Molds are fungi, usually microscopic in size, that occur in nature in large quantities. They reproduce by releasing spores into the air. Spores settle onto surfaces and, if conditions are right, begin to grow. Mildew is a common mold. The following information comes from the U of I Extension website Indoor Healthy Air.

Molds thrive on organic materials like natural fibers (cotton, wool), paper, leather, wood, or surfaces coated with organic matter such as food, grease, and soil. Molds grow best in warm temperatures of 77 to 86 degrees. Molds need moisture that can come from water leaks, flooding, high relative humidity, or condensation; Molds require oxygen but not light.

Exposure to mold can cause cold-like symptoms, respiratory problems, nasal and sinus congestion, watery eyes, sore throat, coughing, and skin irritations, and exposure can trigger asthma attacks. Because some mold spores are very small and can easily be breathed deeply into the lungs, it is not safe to live in houses with high mold levels.

Basements that have moisture seeping through concrete walls and floors provide conditions likely to cause mold growth on or in walls, carpet, and materials stored in the basement. Crawlspaces built over uncovered earth can have mold problems when the moisture in the ground causes dampness in the space.

Mold often grows under cabinets, behind baseboards, inside walls, in carpet padding, and under vinyl wall coverings. Bathrooms are a source of moisture for mold growth. Molds may be found growing on shower curtains and in or around the tub or shower. Humidity levels are also high in the kitchen. Mold growth might be found around and under the sink, on kitchen walls, and even in the drip pan under the refrigerator.

Mold can often be detected by a musty odor. Growth of mold can be seen in the form of a discoloration, ranging from white to orange and green to brown and black.

Mold removal is a multistep process, but it does not require professional services if the area is relatively small and accessible.

Protect your health during mold removal. Isolate the work area from the rest of the home. Provide adequate ventilation and wear eye protection, rubber gloves, and clothing that can be immediately laundered. Use a mask or respirator that will filter out mold spores.

Dampen moldy materials before removal to minimize the number of airborne mold spores. Mold can be removed from hard surfaces such as hard plastic, glass, metal, and counter tops by scrubbing with a non-ammonia soap or detergent. (Do not mix ammonia and bleach; the fumes are toxic.)

It is impossible to completely remove mold from porous surfaces such as paper, sheetrock (drywall), insulation, and carpet padding, so these materials should be removed and discarded. Scrubbing may not remove mold growth on structural wood such as wall studs, so it may need to be removed by sanding.

After the mold is removed, disinfect the area using a chlorine bleach and water solution. If the surface is relatively clean, use a solution of one-fourth cup chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water. The surface must remain wet for about 15 minutes to allow the solution to disinfect. Concentrations as high as one and a half cups of bleach per gallon of water are recommended for dirty surfaces that cannot be thoroughly cleaned.

Finally, rinse the entire area with clean water, and rapidly dry the surfaces using fans, dehumidifiers, and air conditioners. If the outdoor air is dry, a window can be opened to help promote drying.

Mold can be cleaned from many surfaces, but new mold will grow in the same place as long as conditions are favorable.

Air cleaners will not solve a mold problem. A HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter may reduce the number of spores in the air, but many mold spores will settle onto surfaces such as the floor, where air filters cannot remove them.

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About the author

Charlyn Fargo spent 27 years at the State Journal-Register covering agriculture, business and food. She currently is the Bureau Chief of County Fairs & Horse Racing with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. She is also a Registered Dietitian and writes a weekly syndicated nutrition column for Creator’s News Service ( and is co-owner of Simply Fair, a fair trade boutique at 2357 W. Monroe in Springfield. She has bachelor’s degrees in agricultural communications and food from the University of Illinois, Champaign and a master’s degree in nutrition from Eastern Illinois University. She and her husband, Brad Ware, have a daughter, Kate, and son, Jayden. When she’s not working or writing, she enjoys baking cookies for Simply From Scratch, a company she formed to support faith-based ministries.

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