Finding black mold in your home is a homeowner’s worst nightmare. Not only does it look unsightly, but it can also smell terrible, and many people believe that it spreads disease. While the latter may not be true, it certainly can spread itself – meaning you need to remove it before you have a full infestation.
The good news is that removing black mold is not a difficult task. If you have a major infestation, you may need to get professional help. However, if the black mold is in a small area, then it’s a task you can complete yourself in an afternoon.
This guide will demonstrate the different options for removing black mold and show you how commonly-available cleaning products can be a cheap – and eco-friendly – option for you, your family, and your home.
WHAT IS BLACK MOLD?
Black mold – or Stachybotrys chartarum – is a fungus that exists very rarely in nature, but flourishes inside human homes. It feeds off cellulose, meaning that it grows on surfaces such as wallpaper, gypsum, and other paper-based products.
Black mold has a reputation for causing sickness as a result of the mycotoxins that it produces. However, while mold spores of all types have been connected with allergic reactions, irritation, and respiratory problems, there is no conclusive evidence that black mold is worse than other forms.
For a more detailed rundown on black mold, see our comprehensive guide – What is Black Mold.
Although this guide is focused on how to remove black mold that is already present, the best long-term tactic is to remove the conditions in which black mold can thrive.
BLACK MOLD REQUIRES FOUR ELEMENTS TO BE PRESENT IN ORDER TO GROW:
- Temperatures between 41 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
The easiest of these to remove is water. Black mold often grows around pipes that have leaked or are present after water damage. If you dry an area – and keep it dry – then black mold won’t return. In practice, this may mean buying a dehumidifier or fixing a leaking pipe.
In order to get rid of black mold yourself, you will need to take several steps in preparation. You need to make sure of two things: firstly, that you have protected your body from the effects of both the cleaning product and the mold; secondly, that you will not spread the mold into other parts of your house as you clean it.
The bare minimum protective equipment you should wear is:
- A respirator or face mask (depending on the cleaning product you are using)
- Gloves that prevent you from coming into contact with the mold and cleaning product (i.e. gloves made from rubber)
- Eye protection
On top of this, you should also wear clothes that you can disinfect post-use. Overalls are preferable. You should have long sleeves and ensure your arms, legs, and head are covered.
SEAL THE ROOM
Once you enter the room with the mold, you need to seal it off to prevent spores from entering other rooms as you clean. To do this, place heavy plastic sheeting over the doors and openings and tape it down with duct tape. For this reason, you will need to complete the job in one go.
You should also have a heavy-duty garbage bag ready for your equipment. Once you have finished, seal everything in this bag and remove it from the building through as few rooms as possible (dropping it out the window may be the best option) so as not to risk contamination.
Although there are specialist mold removers on the market, you can remove black mold using household equipment. Below is an overview of the different products available, and how to use them.
Ammonia is a common cleaning solution – available readily in most grocery stores. Ammonia is often used in industrial cleaning and has a distinct smell. A 64 oz. bottle of ammonia will cost somewhere between $20 and $50.
- Cheap and easy. One of the key advantages of using ammonia is that it is a cheap and easy cleaning fluid to find.
- Works well on hard surfaces. Moreover, it does a great job of cleaning on surfaces that are hard, and non-porous, such as your bathroom sink, shower doors, or any tile surfaces. These are also the places that mold is most common.
- Not good on porous materials. Ammonia cannot penetrate deeply into porous surfaces – like wood – so using an ammonia cleaner on a porous surface will not address the roots of the mold spores.
- Short term solution. The surface may look clean for a week or two, but then the mold will return.
- Toxic. Ammonia is also a major irritant if it comes into contact with skin or eyes and it gives off toxic fumes. If you have pets or small children, then this may not be the best option to use.
- Dangerous when combined with bleech. Finally, ammonia and bleach are combustible when combined, so be sure to keep the two apart, and make sure all bottles clearly labeled.
HOW TO USE IT:
As well as your protective equipment, you will need to use a respirator if you are working with ammonia. Ensure the windows are open in the room you are in (don’t open the doors as the mold spores may spread).
Mix equal parts ammonia and water in a spray bottle. It is better to use a new bottle or one that has not contained bleach. If you have used a bleach solution previously, clean the bottle thoroughly, and add the water before the ammonia.
- Spray the areas where the black mold is visible (as well as the surrounding areas).
- Let the solution rest on the surface for 10 minutes.
- Use a brush to clean the mold. Then use a clean cloth to wipe the area clean.
- Once the area is clean, repeat the process to ensure you removed all of the mold.
- Repeat in the future if the mold returns.
Bleach works in exactly the same way as ammonia. The only additional points to note are:
- Don’t mix bleach with ammonia.
- Don’t mix bleach with vinegar – it will do nothing other than diminish the bleach’s efficacy.
- You can leave the bleach on the surface you are cleaning rather than removing it with a cloth – this will allow it to keep working. However, bleach will discolor surfaces – so only use on surfaces that are already white.
TEA TREE OIL
Unlike ammonia or bleach, tea tree oil is not harmful to the environment or dangerous to inhale. Furthermore, it is a natural fungicide, meaning it will have many of the same effects.
- A little goes a long way. Although tea tree oil can be more expensive than ammonia or bleach, you only need to use small amounts.
- Eco-friendly. As mentioned above, it’s also healthier for the environment and your home than harsh chemicals.
- So many options. There is a big variance in the quality and purity of tea tree oils you can buy. The key thing to look for on the tea tree oil you buy is that it is made from Melaleuca alternifolia – the Australian tree that has fungicidal properties.
- Can be toxic. Although it is a natural oil, tea tree oil can be toxic, so be sure to keep it out of the hands of children. For the same reason, you should also wear rubber gloves when handling.
HOW TO USE IT:
Because tea tree oil does not give off harsh fumes, you will not need to wear a respirator or a face mask, but you should still have your hands and eyes covered.
- Add 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil to 1 cup of water
- Add the mixture to a spray bottle
- Spray the bottle on the mold
- Wait for it to sit for 30 seconds, then wipe the area with a cloth
You can also use this process as a nice-smelling preventative measure around the grout in your bathroom. Spray regularly to ensure that the mold does not return.
Another item you may have around your home is Borax. Borax is used as a household cleaner and can remove odors, clean, and disinfect – so it makes sense that it works against black mold.
- Gentler on skin than other options. Borax is less harmful to the skin than any of the other options mentioned above.
- Commonly found in homes and stores. It’s also likely something that you have in your closet at home.
- Not as effective. Borax may not be as effective as the other options.
- Still can irritate skin. In some cases, it may be a mild-skin irritant, so you should still wear gloves to use it.
- Requires extra effort. It also requires a little more elbow grease to clean off mold.
HOW TO USE IT:
Here’s how to clean mold using borax.
- Combine 1 cup of borax with 1 gallon of water in a bucket.
- Using a cloth, wipe the solution onto the mold-covered area.
- Using a brush or toothbrush, scrub the mold.
- Wipe away any of the mold that has been loosened by the scrubbing.
- Leave the borax solution on the surface.
This will continue to disinfect and deodorize the area.
Although black mold may seem scary – and it is certainly unpleasant – it doesn’t have to mean that your home is unusable or unsafe.
There is no conclusive link between black mold and any specific health concerns (at least, any more so than any type of mold), although having mold in your home is something you need to address quickly.
Black mold is susceptible to a number of household cleaning products, so removing the mold yourself is a safe and money-saving option.