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How to rid your home of mould

By Nathan Guss |8 min|August 2023

Are you dealing with a mould problem in your home? Read on to learn what to do.

Cats and dogs bring joy to our homes, but there’s one type of furry creature that isn’t as much fun—mould. Just add water to a space and presto! An unwanted, foul-smelling intruder creeps in and threatens your well-being and your property’s value. Here’s an overview of how to handle the issue.

What is mould?

Mould is a type of fungus that has been around for millions of years. It grows on food or materials in homes and buildings, thriving in warm, damp conditions. As part of its life cycle, it releases spores that can colonize indoor spaces. Mould feeds on various surfaces, emitting an easily recognizable musty odour. An article in the New York Times describes it as “mould farts” because it’s the byproduct of the organism’s digestive processes. When it’s said that way, what more motivation do you need to get going on removing it?

How to spot mould?

A very sneaky fungus, mould can easily go unseen. It often grows in hidden or hard-to-reach places, especially in areas with excessive moisture or water damage. That said, there are signs to look for. One of the most apparent indicators is the above-mentioned earthy smell. Stains or discolouration on surfaces, such as floors, walls, fabrics and carpets, also suggest mould growth. Mould can take various forms and colours. Beware of fuzzy patches or slimy growths.

Testing for mould may not be necessary, especially if the fungus is visible and its odour is present. Health Canada, the CDC and EPA do not recommend routine mould testing because there are no federal limits for mould in buildings, and testing can be costly.

How does mould affect your health?

Mould can impact people’s health in diverse ways, depending on individual sensitivity and exposure levels. For some, particularly those with weakened immune systems, mould can pose a significant risk. On the other hand, individuals with overactive immune systems may experience discomfort, such as eye-watering, itching, sneezing, coughing or asthma attacks when exposed to spores and filaments.

When do you need to hire an expert?

Both the CDC and Health Canada offer guidelines for determining whether you should handle mould remediation yourself. If the mould-affected area is small, you can consider a DIY cleanup. Health Canada classifies small areas as having one to three patches, each less than one square metre in size.

However, if the mouldy area is medium-sized (more than three patches or patches between one and three square metres), or if the mould covers an area larger than three square metres, seek the expertise of a qualified professional.

How to choose an expert?

When choosing a mould remediation expert, approach the selection process as you would for home renovations. Conduct interviews, and request proposals outlining the project’s scope and estimated fees. Both the CDC and Health Canada advise hiring qualified professionals certified by relevant associations, such as the NEHA, AIHA, IICRC or ACAC for inspection, repair and restoration. Ensure they prioritize removing damaged materials affected by mould and have liability insurance for mould removal. Request inspection and cleanup procedures, along with details on health considerations, warranties and potential follow-up inspections. If tests are recommended, verify laboratory accreditation to recognized standards, such as ISO/IEC 17025:2017.

How to clean up mould yourself?

Here is a summary of recommendations from Health Canada and the CDC. For more information, visit their websites.

Step 1 Obtain and wear the right protection.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential to safeguard against potential health risks caused by exposure to mould spores. Use adequate PPE while identifying and evaluating the extent of mould growth and during the cleanup process. For small areas affected by mould, the minimum recommended PPE includes wearing safety glasses or goggles, a disposable well-fitting N95 mask and household disposable gloves.

Step 2 Limit the damage.

As soon as you discover mould in your home, identify its source and address it promptly. If you don’t correct the underlying issue, the mould will return. The most common causes include the following:

  • Pipe or water heater leaks
  • Flooding
  • Sewage backups
  • Water infiltrations (e.g., roof leaks, foundation cracks)
  • Inadequate ventilation

Step 3 Discard mouldy or damaged materials.

Open windows and doors for airflow while removing mouldy items, which should be placed in sealed plastic bags for disposal. Throw away affected items that can’t be effectively cleaned, such as the following:

  • Mattresses
  • Bedding
  • Plush toys
  • Carpets
  • Non-washable furnishings
  • paper items, such as books and puzzles.

Step 4 Vacuum and clear wet areas.

Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter or central vacuum system exhausted outside, thoroughly vacuum all surfaces, including unaffected non-washable furnishings. Be sure to clean and replace vacuum filters according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Step 5 Dry and Isolate as needed.

Promptly dry wet areas using fans, and open windows if possible. Use a dehumidifier to control humidity and speed up the drying process.

Step 6 Clean up small and medium areas of mould growth.

Scrub washable surfaces with an unscented soap solution and dry thoroughly. Avoid using bleach. For walls, use a damp cloth with baking soda or an unscented soap solution, taking care not to oversaturate drywall. Replace drywall if mould is beneath the paint. Clean concrete surfaces with a brush and unscented soap mixed with warm water, then sponge and dry quickly.

Step 7 Shower and change your clothes.

After all that hard work, you definitely want to avoid carrying mould back to where you’re living.

Step 8 Seek professional assistance if necessary.

Mould that returns after cleaning indicates unresolved moisture issues that warrant professional attention.

Does home insurance cover mould infestations?

Home insurance typically doesn’t cover mould damage. Mould is often linked to a lack of maintenance, which makes it the homeowner’s responsibility. However, there are exceptions when sudden events, such as burst pipes, sewage backups or flash floods lead to mould growth, which can be covered. Talk with your insurance agent if you’re unsure.

Do you need to leave your home during mould remediation?

When considering whether to stay at home during mould remediation, several factors come into play: the location and scope of the mould damage, the project’s size, potential noise disruptions and your family’s sensitivity. It’s crucial to discuss these factors in detail with an expert to make an informed decision that prioritizes your well-being.

If you need to leave, various options are available. If your insurance covers the damages, you are eligible for SiniSTAR’s relocation service. Using their temporary housing platform, you can quickly find a comfortable furnished, fully equipped home near you.

For more information, check out “How to find temporary housing after making an insurance claim.”

If you aren’t covered by insurance, there are other housing solutions to consider. Read “The ultimate guide to temporary housing” to learn more.

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