally, you should just clean up the mold, especially if it is a small amount. Both the CDC and the EPA clearly state that mold cleanup is not a big deal, especially if the area involved is less than 10 square feet.

That said, if you are uncomfortable with this, and would like us to clean it up, we are happy to do so, at your expense. Because, generally, minor mold cleanup is no different than any other household mess cleanup, and is something everyone will have to deal with from time to time, it’s really your responsibility when it just shows up in bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas. Handle it, or let us know; it’s up to you.

However, if the mold covers a large area, is in a permeable surface (like carpet or insulation), or is in an area with ongoing water/high humidity, the cause of which you cannot determine or address (even after taking some of the steps we provide below), you definitely need to report it to us so we can help mitigate the problem before it gets worse, damaging your place and making mitigation harder, and more expensive, down the road.

How should I clean up mold? With a bleach mixture….

Mold can be cleaned up using a mixture of bleach and water, and cleaning up “black mold” is no different than cleaning up any other type of mold, according to the CDC:

Mold growing in homes and buildings, whether it is Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) or other molds, indicates that there is a problem with water or moisture. This is the first problem that needs to be addressed. Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. . . . We do not believe that one needs to take any different precautions with Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra), than with other molds. In areas where flooding has occurred, prompt drying out of materials and cleaning of walls and other flood-damaged items with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water is necessary to prevent mold growth. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners.

CDC even has a FAQ sheet about using bleach to cleanup mold after “disasters”–but it applies even to little bathroom issues, and home leaks, too!

Note, there are also several non-bleach methods of cleaning up mold. You may hear about Benefect or RMR for example, some of which are “botanical”–Benefect Decon 30 for example is nice smelling because its made from Thyme: yep, the herb! However, most of these kill the mold but not not remove it. So there is usually a 2-step process for cleaning and killing mold with them: use a product to remove the mold stains and mold itself, and then followup with the botanical fungicide (that is, moldi-cide).

Preventing Mold

Mold doesn’t grow without a relatively high level of moisture or humidity. A bathroom run with hot showers and no exhaust fan and/or without leaving doors open to allow humidity to lower is a great place for mold to grow. Small but persistent leaks in faucets, under sinks, around toilets, are also good places for mold to show up, especially in dark areas. So, what are some things you can do?

Specific Recommendations from CDC, EPA and others include:

  • Find and remove the source of the moisture
  • Report any leaks from plumbing or from the outside — use your tenant portal!
  • Keep humidity levels as low as you can—no higher than 50%–all day long. An air conditioner or dehumidifier will help you keep the level low.
  • Use air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months.
  • if you will be gone for an extended period during the summer, do not turn off your air-conditioner.
  • Run the bathroom fan or open the window when showering or bathing, and leave it on long enough afterwards to clear the room.
  • Use exhaust fans or open windows whenever cooking, running the dishwasher or dishwashing, etc.
  • Clean bathrooms regularly with mold-killing products.
  • Do not block or restrict air flow to HVAC vents, units, or windows with furniture, drapes, or other items. This can cause moisture to accumulate behind the restriction. A perfect breeding ground for mold.

Indiana University Mold Prevention Recommendations

In addition to the general steps from the CDC and others, IU has specific requirements for a properly maintained room for preventing mold. We agree! These were pulled December 11, 2018.

Indiana University values the health and safety of its students. If a room is not properly maintained or ventilated, mold can occur.

Residents can help prevent the occurrence of mold in their rooms by taking these important steps.

  • Do not open the windows and run the air conditioner at the same time.

  • Keep heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) vents open to maintain proper airflow.

  • Do not block or restrict airflow from the HVAC by positioning furniture near the unit or placing wet items over the vents.

  • Hang wet or damp towels and clothes to dry in the room. Do not hang these items in a closet or leave them in a suitcase or gym bag. Also, do not leave wet items lying on the floor or on upholstered furniture.

  • Regularly perform good housekeeping practices like cleaning up spills quickly, cleaning out the refrigerator and wiping down the refrigerator door removing trash frequently to designated areas, wiping down counters and desks, and vacuuming floors.

  • If the room has an air purifier, leave it running on the highest setting at all times.

  • Immediately report a water leak or any visible mold to the center desk.

Summary: Mold. Its everywhere. Especially in the swampland that is southern Indiana. Hot, humid. If you have mold in baths, follow the specific recommendations in this post. If its a wall in a living space, please report it because we need to determine why the area is remaining moist or humid enough to allow mold or mildew to grow on the walls. In a worst case scenario, there’s a leak in the wall, and leaving it may cause extensive damage that you could have mitigated by reporting the problem.

You are VERY unlikely to run into this type of mold situation in your home (and if you do, even it can be handled by residents according to the CDC), but we’d rather you tell us about any significant signs of mold or even just ongoing damp areas in order to keep situations from becoming worse.