Bathroom Mold: A Battle Plan to Destroy It
Bathroom mold completely freaks me out. Not just because it looks vile, but also because of the health problems it brings. Sure, there is mold that grows outside and gives me allergies. But how dare the stuff invade the bathroom, my most sacred space?
Search for bathroom mold in walls, faucets and pipes. Use a moisture meter to detect hidden mold. Then spot clean mold with bleach or a nontoxic vinegar solution, or hire a licensed, insured mold remediator. Repair leaks and proactively prevent mold from recurring with a bathroom exhaust fan.
To get rid of bathroom mold, follow the 4 part battle plan. You will win!
Step 1: Understand What Bathroom Mold Is
It’s always critical to know thy enemy. So let’s delve into it.
Like us, mold spores are living creatures. Also, like you and me—or at least me—mold thrives in damp dark places like in a bathtub.
Thankfully, that’s where the similarities end.
More than 100,000 Types of Mold
Mold is a fungus. There are more than 100,000 types of mold, and it can reproduce via spores. Molds that you may find in your bathroom go by different names such as:
- And (cue the horror music) stachybotrys charatum and stachybotrys chlorohalonata, aka black mold.
Mold shows up with red and orange streaks. Or it can look like blackish-green slime.
You cannot tell if it’s black mold just by looking. You would need to test it using a kit like this Easy Mold Kit, which unlike many DIY mold kits on the market, tests for all kinds of mold in an accredited lab.
Mildew is what we call the most visible type of mold. It can appear as pink slime around grout lines or bathroom caulk.
Health Hazards from Bathroom Mold
The reason black mold is feared more than the others is because it releases mycotoxins.
While black mold can cause chronic fatigue and neurological problems, the most common ailment from the other kinds of molds are respiratory and mimic hayfever. Symptoms include allergies, cough, and runny nose. Molds can also lead to asthma.
Like a canary in the coalmine, if someone in your home already has a compromised immune system, they will likely feel any negative health effects first.
All that said, many people suffer no ill effects from cohabiting with mold in their midst.
Step 2: Learn Where Bathroom Mold Hides
You can’t hunt down bathroom mold if you’re not familiar with its favorite hiding spots.
But first, a quick reality check: you can never annihilate mold completely. The best you can do is reduce it as much as possible. Mold is part of our outdoor environment, and since we are both indoor and outdoor creatures, we’ll always be bringing some mold spores inside.
That said, when there is a minimal amount of mold in your bathroom, it’s likely you can’t even see it. By the time you can see mildew with your naked eye, there’s enough to form a colony.
Let that sink in.
8 Spots to Search for Bathroom Mold
1. Sink Faucet
The sink is the first bathroom spot to check for leaks. Often leaky faucets and sink pipes harbor mold. Remember to open the vanity beneath the sink and check for moisture. You’ll probably need a flashlight. Run your hand over the pipes to feel for water.
In the case that you find a leaky pipe, but don’t see any mold, can you smell it? Mold has a distinctly musty odor. If you smell it, it’s there.
Flush your toilet and then check the base by the floor. Is any water leaking there?
3. Bathroom Walls
Mold loves broken tile, grout, peeling paint and musty old wallpaper. If you’ve got any of that going on, check for mold in those areas.
To learn how to tell if there is mold under your tile, read the post Is Mold Lurking Under Your Tile?
4. Wood Furniture
If you’ve got a wood vanity, cabinets or storage, are there any rotting pieces? Especially check baseboard, since that’s right up against the floor and bound to get wet frequently.
5. Bathtub Faucet
If your bathtub faucet is wall-mounted, deck-mounted or a freestanding filler, you’ll want to check hardware and pipes for proper installation. Turn the faucet on for ten seconds and then, as soon as you turn it off, look with your flashlight and feel for leaks with your hand.
6. Shower Curtain
If so, that’s a good first step, but not good enough. Even a mold-resistant shower curtain or door can grow mold if it’s wet all the time, although it’s a good start. In my bathroom with the alcove tub, I found mold on my sliding glass shower door. It’s the place on the door that’s closest to the surface of the water when I bathe. Yuck!
7. Bathroom Mat
While you likely won’t see mold on your bathroom mat–and if you do toss that thing immediately!–but you may smell it. For tips on mold and mildew-resistant bathroom mats, read this post on Bathtubber.com.
8. Inside Tub Jets
I’m so sorry to have to say that while jetted tubs are incredible when they are well maintained, they can be mold breeders when they’re not. With that in mind, if you have a jetted tub that’s been ignored, be sure to read How to Keep Jetted Tubs Clean. (Hint: You’ll need toothpaste and floss.)
Hidden Bathroom Mold: The Hard Truth
Unfortunately, when you do spot mold, what you see isn’t the sum total of the enemy you face. Just like it sounds, hidden mold may be buried in your walls or under your tiles. It may even be growing in another room, and you might just see the bit that grew through the wall into the bathroom.
Disturbing, I know.
