Although humidity levels are lower during winter, 3 conditions can make the inside of your home a breeding ground for mold and mildew. We’ll discuss what they are and how you can avoid it.
Got an awful case of off-season allergies, windowsills that appear to be growing a five o’clock shadow, or tiny-but-telltale spots of discoloration on your drywall?
If you live in a cold climate, kicking up the heater during winter months doesn’t just keep you warm—it also helps to create a perfect environment for winter mold and mildew.
Not only are fungal infestations unsightly, but they can cause allergic reactions such as sneezing, stuffy noses, and itchy eyes. And, in the case of mold, can spread relatively unnoticed, quietly compromising the integrity and strength of your very walls.
To save you the cost of expensive repairs and potentially poor health, we will discuss six proven ways to prevent unwanted mold and mildew during winter. We will also look at how to find mold growth and what to do if you find it in your house.
Mold vs. Mildew: What’s the Difference?
Mold and mildew have a lot of similarities. They’re both likely to grow in moist, warm areas and are adept at surviving on a wide variety of surfaces.
Additionally, they’re both fungi that aren’t welcome in your home. Both can cause uncomfortable allergy symptoms. And, of course, their presence is an indicator that excess moisture is present. (We’ll get to the three factors that help mold and mildew to thrive shortly.)
Technically, mildew is a type of mold. The difference is mildew sticks to growing on surface areas and is simple to wipe clean whereas mold can grow undetected for months – destroying the surfaces it thrives on.
Visually, there are some significant differences. Mildew is recognizable by its flat surface which stays relatively flush with whatever it’s growing on. It can appear downy or powdery in texture, and, while it may start out white, generally ends up yellow, brown, or black.
Mold, on the other hand, can be any of a wider range of colors including green, yellow, brown, gray, or white. Instead of growing relatively flush with a surface, it’s distinguished by a fluffy appearance.
And, depending on where it grows, spots may appear separately – as in not connected – but in the same area.
Discerning whether a patch of fungi is mold or mildew is important since their differences are way more than skin deep.
Food, Warmth, and Moisture: The Three Musts for Mold and Mildew
Not to gross you out, but microscopic mold and mildew spores are everywhere—even in the air we breathe. However, the risk of mold and mildew proliferation—or growth—increases once winter arrives due to the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures.
That’s because fungi like mold and mildew require three things to thrive in your home: food, warmth, and moisture.
The “food” that mold and mildew require is any organic material (meaning that it contains carbon atoms) which can give it the energy to grow. This can be anything from the old bread on your kitchen counter to the cupboards on the walls, or even the cotton rug on your floor.
Warmth occurs when you crank up that aforementioned thermometer. But some areas that suffer from poor insulation, such as single-pane windows and outer-facing walls, can stay cooler than your home’s average temperature.
Moisture that travels into your home basement, bathrooms, or kitchen will condense when it comes in contact with a cold area. That’s why you’re most likely to find mold or mildew on windowsills, baseboards, tile grout, and even in the back of closets.
The good news is that if you don’t provide moisture, warmth, and food, mold simply can’t grow.
The bad news is although mildew can be defeated, depriving the mold of its needs won’t kill the spores that already exist.
This means that even once mold stops growing, if the trifecta of moisture, warmth, and food is reintroduced, its dormant spores can spring back to life within hours of a favorable shift in environment.
So, the question is: How can you stay one step ahead of these microscopic particles?
Preventing Mold and Mildew in Winter
When all the right conditions are present, moisture, ample food, and a temperature between 41 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, mold will begin growing within 24 to 48 hours.
However, this growth can often remain undetected until the spores have already affected large areas of your property and caused considerable structural damage.
That’s why the easiest way to beat these fungal culprits in the winter months is with prevention. Here’s how to limit moisture, remove tempting food sources, and keep an eye out for the first telltale signs of a winter mold problem.
- Increase Air Circulation and Reduce Humidity
One cheap and simple step to reduce moisture is to use fans and open windows. By increasing the air circulation in rooms, cold air is less likely to condense in nooks and crannies.
If you live in a particularly cold climate, opening windows might not be an option. Instead, consider purchasing a dehumidifier to reduce the overall moisture inside your home.
Look for one that offers digital readings, which can help you to keep your indoor humidity level below 40 percent.
- Keep an Eye Out for Leaks That Can Let in Excess Moisture
Watch for leaks in common areas such as windows, exterior-to-interior doorways, and the surrounding areas by swamp coolers and skylights.
Not only should you be on high alert for leaks coming from the outdoors, but don’t forget to check your indoor plumbing as a possible culprit for excess moisture. Check for hidden leaks in areas such as under bathroom and kitchen sinks.
- Repair Any Leaky Area Immediately
Mold and mildew can grow at a rapid pace. The longer you leave a leak unattended, the more likely you are to experience mold and the damage that comes with it.
In short, the moment you suspect or see a leak, fix it–or you might be stuck with paying for more expensive mold remediation.
- Limit the Possible Areas Where Mold and Mildew Can Grow
Since fungi thrive on quick-to-decompose items such as books, piles of loose papers, or boxes of clothing, use strategy when storing these items.
The best areas for long-term storage are away from external walls or windows that invite condensation. Instead, pick an area that enjoys circulation to prevent the possibility of built-up moisture.
Remember to also keep a close eye on the moisture in your bathroom and clean surfaces regularly as well. After all, bathrooms can carry the most moisture in the home, which naturally results in the most mildew.
- Take Care to Keep Entryway Flooring Dry During Wet Weather
In rooms where moisture is a problem, area rugs and other washable floor surfaces are preferred over wall-to-wall carpet, if possible.
Do you live in a cool, wet climate? If so, these washable floor surfaces can be especially helpful in entryways (versus carpeting), where constantly tracking in moisture can quickly lead to mold growth.
In instances where you do have carpet up to the door and can’t do much about it (such as when renting), take care to vacuum the area regularly, inspecting for signs of any mold near the baseboards or where your carpet meets the wall.
- Use Exhaust Fans in the Kitchen and Bathroom
Boiling water and taking steamy showers provide your home’s environment with plenty of moisture. Make sure not to slack when it comes to turning on exhaust fans, including the one in your oven’s hood, which can help reduce condensation formation.
It’s also helpful to leave exhaust fans on for twenty to thirty minutes after steaming up a room, along with wiping down moisture on the walls with a dry rag.
That’s why experts suggest that only the smallest of affected areas should be handled by homeowners. If you do decide to try and kill mold yourself, be sure to wear protective goggles, gloves, and a respiratory mask before applying a fungicide spray to mold spots.
However, if mold has found its way into your HVAC system, appears in multiple areas on your walls, or you’re already experiencing symptoms of mold exposure, it’s time to call a mold remediation expert.
Doing so saves you the possible health risks associated with handling mold – not to mention they’ll make sure that there are no patches left behind – or that your home isn’t damaged during the exploration process.
If you do get water in your basement or business, experiencing frozen pipes, contact St. Cloud Water Damage Specialist 24/7 for immediate water extraction and 24/7 emergency water damage at (320) 249-0204.