Beating the Mold Monster: Cleaning the Space

Speedy Mold Facts

Mold is a fungus. It spreads fast, by reproducing tiny airborne spores, and it feeds on organic materials (though it can grow on plastics, too).

Mold is very temperature-sensitive. Between 75-90° F, it thrives. Below 70°, it slows — and below 40°, it stops. 

It likes humidity. At room temperature, mold can develop if the relative humidity is 70% or higher. It will stop at 45% or lower humidity.

Tip: You can get a humidity and temperature monitor (hygrometer) at a home improvement or electronics store.

Also see this companion piece on mold in the Salvage section

Where there’s water damage — even severe dampness — mold can develop within 48 hours. It grows fast when there’s high temperature and humidity plus lack of light and air circulation.

This is serious! Here’s how to work fast, and work safe:

1. Find the mold. Look for live mold (slimy, fuzzy or downy, smears when touched, smells musty) and dead mold (dry, powdery). Check all porous materials (wood, paper, fiber, leather). Inspect places with trapped moisture and poor circulation (drawers, closets, behind baseboards).

2. Document the damage.

Use a still or video camera. Call your insurance agent to report the problem, AND send a letter, fax or email. Keep copies!

3. Clean the infested space. Don’t do this if you have allergies, respiratory conditions, or impaired immunity. If contamination is larger than 10 sq. ft., OR if there is sewage or other pollutants, call a professional — a commercial hazard or disaster-recovery cleanup service. (Check references, licensure, and be sure procedures are in compliance with industry standards.)


While You’re Waiting ...

If there’s a major disaster, you may wait some time for an adjuster. In the meantime, absolutely do these things:

  •  Consult with your insurance agent, then write a letter/email/fax confirming your conversation and documenting your actions. (Keep copies!) This is vital so that the company cannot refuse the claim because of your lack of vigilance.

  • Protect your property from further damage.

  • Don’t completely dispose of any damaged property until it has been inspected by the insurance adjuster. Seal moldy items in plastic if necessary.


Mold Is Nasty! Clean Safe

Doing cleanup in a mold-contaminated space can cause irritation or illness. Wear proper protective clothing:

  • Respirator, NIOSH-approved or N-95

  • Rubber gloves covering forearm

  • Tight-fitting goggles

  • Overalls

Be sure to wash your hands and face with soap after general cleanup, as well as after salvaging individual items.

Avoid prolonged exposure. If you feel feverish, develop skin, nose, or eye irritations, or have other allergy-like symptoms, stop work immediately! See a health professional for treatment. 


Artist-to-Artist Video

A Flood is Toxic

Russell Karkowski talks about his experience with mold during cleanup of his studio after a flood


If you do the cleanup:

a. Assemble cleanup supplies.

b. Isolate the mold. Seal off a room with plastic sheeting. Separate and cover moldy items with plastic sheeting or bags. Move undamaged items to a clean, dry space. Move wet items someplace where temp and humidity are stable and you can work.

c. Stop the invasion. Stop leaking or flooding. Remove standing water. Use dehumidifiers, fans & open windows to lower the temp (to 70°) and humidity (30-60°).