But that’s the facts. Fortunately, you are a human. You’ve got a brain. A mold spore doesn’t. So maybe, just maybe, you can outsmart this enemy.
Ants really love to nest in rotting wood. And rotting wood is a perfect place for mold to grow. That’s why, if you have an ant infestation in your bathroom, you can be pretty sure that if you don’t have a mold problem yet, you soon will.
Step 3: Get Your Weaponry in Order
The good news is that with a few simple pieces of equipment, you will be ready to fight this enemy.
Prevention: Don’t Get Smug
If you don’t see or smell mold in your bathroom, you’re in a great place. It’s time to take preventative measures.
After all, it’s just a matter of time before a problem develops. Why? Because like we’ve discussed, the bathroom is the ideal environment for mold to live. It wants to move into your home, and it wants to move in there.
When you take a hot bath, and then drip on the bathroom carpet, turn out the lights and leave the bathroom, you are essentially rolling out the welcome mat for the spores.
The best way to prevent mold from colonizing in your bathroom is to keep air circulating and keep surfaces dry.
This is your number one piece of artillery in the fight. You need to keep air circulating in the bathroom, not just while you bathe or shower, but for 30 minutes after.
Put on your bathroom fan and make sure it’s truly circulating the air. Fans have a rating to tell you how much air circulates, and you want to be sure yours is strong enough. I’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you get the right bathroom fan for your space and one that is not too noisy!
Plus if you’re interested in a smart bathroom fan—one with features like a sensor that will automatically turn on when your bathroom reaches a set percentage of humidity—be sure to read my post How a Smart Bathroom Fan Works & Top Picks.
Test the moisture in your bathroom
Here’s a quick test. Next time you’re about to bathe or shower, turn on the fan. Take your bath or shower, and when you leave the bathroom, close the door but leave the fan on. Ten minutes later, check the bathroom. Is it still humid and damp? If so, your fan may not be moving enough air.
Check the cubic feet per minute (CFM) on your bathroom fan
Be sure to get a bathroom fan that can cover your square footage. Bathroom fans are marked for CFM – cubic feet per minute. This one is awesome because it’s compact, energy-efficient and best of all super-duper quiet. Plus it has a humidity sensor.
Open windows during or after a shower or bath
If you’ve got windows in your bathroom, open them while you bathe or shower. Or if it’s too chilly, open them when you leave the bathroom. This will not only circulate the air to dry out the room, but also if it’s daytime, the sunlight is a great fighter of mold.
And also, unless you’re doing the quick 10-minute test on your fan, you’ll want to leave the bathroom door open when you leave to maximize air circulation.
A squeegee can be a super effective weapon. After you bathe or shower, run the squeegee over the walls to get rid of excess water.
You definitely need a vanity backsplash of some sort. If you have high Roman or Waterfall faucets, you many need a backsplash that is 8 inches tall or higher. For standard sink faucets, a 4-inch high backsplash will do the trick of keeping water off the wall behind the vanity. If you’d like much more information about why you need a vanity backsplash and the wide variety of materials you can use as a backsplash, see this post.
Wood Bath Mat
Unless you’re going to wash your bath mat frequently—like once a week—there’s just no good way to keep it clean, let alone mold and mildew free.
Think about replacing your grungy bath mat with a wood mat. These can be gorgeous and many are mildew and mold resistant.
They are super easy to dry after a bath or shower. My favorite is the Bare Decor Giza Spa mat. It gives the bathroom a definite spa vibe.
You can waterproof the grout between your tiles by applying a grout sealant. Do this annually and you will significantly cut down on your risk of mold developing in this area.
Suspicion: Find the Source
Do you see suspicious signs of mold like water damage, ants, and rotting wood? Or maybe you smell it, or even see some small spots. If so, it’s time to take action…like, yesterday.
First, you want to find the source of the mold. Here is the artillery:
Remember, moisture loves to hide in the dark where you can’t see it. So get a good flashlight and hunt it down. Check the pipes under the sink and the corners behind the vanity. And check around the base and back of the toilet.
An invaluable tool for fighting mold is a moisture meter. This one can tell you the level of moisture in your drywall or floor, and it can show you exactly where the moisture is coming from. It’s also backlit, so you’ll have no trouble reading the screen when working in dark spots.
Armed with the data from a moisture meter, you’ll know the extent of your problem, and whether you need to rip out the bathroom ceiling or simply dry a particular spot.
The US Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping the bathroom moisture at 30-50%. Your moisture meter will tell you the levels in your bathroom.
If there’s too much water vapor in the air, you’ll want to run the air conditioning, unless you suspect there could be mold in your air conditioning system.
You might also consider getting a dehumidifier to help you reduce the moisture level. Today you can get mini-dehumidifiers that are made for small spaces like bathrooms for about $50.
As an added bonus, when you reduce bathroom moisture, not only do you make it less hospitable for mold. You also reduce the likelihood of attracting other pests like roaches.
