Water damage is not an uncommon problem, especially in older homes in wet regions like the Pacific Northwest. Particularly after a leak or flood, water or excess moisture can be difficult to clean up, and the damage left behind is often frustrating to deal with and remedy. One of the unfortunate consequences of water in homes is the potential for household mold to begin to grow.
Luckily, there are steps you can take as a homeowner to prevent mold growth after a flood or leak. In this article, we’ll take you through the 6 most effective ways to prevent mold from spreading after a water or moisture issue in your home and how to create the ideal climatic conditions to prevent mold growth in the future.
What is Mold and How Does it Grow?
We’ve all heard about the damage that mold can do, both to the integrity of the surfaces it infects, and to your health and safety. But what exactly is mold? Understanding how mold grows is the first step to knowing how to prevent it from infesting your home and impacting your quality of life after water damage has occurred.
Some of these spores are so tiny that they can move through the air until they find a suitable environment. Mold thrives in moisture, which is why it’s so common to see it in bathrooms, on windowsills, or on leaking roofs. Even small amounts of condensation can lead to mold growth, so if your home has recently suffered from significant water damage, the chances of developing a mold problem are relatively high.
It’s important to address any water damage or excess humidity in your home as quickly as possible after you discover it. That’s because mold allergies can lead to serious and unpleasant symptoms in both adults and children, including the following:
- Runny nose
- Dry skin
- Sore throat
- Eye irritation
Steps to Prevent Mold After Water Damage
1. Remove or Drain the Water
After a flood or leak, the first thing you should do is remove the excess moisture so you can assess the damage and begin to dry out the wet or moisture-damaged surfaces and objects. Addressing the issue quickly will minimize the chances of mold spreading in the area.
A simple, quick, and inexpensive way to remove a large amount of water is by using plastic buckets. While this method is effective and inexpensive, it can be physically strenuous. A more thorough and less labor-intensive strategy involves using a wet-dry vacuum. These vacuums can typically pump out 5-10 gallons of water per minute, and are available for purchase or rent at hardware stores and warehouses.
2. Remove Damp Carpet or Flooring
If your flooring or carpeting has sustained water damage, it goes without saying that removing the damaged surfaces should be one of the first steps if you want to prevent mold from spreading. This is especially true for floors with grooves such as stone-tiled floors, where moisture can easily become trapped. Carpeting can also be a high risk for mold growth as it not only provides a warm and damp environment for mold, but also for dust that spores can feed on.
In cases where there is minimal or contained water damage, it can be possible to dry your flooring using household items like baking soda or targeted cleaners. However, in cases of extreme water damage, it’s usually advisable to remove the affected flooring entirely.
3. Use Towels to Dry Wet Floors and Furniture
Before considering major changes to damaged surfaces and objects, it’s usually a good idea to first dry the areas with towels and rags. You can remove a great deal of moisture by simply laying down towels to absorb the majority of the water from your floors and furniture. Once you’ve done this, you can more easily assess the damage and determine the next best course of action. Even if certain areas haven’t suffered major water damage, it can be a good idea to regularly wipe down surfaces that consistently collect moisture, such as bathroom floors and window sills.
4. Use a Dehumidifier to Minimize Moisture
Mold thrives in warm, wet environments, while spores require moisture to reproduce. That’s why maintaining low relative humidity to prevent mold growth in your home is one of the most proven strategies. In simple terms, relative humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air compared to the amount it could hold at a given temperature. It’s expressed as a percentage, and the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you keep the relative humidity in your home below 60% for mold prevention.
This can be achieved most easily by using a dehumidifier in and around any water-damaged areas of your home. Dehumidifiers draw warm, moist air in and express cooler, drier air into your home, thereby creating a less habitable environment for mold. A strong fan can also have a similar effect.
5. Disinfect Walls, Baseboards, Floors, and Other Surfaces
Whenever water damage has occurred, the first step is drying the affected area and assessing the damage. A secondary, but equally necessary step involves disinfecting the impacted surfaces to eliminate bacteria and prevent further damage. Substances that destroy living organisms such as bacteria are called “biocides.” In most cases, consumer-grade disinfectant is sufficient to eliminate bacteria from the area.
6. Replace Damaged Items
While it is possible in some cases to repair water-damaged items, there are many instances when it’s advisable to replace them entirely, particularly if the structure of the surface or item has been altered. For example, if you find that your carpet, wall, or couch has begun to change color and take on a yellow or brown-ish hue, notice a persistent musty or dank smell, or if the overall texture has begun to sag or become misshapen, then it’s definitely time to replace it.
While it can seem daunting at first to replace all your severely damaged items, especially when it comes to walls or flooring, it can save you a great deal of grief — and cash — to replace the item before you develop a mold problem.
What To Do If you Find Mold After Water Damage
Unfortunately, household mold is a relatively common issue. Mold thrives in moist environments and is commonly seen after water damage has occurred. If you own a home that recently had an unexpected leakage, storm, or flood, it’s important to keep a close eye on the affected area so you can identify mold quickly if it begins to spread.
The only way to know for sure if the area is impacted by mold is to get a sample professionally tested at a lab. JSE Labs offers safe, accurate, and quick mold testing and results that you know you can trust.
Collect and drop off your own sample, or schedule an in-home visit to have your samples taken by one of our experts. Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions and to get your sample tested today!
Lisa started in the industrial hygiene and environmental industry in 1992 as an asbestos microscopist and began performing building inspections for asbestos, lead paint, and other hazards in 1994.
“This career has been an amazing experience, traveling for work to perform inspections both locally and abroad to locations such as Hawaii and Germany. My real love however is being in the laboratory and assisting our wonderful clients.”