Warning Signs: When to Know There Is a Mold Problem

When left untreated, mold can become a serious health and safety risk. It’s essential to know how to identify when your property has a mold problem. Luckily, you can learn what steps you can take to clean mold and, most importantly, what you can do to help prevent mold from growing in the future. Learn how to get rid of black mold and other types of mold that may contaminate your business and how to determine when to turn to a professional for help removing mold.

Know the Warning Signs

Mold can be dangerous for your health and the structure of your building. Knowing what to look for around your property and the possible health side effects can help you determine if you’re dealing with mold. These red flags can also help you identify which type of mold is present.

How Do You Know Your Building Has Mold?

Mold can be hard to detect, especially if it’s growing in hidden spaces. Luckily, there are some key warning signs and things to look for when determining if your property has mold. These include:

  • Visible mold spores: The easiest way to tell if you have mold is if you can see it. Mold can be several different colors — the most common are black, gray, green, brown and white, or combinations of these colors. Visible mold is a common sign that you have a bigger mold problem. What you see is often only a small portion of what’s really going on.
  • Damp, musty odor: If you notice your building or specific rooms in your building have a moldy or musty smell, you may have a mold issue. While some molds produce an odor, it’s not always easy to pinpoint the smell. In general, if you notice a persistent damp and musty odor, it’s worth investigating, especially if it’s an uncommon smell for your space.
  • Visible water damage: Areas of water damage are common places for mold to grow because of the collection of water or moisture. Look for signs of water damage — peeling, cracking or bubbling paint and water stains or discoloration on ceilings, walls and floors. Signs of water damage can indicate water leaks, which can lead to mold. It’s essential to have a professional check these spaces.
  • Past flooding: If your property has experienced flooding in the past, it’s crucial to remember mold can be a long-term problem. Continuously check previously flooded areas, even if there were initially no signs of mold. Moisture can hang around for a while, so mold can remain a possible issue long after the flooding occurred.
  • Water leaks: Water leaks and areas where condensation forms aren’t always visible, resulting in hidden mold. If you’re aware of a leak, it’s key to have it taken care of quickly. If you notice the mold first, check for leaks behind walls or condensation collecting around the area to determine the source.

Can You Get Sick From Mold?

In short, yes, mold can make you sick. Most commonly, mold can cause symptoms similar to allergies, like:

  • Coughing
  • Sore, itchy throat
  • Wheezing, difficulty breathing and respiratory issues
  • Sinus headaches
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion and runny nose
  • Chronic or frequent nosebleeds
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Irritated, itchy skin

Keep track of when and where you experience these symptoms. If your symptoms seem worse at work, it may be a sign that your business’s building has a mold problem.

Some forms of mold are toxic and highly dangerous, causing serious, life-threatening illnesses that can result in death if left untreated. If you’re experiencing symptoms that don’t make sense or seem sudden, see your doctor to rule out other causes. In general, it’s wise to use context clues to determine if it’s something in your environment that’s causing the issue.

Distinguishing Between Mold and Dirt

While you can often easily identify many types of mold, it’s easy to confuse mold and dirt. To help you differentiate between them, mold is a living organism that grows on surfaces in moist conditions, while dirt isn’t an organism. Here are a few guidelines to begin figuring out how to detect mold in walls and other surfaces:

  • Smell: Mold has an unpleasant odor that smells musty or rotten. Dirt will be more difficult to smell — and, if anything, will smell more dry and earthy. Close off the suspected room or area for a day or two. If you come back and can detect an odor, you’re likely dealing with mold instead of dirt.
  • The bleach test: You can use bleach to test for mold. Dip a cotton swab in bleach and dab it on the suspected area. If the dark spot turns a lighter color after a few minutes, you should assume it’s mold. Otherwise, it’s probably just dirt.
  • Growing conditions: Mold has specific growing conditions. Mold will grow in low-lit, high moisture areas like underneath a bathroom shelf. If you’re looking at a dry, well-lit area, it’s most likely not mold. Also, consider that dirt or dust won’t collect on the bottoms of surfaces.
  • Check the surface of the area: Some mold can cause rot. If you poke the dark area with something sharp and it’s soft or crumbles, you’re dealing with mold. Also, it’ll be more difficult to clean mold. Unlike dirt, mold usually doesn’t wipe easily off a surface. If you do manage to get the area clean, mold can continue to grow back until you take care of it properly.

Determining the Extent of Your Mold Problem

When dealing with mold, it’s essential to know the extent of your mold problem, if you can handle the clean-up yourself and when it’s time to call a professional. For the most part, you can view mold problems in five distinct categories. Level one represents small levels of contamination, while level four reaches the greatest degree of contamination. Level five is dedicated to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system mold. This scale can help you decide the severity of your issue.

Use the following guide to help determine the extent of the mold in your building and what the best course of action is for each level.

Level 1: 10 Square Feet or Less

When the mold problem is restricted to a small space, it’s usually relatively easy to take care of yourself. Level one mold spores are commonly found on ceilings, walls and baseboards exposed to moisture.

You can easily remove and clean the contaminated area yourself. Use a wire brush, cloth and detergent solution to clean the surface. As another option, you can spray the area with a fungicide spray or vinegar. Make sure the surfaces dry completely and keep the area well-ventilated to prevent the mold from growing back.

