How to banish mould - for good!
We’ve all seen it – lurking in the corner of bathrooms, or on damp windowsills. It disgusts us, yet it seems to keep coming back no matter what.
Whether it’s your rental property or your own home, mould is a real issue, and it’s better to deal with it than ignore it, for sure. It can affect your quality of life significantly, especially if someone in the home is particularly young, old, asthmatic or prone to allergies. On top of that it can be depressing to live in mouldy accommodation. I should know; I’ve dealt with this in several properties over the years – one of which even led to a serious chest infection for my wife, who was otherwise fit and healthy at the time. It’s a serious problem, and sadly also one that is extremely common in the UK, with older homes and damp weather combining.
There are many different causes, some of which are the responsibility of the landlord and some of which can be addressed by changes in the way tenants use or look after the property. So this week I’m looking at ways to ensure that neither you, nor your tenants, should ever have to face a serious mould problem.
Prevention is better than cure.
Dry your clothes outside.
- A huge amount of moisture in homes comes from drying clothes indoors, on radiators or clothes racks, creating perfect conditions for mould to grow.
- In particular, this can cause a fungus called aspergillus fumigatus, which can cause potentially fatal lung infections.
- Professor David Denning, from the University of Manchester, explains: “It’s estimated that as many as 87 per cent of us dry our clothes indoors in the winter. One load of wet washing contains almost two litres of water, which is released into the room.
- “Most of us are either immune to the fungus which grows in these humid conditions, or have a sufficiently healthy system to fight the infection. But, in asthma sufferers it can produce coughing and wheeziness, and in people with weak or damaged immune systems, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy,”
- “My advice would be when in doubt, dry wet washing outside, in a tumble dryer or in a well ventilated indoor space away from bedrooms and living areas. Be safe rather than sorry,”
Let fresh air in, and steam out.
- If you are cooking, or having a shower or even boiling a kettle, make sure that the room is well ventilated. Kitchens and bathrooms should have working extractor fans, preferably linked to a humidistat, which will turn them on and off when the humidity is too high.
- Close doors to other areas of the home, and where possible open a window too. Whilst you might not want to do that in winter when it is cold outside, that’s actually the most important time. When the hot steam touches cold surfaces like glass it will condense into liquid and pool on the windowsill – perfect for mould to form.
Think about the walls.
- Exterior walls are often colder than interior ones, and anywhere there is a significant change in temperature is a potential mould breeding ground.
- Keep furniture slightly away from exterior walls to allow air to flow freely.
- Too many objects in the home, particularly in cupboards will again prevent airflow and encourage mould growth. Do you really still need that Trollz collection from when you were 7?
- Have a clear out, take it to the charity shops or eBay it, and you’ll feel better all round.
If prevention fails, then cure quickly and carefully!
It’s tempting to get the scrubbing brush out as soon as you see those little black spots, but did you realise you might be making things worse? Scrubbing, brushing or vacuuming dry mould could actually release spores into the air, causing breathing difficulties and spreading the problem around the home.
- If you are prone to respiratory conditions, wear a mask and gloves to clean mould.
- Use a good anti-bacterial spray regularly on grout, sealant and windowsills to stop mould in its tracks.
- Mix equal amounts of water and white vinegar, and then add twice as much bicarbonate of soda to make a paste. This can be used with a damp cloth to scrub at mouldy areas to remove stains.
- Mop up any condensation on windowsills as soon as you see it, particularly in bedrooms.
If you’ve tried all the tips above to prevent and deal with mould, and you’re having no luck, report it to your landlord. If you don’t report the problem promptly, you could be liable for some of the cost of repairing it.
Landlord’s responsibilities for mould removal
Whilst most mould is caused by condensation due to the way the tenant is using the property, if they have tried all of the right things with no luck then you may have a more serious problem. You may need to consider fitting a dehumidifier or improve the ventilation and insulation of your rental property. If these are the source of the problems and you don’t address them then you could be liable in court further down the line in the event your tenant complains or falls ill. Your local environmental health department have the right to inspect your property if they have received complaints, and can take action against you if there is a risk to the health and safety of the occupants.
You could also have a structural problem with your building, which fall into two categories:
This means that water is getting into your home from the outside. It can be caused by broken guttering, poor damp proofing in basement areas, leaking pipes or rotting window frames. In addition to the health problems your tenants may suffer, ignoring the problem could lead to your buildings insurance becoming invalid.
Rising damp is caused by water soaking up into the bricks or concrete of a building from below. It commonly affects older homes or new-builds that have been constructed improperly. The water can soak into skirting boards and plaster, leaving mould, ‘high tide’ marks and bubbles in the plaster behind. All of the affected materials will need to be replaced, but first you have to deal with the source. This is where it would be worth calling in a damp-proofing specialist to look at your property and advise you on where to go next, but in simple terms you will need to either install or repair the damp-proof course. This is an impermeable barrier that stops damp from rising into your home, and is usually a requirement in all but the oldest homes.
As I said at the start, mould is a horrible thing to have to live with – you shouldn’t have to live with it and neither should your tenants. Fortunately, with a little education most problems can be avoided before mould gets a hold in your property, and for those who don’t want to manage the place themselves then a good agent will be looking for these issues and dealing with them before you ever need to get involved. Have a happy, healthy week!