Mold: four letters, one syllable, a world of anxiety and stress. It’s such a simple word with the potential to cause so many problems. Why is mold so troubling and what should you do if you find mold in your house or discover it while you’re house hunting?

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No home is immune from the possibility of mold. Image: Concept Interiors

5 facts about mold

According to Mark England, an AdvantaClean owner in Raleigh-Durham, NC, there are five facts that you should know about mold:

Mold grows quickly: It only takes 24 to 48 hours for mold to grow and spread in wet, warm conditions.

Mold is undetectable: Excessive moisture behind walls, under floors or in cabinets or closets are perfect breeding grounds for mold. This is mold that you often can’t see or smell but it can make you and your family very sick.

Mold issues are expensive: Mold damage can cost as much as $10,000, and most insurance carriers will not cover the cost of mold removal.

Know the symptoms of mold exposure: They include severe body aches, joint pain, nausea and chronic, sometimes serious respiratory issues. These symptoms can develop quickly or over time.

Know the people at risk: The very young, the very old and people with compromised immune systems are most likely to be affected by mold. Mold can even be deadly among these groups of people.

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A leaky roof is a primary source of mold. Image: College City Design Build

When you find mold in your home

So, how do you know if mold is present in your home? England tells Freshome that you can often see or smell it. “Mold usually has a green or black color and it smells musty or earthy, sort of like the forest floor deep in the woods.”

England recommends an antimicrobial – for example, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or baking soda mixed with water – to kill mold or stop it from growing. “Spray one of these onto the mold area and remove with a scrub brush or disposable rag while wearing protective coverings such as face masks, gloves and shoe covers.”

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Aside from treating the mold, you must address the moisture issue. Image: Urban Abode

If you treat mold yourself, always wear protection

In fact, preparation and protective wear are important parts of making sure that you’re removing – and not spreading – mold.

Robert Weitz is a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental, a leading environmental testing firm. If you find mold, he recommends having a professional mold test to see if you can clean it yourself. If you can, he has a list of items that you’ll need:

  • A mask or respirator to filter out the mold spores you’ll be disturbing
  • Eye protection
  • Rubber gloves
  • Rags and a scrub brush
  • Non-ammonia soap or detergent
  • A large pail
  • Bleach
  • A fan and/or dehumidifier
  • Work clothes, either old or white, since you will be using bleach
  • A plastic garbage bag
  • White vinegar
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If you find mold and opt to remove it yourself, make sure you don’t inadvertently spread it. Image: Quezada Architecture

Directions for removing mold from a cement wall

“Before removing black mold from a cement wall, dampen the moldy area well with a rag and plain water,” Weitz advises. “This will keep the mold spores from disbursing through the air.” Next, he says you should try to remove as much of the mold as possible with a scrub brush and non-ammonia soap or detergent.

Weitz believes in the power of bleach and says it will remove any leftover mold and stop future mold growth. He instructs readers to add 1½ cups bleach to 1 gallon of water in a pail. “Wet the surface well with this mixture, letting it soak in for about 15 minutes. Then, scrub the area with the scrub brush and rinse well with clean, clear water.”

He recommends repeating the bleach steps until all visible mold is gone. “Next, use a fan and/or dehumidifier to dry the area well.” If any moisture is left, Weitz says your wall is subject to new mold growth.

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After cleaning up the mold, be sure to wash those clothes to kill the mold spores. Image: The Crystal Kitchen.

Washing the mold off of your clothes is crucial

When you finish, he says to take off your work clothes, place them in a plastic bag and transport them to the washing machine. (Your clothes will be covered with mold spores and he says this will ensure you don’t track them through your house.) “Add ¾ cup white vinegar to your wash water to kill the mold on your clothes.”

Keep in mind, you need to ensure that you’re addressing the problem and not just a symptom of the problem. “When you come across mold in a home, it should be understood that you have a moisture issue first and a mold issue second,” says Evan Roberts, a real estate agent with Dependable Homebuyers in Baltimore, MD.  He tells Freshome that scrubbing surface mold with mold killer will not be effective if you do not address the moisture issue.

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Always check under sinks for the presence of leaks. Image: R O Supply Company

Remember that professionals have tools that you don’t

According to Jeff Miller, a real estate agent with AE Home Group in Maryland, “More often than not, the mold is either from a small plumbing leak or from a roof leak, so fix that first. If the mold is located under a bathroom or kitchen sink where there could be a plumbing leak, call a plumber to investigate.” Similarly, he recommends having a roofer inspect and seal any gaps in the roof if you see that’s the cause of the mold.

Miller recommends having the mold remediated by a professional. “They have access to the proper chemicals you need to ensure no mold residue after treatment, and they can test your home to ensure that the mold hasn’t spread.”

Kyle Rowley, mold remediation expert at Restoration 1 in Waco, TX, agrees. He says that mold can be tricky and dangerous. “Even if there has been no water damage to a property, mold can come from something as simple as a leaky window because moisture and mold go hand-in-hand.”

And because mold can cause so many problems, he says homeowners shouldn’t take any chances. “Having mold present can lead to allergens, irritants, mycotoxins, sneezing, breathing problems and long-term diseases,” Rowley says.

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When viewing houses, be sure to check attics, basements and crawl spaces. Image: Joel Gross Architectural & Residential Photography

When you find mold while house hunting

The key to finding mold is knowing where to look for it. “Check dark, damp places for mold, like under cabinets and in basements, crawl spaces and attics,” advises Tina Tyus, a real estate broker at Town Square Realty in Birmingham, AL, and author of “So You Want to Flip Houses?”

Even if you don’t find mold, Tyus says a home inspector will be able to locate it if mold is present. “And if it’s found, mold remediation should be addressed prior to closing,” she says.

During the home inspection process, there’s an inspection contingency period and buyers have options, according to Shawn Kunkler, a San Francisco-based realtor and author of “Insider’s Guide to Home Buying.” If mold is discovered, he says this can be a point of negotiation or the prospective buyer may be able to walk away from the home.