Are you struggling with high levels of humidity in your home? Or is your home already being invaded by mildew / mould build-up? Some may think that moisture in their home is not a big deal, it is actually something that needs to be dealt with and should not be taken lightly. Humidity / moisture problems lead to the build-up of mould and mildew, which damages your home and could be harmful to your health as well.
The difference between mould and mildew
Firstly, mildew is a growth produced by mould. It is easy to confuse mould with mildew, as both are fungi that thrive in warm and moist environments, however there are a few differences that could help you identify the fungus before treating it. One of the main differences would be the appearance of each fungus. Mildew is typically white, grey or yellow, it grows with a flat appearance, and appears as a large spill. Whereas mould tends to be green or black, and grows in a pattern with many small circles, rising above the surface that it grows on.
Both fungi grow in warm and moist places. They do have preferences on where to start growing though. Mildew is often found on fabric or leather after it has gotten wet, as well as on floors, walls or the ceilings of areas that have a lot of humidity, such as bathrooms, basements and kitchens. Mould can grow in many different places, and is most often found on food, such as cheese or bread, however mildew could grow on agriculture as well.
Mould and mildew have different effects on the surfaces they grow on. Mildew can harm food it grows on, but it does not typically damage surfaces such as tiles or bathroom mirrors. If a person inhales mildew spores, they could get a headache or start coughing, so this fungus could present health issues. However, mould is more serious. It can damage structures and can cause long-term health problems for people. Respiratory issues, heart problems and migraines are some of the health issues you could experience when it comes to mould. For this reason, it is important to prevent / treat mould as soon as possible.
Another difference between these two fungi is the difficulty level of getting rid of them. You could use a mildew cleaner and a scrubbing brush to get rid of mildew, however mould removal is best left to professionals.
Moisture, Humidity and Mildew / Mould Prevention Basics
Mould and mildew inside your home can only exist when and where there is a source of moisture. In order to prevent this, you will need to seek out areas that have high levels of moisture and humidity and dry them up. Excessive moisture or humidity may indicate that repairs are needed.
If your clothing dryer is equipped with a vent, have it exhausted to the outside in order to remove moist air. An exhaust fan will also help with mildew prevention, as they are used to pull excess moisture and unwanted odours out of a particular room or area. They are commonly found in bathrooms and kitchens, where moisture can build up.
Good ventilation is important for moisture prevention, however, sometimes there is not enough ventilation and an air-conditioning system could help in this case. It removes moisture from the air by cooling and circulating it. Remember to close all the windows in your home when using this system.
Do not allow clothing items to lay around damp or wet. Dry washed garments and fabrics thoroughly and as quickly as possible. Fabrics that are dried slowly may start smelling musty.
Leaky tap | Freerangestock Images
Bad plumbing can also cause problems. Leaky taps, pipes and toilets add to the humidity of your home. The water evaporates, becoming moisture in the air. Repair or replace any malfunctioning pipes as soon as possible, as this issue will encourage mould and mildew growth. You can also insulate the pipes, which will prevent them from releasing moisture into the air.
A dehumidifier is an electrical appliance that reduces and maintains the humidity level in the air. Dehumidifiers extract water from air that passes through the unit. Condensate and desiccant dehumidifiers are the two different types available. It reduces the risk of moisture problems in the home, decreases the humidity level of your home by removing the excess moisture in the air, and can eliminate musty odours as well.
Cattleya Epiphytic orchid can naturally help reduce moisture, as it derives its moisture from the air | Freerange images
Regarding a natural dehumidifier, we could consider plants that use the air as a food source. An epiphyte is an organism that grows on the surface of a plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain and debris that may accumulate around it. This plant will not get rid of moisture permanently but can surely help naturally. All plants release water into the atmosphere, so if you are looking to add some greenery to your home, this would be a good plant to consider.
It is also important to make sure that the humidity level in your home is not too low. This will not be good for the health of the home or for anyone who lives there. Low humidity can cause dry skin, irritability to the eyes, it can make you more susceptible to colds and will create an uncomfortable environment. Low humidity levels can also damage the furniture in your home.
When trying to make the air in your home healthy, relative humidity (RH) is an important factor that will allow you to assess the amount of moisture present in your home. Relative humidity is a way of describing how much humidity is present in the air, compared to how much there could be, given a certain temperature. The value is written as a percentage, where 0% is dry and 100% is completely moist. The recommended range of indoor RH in air conditioned buildings is generally 30–60 %. You can use a hygrometer to measure the amount of humidity in the atmosphere.
If you are currently dealing with a mould or mildew problem, you are most likely inhaling spores generated by the mould. You can use an air purifier to help with this, as it is able to capture and remove spores from the air. This is not a solution to your mould problem, but will definitely help avoid breathing in those spores.
Mould on a wall surface | Image by Freerangestock
Identify places where mould is likely to form and keep those areas clean and dry. Areas that contain high levels of humidity are ideal for mildew growth. Greasy films that grow on kitchen walls contain enough nutrients for these growths. Clean clothing is less likely to have mildew grow than soiled clothing. Most synthetic fibres, such as acetate, acrylic, polyester and nylon, are resistant to mildew, and clean fabrics of these fibres will not support mould growth, however, soil may supply food to start mildew, so clean all fabrics thoroughly regardless of the fibre type.
Minimizing cool surfaces and reducing humidity are the two ways of controlling moisture build-up. Storm doors and storm windows minimize cool surfaces in the winter by separating the interior from cold, outside air. A storm door is a door that is installed in front of an exterior access door to allow ventilation and for protection against bad weather. A storm window is a window mounted inside or outside of the main window of the house. These storm windows function similarly to insulated glazing.
Covering your pots when cooking and leaving your room doors open, allowing good air circulation, are two other simple ways of reducing air moisture.
Silica gel, used as a drying agent | Amazon
There are chemicals available that are able to absorb moisture, such as silica gel and activated alumina. Silica gel is a commonly used desiccant in the form of beads packed in a permeable bag. Activated alumina is used as a desiccant, and works through a process called adsorption. These chemicals are not harmful to fabrics. You could use it in a cloth bag. Hang it in your closet, or you could place it in an open container. All of these chemicals can be used repetitively, however you will need to make sure to dry the granules after each use, by placing it in an oven at 150ºC to 180ºC for a few hours, then allow the granules to cool in an air-tight food storage container.
Anhydrous calcium chloride also absorbs moisture from the air. The chemical is available in small, white granules that hold twice their weight of water, however, do not allow this chemical to make contact with your clothing or home textiles, as it will damage it.
Before and after using a bleach solution on mildew build-up | Image by Monique Reprezas
This is a wall in a poorly ventilated bathroom of a basement. The right section of this wall has been washed with a light bleach solution, just to show the difference between the two sections. Unfortunately, the probability of mildew returning after washing it off is very high, unless the ventilation and air conditioning is improved. Take care when using a bleach solution. Test the bleach solution on an inconspicuous area of the wall first, allowing the liquid to sit for a few minutes to ensure it does not stain the surface.
Raúl Ferrão, one of the two owners of Neves & Ferrão stated the following regarding this issue, "We must keep in mind that mould is a symptom and not the disease itself. Cleaning the mould will temporarily get rid of it, but to make it definite, you will need to address the root causes that are creating the conditions for the mould to develop. Those causes can vary immensely and frankly, the origins of water and humidity are often complex problems to solve - but they can be solved if you take a rational approach and eliminate the possible causes step by step."
In conclusion, some moisture problems may be more serious and complex than others. If you are not sure how to solve a moisture or mould problem, consult a professional.