Mold is not a needy entity. It’s just floating all around us, looking mindlessly for a nice organic surface to land where it is damp, dark, still and somewhat untrafficked. Once it finds its perfect home, it begins to digest whatever organic material it sits on and then it grows and grows and grows. Unfortunately, the nasty bi-product of this digestion is smelly fumes and dangerous toxins which makes mold an unattractive houseguest that must be evicted as soon as possible … even if it only occupies the lowly and unloved space that is your basement. When mold has invaded, basement mold remediation might become necessary.
The conditions in the average basement create a perfectly hospitable environment for molds of all kinds. Dark, cluttered with paper and wood and fabric and other organic snacks that mold loves, it is also usually cold and damp, can have sub-par ventilation and is a prime candidate for floods, leaks and cracks that not only let the outside into your home but that also go unnoticed by a busy homeowner. The north-facing garden wall that never dries out is cause enough to keep your basement from ever becoming dry enough to discourage mold colonization so let’s not mention the big plastic bags of clothes you meant to take to the thrift store or the pile of cooking magazines you put down there last fall.
So you’ve been down to the basement recently and you noticed that unmistakable smell. You know you’ve got mold somewhere and you know you have to do something about it before it makes you and the family lethargic, congested or just plain sick and definitely before it hits your HVAC system and infiltrates the whole house. You need a basement mold remediation plan … but where to start?
The first step in basement mold remediation is to educate yourself about where to find mold and what the various types of it look like. In the basement, mold can be found on almost anything except, basically, metal and glass. Inspect any and all organic and/or porous materials including paint, wallpaper, carpet, cardboard, paper, wood, fabrics, insulation and wall materials such as gypsum and drywall. Mold can be black, white, blue or gray and might be dry, wet, raised, fuzzy or flat.
Put on your protective gear (mask and latex gloves are the most important!) and pull everything away from the walls and really look. If you suspect the walls may be hiding mold from you, cut away a piece and take a look or have it tested. Try not to disturb the mold as it will release spores and could both make you sick and spread the mold to other areas. If there are water stains anywhere or you have excessive dampness, check for leaking pipes, cracks in the walls, unsealed window frames or other culprits that may be allowing water to come into your basement.
Once you’ve taken stock of your situation, you have to make a decision: if you have a lot of mold – either in a lot of areas or covering an area larger than 3’ x 3’ – you should consider contacting mold removal companies to handle it for you. Likewise, if you can smell mold but cannot find it no matter how hard you search, consider hiring a certified mold inspector. If it seems manageable, create a DIY basement mold remediation plan that includes the following: control the spread of mold during the cleaning process, kill the mold safely and non-toxically, remove the dead mold and, finally, protect your basement from future mold infestations.
Control the Spread of Mold
No matter how non-toxic your planned cleaning methods, you need to confine your work area to prevent the mold spores from migrating to unaffected areas during the mold removal process. Use plastic sheeting to create a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall “clean room,” then dry the area thoroughly with a dehumidifier and, if possible, use a HEPA filter out the mold with an exhaust fan venting directly to the outside via a window. Now that you are starting the nitty gritty of your basement mold remediation, it’s time to step up the personal protection gear by adding a protective suit (even painter’s coveralls will do), a respirator mask and goggles. This is the time to tear out carpets, moldy insulation, and wet or stained drywall plus repair leaking pipes or cracks and bag and throw away any unsalvageable items that have mold growing on them. Any items that you think you can salvage, carefully take outside and scrub them with TSP or Borax with warm water and let dry in the sunshine, if possible.
Kill the Mold!
As you all know by now, BLEACH DOES NOT KILL MOLD… it simply bleaches it. And because the fumes from chlorine bleach are as unhealthy as the fumes from the mold itself, it has no place in your mold toolkit! Similarly, ozone air purifiers are ineffective so they should be considered pure snake oil.
This is the revenge portion of your basement mold remediation plan: it’s time to kill all the surface mold in your basement with one or two sprayings of an effective, organic mold cleaner, available online or at your local hardware store. If there is any furniture or other large objects in your basement, remove them for the first spraying so they don’t block the spray from the walls and then return them for the second spraying so they get the benefit of the mold killing substances floating in the air.
Remove the Dead Mold and Its Detritus
Once everything is dry and all the visible surface mold is dead, clean every surface thoroughly as even dead mold can cause allergic reactions. Use a HEPA filter in your vacuum and run it over everything at least twice and scrub and clean all surfaces with TSP or Borax and warm water. Don’t forget to dry all these surfaces … don’t give mold a chance to find a new foothold! Finally, make sure that all rags, sponges and HEPA filters are bagged and taken to an outdoor trashcan.
Protect Your New, Mold-Free Basement from New Mold Infestations
Take down your “clean room” walls, bag the plastic and throw it into an outdoor trashcan. Then, use a good protective fungicidal coating on all cleaned surfaces before you replace insulation, drywall or carpet to protect the materials against future mold growth. Then, rebuild and repopulate your basement with any and all of your mold free treasures!
How to Know if Your Basement Mold Remediation Plan Worked
If you were successful, you should not smell mold or see mold or water stains anywhere in your basement. If you used a home mold sampling kit before your remediation, you can test again to compare the numbers but even if you didn’t, a sampling of surface mold at this juncture can tell you whether you are all clear or not. If you are mold-free, you can rebuild, repair and repopulate your basement with all of your mold-free treasures. If, however, you are still in need of basement mold remediation, repeat the necessary steps outlined above to get those last stubborn moldy areas under control.
Regular cleaning, maintenance and inspections are the best protection of all from mold recurrence in your basement. Use a dehumidifier frequently, let as much air and sunshine in as is practical and stay watchful … mold is always looking to come for a nice long visit (or maybe even stay forever!).