Dear Angie: I moved into a duplex three months ago and found mold in the basement. I told my landlord, and he used white vinegar and bleach on the walls. I asked him to have a company take care of it, but he came over and tried cleaning it himself. Do you think that will get rid of it? — Diana J.
Answer: You are right to be concerned. Mold can be one of the most destructive forces inside a home. Not only can it cause significant damage to walls, ceilings and floors, it can be dangerous to your health if you inhale mold spores, especially if you have a weakened immune system, asthma or allergies.
Top-rated contractors told our consumer-research team that bleach or white vinegar — but not both at the same time — can eliminate surface mold, but it's not the recommended method.
Other sources, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recommend scrubbing mold from a surface with water and detergent or a multi purpose cleaner. When finished, dry as thoroughly and quickly as possible.
Our team found that the size of the problem should determine whether you hire a professional or remove the mold yourself. Experts say that if mold covers more than 10 square feet, it's best to contact a remediation company. It will use several methods to eliminate the mold, including removing the materials and items in the affected area and applying a microbial agent. However, if someone has no experience cleaning even a small area of mold, it's wise to call an expert who can determine the cause and whether mold has spread to areas you might not be able to see.
Mold can grow in the crevices and empty spaces of porous materials, such as wood, ceiling tiles and carpet, making it hard or impossible to remove completely. Toxins remain in living and dead spores, which is why professional testing and remediation are recommended.
In most cases, removing any affected porous material is the best line of defense against additional mold. If moldy materials are not removed, mold can spread throughout a home, especially in damp areas with high humidity.
To avoid a potential conflict of interest with a contractor, hire a separate tester and remediator. A tester can confirm the substance is mold and determine the extent of necessary remediation.
Before hiring a company, ask for and check credentials and references. Ask also what kind of warranty is offered. Get a written estimate before agreeing to any repairs, and request a detailed invoice. Before paying, check the invoice to make sure there are no surprises.
The cost of mold remediation can range from $500 for a 10-square-foot area to $30,000 for a severe problem.
After treatment, check the area frequently to make sure it remains dry and clean so mold doesn't spread or re-form.