Step 4: Get Rid of Your Bathroom Mold
Now you understand the enemy. You’ve found what you can see and smell. You understand the moisture level in your bathroom and have a strategy to reduce it by using a fan, dehumidifier, and other tactics.
It’s time to fix the problem.
The question is, who should do the work: you or a professional?
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency:
“If the moldy area is less than about 10 square feet (less than roughly a 3 ft. by 3 ft. patch), in most cases, you can handle the job yourself, follow the guidelines.“
To this, I would add that if you already have a weakened immune system do everything you can to avoid contact with mold by getting professional help.
Also, consider that professional mold remediators are trained to find hidden mold which may be growing under drywall or beneath grout, even when there is no sign of it yet.
How to Get Rid of Mold Yourself
If you decide to go the DIY route, you’ll want to protect yourself from breathing mold spores. Invest in goggles, gloves and an N-100 respirator mask.
Also, wear clothes and shoes you can launder or toss when you’re done.
What you do next depends on where you found the mold:
- Remove and replace drywall if necessary.
- Fix leaky pipes.
- Replace or recaulk a leaky toilet.
- Repair cracked tiles or missing grout.
- Remove bathtub grout. Clean. Regrout.
How to Spot Clean Bathroom Mold on Tile
Let’s say you see mold on your grout. After you remove the grout, you’ll want to clean off the mold that remains—whether you see it or not—before you regrout the area.
You can use a chlorine bleach cleaner like Tilex Mildew Root Penetrator with Bleach. However, if you’ve got a beautiful colored bathroom grout, don’t use this as it can cause discoloration.
Spray the bleach on and leave on 30 minutes. Scrub with a hard brush. Then rinse thoroughly with warm water and dry.
How to Clean Pink Slime from Shower Grout
If you’re dealing with pink or orangish mildew around grout lines and in caulk, this post will give you more ideas for how to rid your bathroom of pink slime.
How to Spot Clean Bathroom Mold on Paint
Family Handyman.com suggests this formula for tackling mold on painted walls:
Mix 2 Tablespoons borax, ¼ cup white vinegar, 2 cups hot water. Put solution in spray bottle. Apply for 10 minutes and wipe clean.
If you’d like to try a non-chemical solution first, try distilled vinegar, baking soda or hydrogen peroxide solutions.
Caution: Don’t try to paint over or grout over the existing mold. It won’t solve the problem one bit, though your bathroom might appear prettier for a short while.
Professional Mold Remediation
Whenever you use a contractor, you want to make sure that they come with a good reputation, that they are licensed and insured, and that they can tell you who will do the actual work.
What’s the contractor’s reputation?
It’s wise to check online reviews first. A referral from a friend is always best. And it may be wise to talk to a few before committing. They may want to come out to the site and provide a free consultation, in which case take the time to do it.
Is the company licensed and insured?
Make sure the mold remediation company you choose is licensed and insured. This is important because just in case there’s any damage to your property or injury to the worker during the process, you will avoid litigation and be on route to an easy repair.
Exactly who will do the work?
Any contractor, even a licensed one, can hire subcontractors to do the actual work. And sometimes those subcontractors hire other subcontractors. This is what happened to me.
Contractors can hire subcontractors who hire subcontractors
Just before we moved into our home, we asked our contractor to oversee removal of a “popcorn ceiling” which contained asbestos.
Our licensed contractor hired subcontractors. But unknown to the contractor or to me, the subcontractors hired out other non-insured, non-licensed subcontractors to do the job at the last minute.
When my husband and I stopped by the new house a few days later to check in on the project, we were shocked. Not only was our contractor nowhere in sight, but the subcontractors seemed barely old enough to drive.
Worse, they were blowing the contaminated particles from the popcorn ceiling out the window with a vacuum hose. We flipped out! And when we told the contractor, he did too. The whole project had to be started over from the beginning.
Do it right the first time
When dealing with removal of a toxic substance like asbestos or black mold, you really want to be sure it’s done right the first time. By hiring a reputable professional and cross-examining about who will do the work, you’ll rest easy.
Remember, you’ll never completely eliminate mold. But by keeping your bathroom air circulating, and immediately addressing any mildew you see, you can reduce the likelihood of bathroom mold damaging your property and harming you and your family.
What’s the best way to keep my bathtub clean?
Once you’ve removed mold from your bathroom, you will want to keep it at bay. Your bathtub is usually the largest surface that gets wet most frequently in your bathroom. You’ll want to clean it regularly. But how you clean your tub depends on what material it’s made from. Learn the best ways to clean your bathtub and keep it mold-free in our post Tricks to Make Your Bathtub Gleam Like New.
I’m tackling mold as part of a bathroom remodel. Is there a way to make this process less overwhelming?
A bathroom remodel can be extremely stressful, especially when mold remediation is involved. Fortunately, designer Kathleen Finley has developed a 10-step process to walk you through the steps involved in a bathroom redesign. She helps you figure out when to call in a professional and when to do the work yourself. Follow 10 Steps to a Successful Bathroom Remodel and breathe easier.
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