Mold Control for Water-Damaged Houses: Mistakes I Made which You Can Avoid
Face Mask Respirator
Fix a Flooded House
My heart goes out to families who have had their home, their “castle,” flooded. The recent Hurricane Sandy devastated so many houses along the east coast of the USA. Sadly, families in other areas of the country and the world experience this and it is an attack at the very core of one’s safety and shelter.
I, for various reasons, sort of chose a heavily water-damaged home. With a rather non-existent budget, here is what I did, learned, and recommend.
Face Mask RIGHT AWAY
Recommend strongly: Immediately go to a big box home improvement store or hardware store to buy one of these 2 types – N95 or P100. A pack of two N95 masks at my local Home Depot cost about $20. Use right away and all the time.
My Mistake: I did not use one of these. I was afraid of the cost, which was unknown to me. Also, I think I was practicing a bit of denial – distorted thinking along the lines of “my mold problem isn’t that bad, I don’t need a fancy mask.” Even the term “respirator” for these masks was a bit scary to me. I did not want to think that my home, my sanctuary, was in such bad shape that a person needed a respirator. Well, because I was doing the beginning work in the summer, I had windows open and the areas I was cleaning had good ventilation. However, at the beginning I was just scratching the surface of the mold encrustation.
When the weather turned colder, my windows and doors were closed, and I was starting serious demolition (it is not fun to do demo while also living in the house), more serious molds were being unleashed and released into the air. I got very scared when I started having a congested cough. I could have kicked myself when I found out how inexpensive the masks are. Plus, the N95 is super comfortable to wear. It is more comfortable than the cheap dust masks I have used for dusty sawing projects. More kicking was in order.
Lesson Learned: For about $20, do not risk your health. Use the mask and buy enough for your helpers.
Bleach does not kill mold
Bleach does not do the entire job
Recommend: Use a soap and bleach solution to attack dirt, bacteria, and viruses, but do not count on it for complete mold elimination.
My Mistake: I swabbed the decks and everything else I could reach with a soapy water and very strong bleach solution. The bleach amount was so strong that I could barely breathe. (Probably damaged my health doing that, but I would like to practice denial for the moment.) I do not regret doing this sort of cleaning, but I regret that I did not quickly use high-pH solutions (discussed below) to kill the mold. I was ignorant about mold.
Visible mold that had been on some window frames and painted walls reappeared after a month.
Lesson Learned: If you have the time and the energy, do a bleach cleaning, but it does not replace Borax and whitewash for mold killing.
Boost Your Own Health
Get Expert Advice
HEPA Vacuum Cleaner
Recommend strongly: Use a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner to suck out mold-laden dust and debris.
My Mistake: Because I cannot afford a SWAT team of mold remediators, I eventually hired a certified microbial consultant. My realtor had been pressing for this early on and I resisted. I think this was my denial operating again. I regret that I did not hire her earlier, because she somehow convinced, frightened, and reassured me about the states of the “moldies” in my house. She also taught me why a HEPA vacuum and the high pH solutions work.
I have been a long-time owner of a Rainbow brand ™ vacuum. Its theory of operation is that the water in its tank traps more particles of dirt than conventional vacuum cleaners with bags. Have you ever smelled foul scents while using a conventional vacuum? That is the dirty stuff blowing back out of the exhaust. Well, my consultant used an instrument to show me how many micro-particles are floating around in a cubic foot of air at various points in and outside my home. Then, she measured the number of particles at the back end of my Rainbow as it worked. The number was disgustingly high; higher than in the rooms. So, this means that not enough tiny particles really do land in the water and stay there. It is no favor to your family or guests or yourself to suck mold from cracks and floorboards just to jettison it into the air we breathe.
Lesson Learned: I ordered a HEPA vacuum online immediately. It was about $400. This can be pushed into my budget and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than doctor bills or a $10,000 mold team.
Recommend strongly: After vacuuming, wipe down areas with a solution of 1 part Borax and 4 parts water. (The consultant recommends one cup of Borax to one gallon of water.) Insure that these dry quickly after wiping.
My Mistake: I counted on bleach alone and you read above how well that worked. I mixed up and used small quantities of the Borax solution. The gallon mix is too large of a quantity for me to use, because I am trying to go to my job, kinda run a household, and clean the place. Small spurts are what work for me. My home is on the dry side, so the Borax solution dried quickly without requiring me to wipe it with a dry cloth. For my strength mixture, it leaves a white crust which I actually like to see. Also - I found that using boiling water and making the mixture in a glass measuring cupo helped in dissolving and stirring the solution. I feel as though the good guys are there killing mold. Why Borax? Because it is a borate; borates are mold resistant and fight fungi. Mold is a fungus.
Lesson Learned: As soon as possible, Borax wipe everything – especially wood surfaces which are banquet tables to molds.
Recommend: Seal the roots of the mold and protect surfaces from future mold growth.
My Mistake: I counted on bleach and keeping the area dry to solve my house mold problems. When the mold consultant took surface and air samples, she showed me that my abode has very high (a/k/a dangerous) levels of yucky stuff. It is funny-sad-scary that she was slightly delighted (from a scientific point of view) at how many hideous, copiously-covered slides of goop she was seeing in her microscope. Perhaps you observed that during the predictions of Hurricane Sandy that some meteorologists tried hard to hide their glee at this once-in-a –lifetime “perfect storm” which was organizing itself. Although they realized that property and lives would be hurt by it, their scientific selves were excited to witness the storm. I think my mold consultant was experiencing the same conflicts. She kept saying “Come LOOK at this slide!” to me while I kept thinking “This is my HOME; please go away!”
Her recommendation is to follow the Borax wash with two coats of encapsulating paint: either old-fashioned whitewash (powdered lime and water, also sometimes salt) or a product called Caliwel (an EPA registered biocide and biostat.) Caliwel is expensive - $70 per gallon.
I am trying the homemade whitewash. So far, I find it good for making a plaster to fill in cracks between the wood boards of my floors, but not so good as a paint. Whenever water drips on it, it dissolves.
Lesson Learned: No lesson yet. I feel strongly that I need to be sealing the molds in some way. Perhaps I will turn to buying the expensive Caliwel paint in the end. For now, though, powdered lime and water fit my budget and they are not toxic to me.
Lime Whitewash Paint
May It Become, Once Again, Our Home
Take Care of Yourself
Strongly recommend: Extra vitamins and anything you do to boost your immune system.
My Mistake: Not starting super-vitamins soon enough.
Lesson Learned: I think I am okay, however, if I could do it all over again, I would start a super-health- supporting regimen immediately.
Recap of Mold-Fighting Recommendations
- Buy for approximately $20 a good face mask/respirator. Use it.
- Do not expect bleach to do complete mold elimination.
- Borrow, rent, or buy a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner.
- Wipe everythingwith Borax ™.
- Seal mold roots forever with a lime-based paint.
- Aggressively support your own health.
For You, I Wish the Best
I hope all turns out as well as it can for all of us.
Photos and text copyright 2012 Maren E. Morgan ( who aint down yet.)