Level 2: 10-30 Square Feet

Level two mold contaminations refer to areas of 10-30 square feet. With a larger amount of contaminated space, it’s more likely you’ll need to identify and resolve an underlying problem. For the most part, you may be able to handle the mold yourself. In addition to the cleaning procedures for level one contaminations, you’ll also want to vacuum the area with a high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filter-equipped vacuum and wipe down all surfaces with a detergent solution.

When transferring contaminated materials out of the building, cover and seal them with plastic sheets and tape. This step will help contain mold spores and prevent them from contaminating other areas of the building. It’s also essential to find the source of the excess moisture so you can prevent future mold growth.

Level 3: 30-100 Square Feet

Areas of mold larger than 30 square feet require immediate professional attention. Consulting with a specialist is the best course of action for mold in an area this large, as it can be extremely detrimental to everyone’s health. In the meantime, keep the area and adjacent areas restricted for the safety of others.

Level 4: 100 Square Feet or More

Level four contaminations pose severe health and safety risks for anyone occupying the space and can damage the structure of the building. Contact a mold remediation professional immediately. Mold removal of this size requires hazardous material training, HEPA face respirators and disposable protective clothing.

Level 5: HVAC Contamination

Be sure to leave remediation services on HVAC systems to the professionals, no matter the contamination size. They have to shut the entire HVAC system down and use specialized antimicrobial agents to decontaminate inaccessible spores within the ductwork. These processes require a high level of expertise and can be dangerous. Don’t attempt HVAC mold removal by yourself, unless you’re trained in doing so.

What to Do if You Have a Mold Problem

After you determine you have mold and the extent of the problem, you can begin researching ways to fix the situation and your next steps.

  • Wear protective gear: If you’re handling the moldy area yourself, it’s essential to wear protective gear like goggles, rubber gloves and a respirator mask. Doing so helps prevent the inhalation and transfer of mold spores.
  • Use appropriate cleaning products: To effectively clean moldy surfaces, use commercial cleaning products, soap and water or diluted bleach. Use a brush to scrub moldy surfaces to ensure you get it all. Then, make sure the surface dries completely after cleaning to help prevent mold from returning.
  • Porous materials: You may need to dispose of porous materials like carpet, ceiling tiles and furniture. These materials or surfaces can be difficult to clean, and you may just be better off replacing them if the problem is serious.
  • See a doctor: As we mentioned earlier, mold can cause serious health issues. If you were exposed to high amounts of mold or have persisting symptoms, contact your doctor. It may also be a good idea to get checked out regardless.
  • Call a professional: Seek professional help for large areas of mold, water damage that resulted in mold or if you have asthma or other immune deficiencies. It’s always better to be safe and call a professional than risk your own health and safety when it comes to mold.

Prevention Is Key

Dealing with mold is one of the last things you want to do. Taking the necessary steps to prevent mold can save you time and money and keep you healthy. The best way to avoid mold is by reducing moisture around your building. Consider the following tips for reducing moisture:

  • Use dehumidifiers: Dehumidifiers exist to suck moisture out of the air. Take advantage of these machines in humid areas of your building. During the summer months or in especially hot, humid climates, dehumidifiers can make a space more comfortable and reduce moisture levels to prevent mold growth.
  • Fix leaks quickly: Leaks ultimately lead to mold growth. Locate any plumbing or HVAC leaks and have them repaired sooner rather than later. If there’s already a leak behind a wall somewhere, the chances for mold are higher. Also, keep in mind water can leak into your building from outside. Making sure gutters and landscaping direct water runoff away from the building can help prevent unwanted leaks and moisture.
  • Dry wet areas: In the event there’s a spill or leak, dry the wet area as soon as possible. Drying the space within 24-48 hours can help reduce the chance for mold to grow. If necessary, use fans to ensure the surface dries completely.
  • Keep indoor humidity low: If possible, keep your building’s indoor humidity below 60%. Find a hygrometer at your local hardware store to measure relative humidity. Using the hygrometer, you can determine spaces in your building that have high humidity levels. You can then use this information to monitor and target these areas with dehumidifiers to keep the humidity below 60%.
  • Increase circulation: Open doors between rooms to increase circulation in areas that are humid or contain moisture. You can also use fans to encourage ventilation and keep air moving, which can help dry up already wet or moist surfaces to prevent mold growth.
  • Ventilate crawl spaces: Keep basements and crawlspaces well-ventilated, as these areas can collect moisture from the ground, creating mold.
  • Clean drip pans: Regularly clean and drain the drip pans on air conditioners and refrigerators. Ensure drain lines are flowing properly and are free of anything that may cause blockage. Monitoring these functions prevents leaks from happening.

Contact Unlimited Restoration to Eliminate Mold From Your Business

Taking on mold remediation is a time-consuming and risky project. When you see signs of mold in your building, leave the job to the professional mold remediation team at Unlimted Restoration. At URI, our experts work to isolate the hazardous area, eliminate the problem and target the cause of the mold so it won’t return. We want to help you get your business back. Contact URI for mold remediation today.


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