Who’s at risk: People whose homes are damp because of high humidity, poor ventilation, a leaky roof or basement, or damage from flooding.
What it is: A microscopic fungus that lives both outdoors and in, mold spreads via tiny airborne spores that can grow on almost any damp surface. Over a thousand types have been found in U.S. homes, according to the nonprofit National Center for Healthy Housing. Some mold (and mildew, another type of fungus) can cause skin rashes, flulike symptoms, eye and lung irritation, and other health problems.
Where it hides: Mold is most often found in damp areas of your home, such as the bathroom, the kitchen, and the basement. But it can also thrive under and in carpets or rugs, above ceilings, and in walls, cabinets, crawl spaces, attics, and any room where excessive moisture persists.
Mold can also contaminate your home’s air ducts, letting spores spread throughout your home every time the heating or air conditioning system runs. And homes can be especially susceptible to mold after catastrophic weather events such as hurricanes, floods, or deep freezes that cause pipes to burst.
How to find and fix it: Many mold problems can be seen with the naked eye, and many can be detected by their telltale musty odor. If you suspect mold but can’t see it, test for it. (Test kits are available at hardware stores and online.)
To mitigate mold, first find and fix the source of moisture, whether it’s a leaky roof, a poorly ventilated bathroom, or another problem. Then take steps to remove the mold, using water, detergent, or a disinfectant such as a diluted bleach solution, or by throwing away the mold-covered object.
The EPA recommends doing the job yourself if the mold-contaminated area is less than 10 square feet. Use protective equipment, such as an N95 mask, goggles, and gloves. (For more, see the EPA’s “A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home.”) Larger-scale problems may require professional remediation.
To prevent mold from returning, reduce your indoor humidity to between 30 and 60 percent, via better ventilation and dehumidifiers, if necessary.
You might be eligible for financial assistance from the federal government if your mold problem is the result of a recent weather disaster. For details, go to the Disaster Assistance Improvement Program website.