Published on 09/24/09

Watery conditions lead to mold, mildew problems

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

With floodwaters receding from Georgia homes and roadways following recent record rainfall, mold and mildew may seem like secondary threats to the many who find their properties damper than usual. But in a few weeks, that dank smell will alert people that they have a problem.

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension coordinator Susan Culpepper is getting ahead of the storm, so to speak, by providing her area with information now about mold and mildew cleanup. Much of Douglas County, where she works, and Paulding County, where she lives, have been under water for days.

“Once people regroup, once they can see or smell the mold or mildew,” they’re going to want information, she said. “We’re going to try to head off some of that by getting information out right now.”

It’s not just floodwaters that cause mold and mildew problems, says Pamela Turner, a UGA Extension housing specialist with the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

“The humidity is already making everything grow,” she said. “The dead leaves on my plants are growing fuzzy mold.”

People in any area that has received a large amount of rain should be on the lookout for fungus problems, particularly its musty, earthy smell. It often appears as a discoloration, stain or fuzzy growth.

“Mold will live anywhere where there’s food,” she said. “You can find it growing on windows, and it’s not the glass, it’s the dirt on the window. It just needs a little food, moisture and a place to grow.”

To keep mold and mildew growth at a minimum, run the air conditioner and keep the windows shut, which may be impossible for Georgians currently without electricity, she said. Air conditioning, fans or dehumidifiers will remove some of the moisture and keep the indoor humidity below 60 percent.

Turn on the bathroom exhaust fan when taking a shower and the kitchen fan when cooking. Most mold and mildew problems start in bathrooms or kitchens, especially if there’s a leaky faucet or pipe.

“The other place you might find mold is in a closet on your shoes or clothing. People usually leave their closet doors shut,” Turner said. “And closets are often jam-packed full of stuff, and there’s no air circulation. ... I’ve seen little gray fuzz on handbags and shoes.”

To solve this problem, she suggests leaving closet doors open or switching to louvered doors, which allow air to circulate.

Keep an eye on crawl spaces. If water sits too long under a house, the chance for mold problems increases.

For homes, basements or garages that have been flooded, the problem isn’t just water damaging the floors. “The water is going to be wicked up into your wallboard and insulation,” she said.

Turner has a few tips to get rid of mold:

1. Wear long sleeves, long pants, close-toed shoes, gloves, a mask and a hat when cleaning up large quantities of mold. Wash these clothes as soon as you’re done cleaning. Don’t wash them with other clothes.

2. Use a mild detergent mixed with water to wash mold off hard surfaces.

3. Or, use a solution of either mild bleach and water or borax and water. With both, mix one-half cup of bleach or borax with 1 gallon of water. She prefers borax because it inhibits mold growth and is a little better on the environment.

Put the solution in a bottle and spray the infected area lightly before wiping clean. “You don’t want to saturate the wall,” she said. “More is not better. More is just more.”

4. Wash fabrics infected with mildew in the washing machine. If fabrics can handle it, use the hot water cycle.

5. Tear out carpet and padding that have been in flood water. It’s almost impossible to get mold and mildew out of soft flooring materials. You will probably have to replace them.

6. Hire a certified mold removal specialist in extreme cases, especially if water has saturated the walls and insulation. This is especially important for people with respiratory problems, immune deficiencies or other illnesses.

For more information on mold and mildew, visit For more on what to do before and after a flood, visit

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.