Picture this: you’re cleaning your bathroom, and you notice a patch of black “gunk” in the shower pan or wall tiles. Upon further inspection, you realize that the gunk in question is mold. Dark colored mold. Fear swirls in your gut—is this the dreaded “black mold” that can render a home uninhabitable for months at a time?!
If you ever find yourself in the above situation, then try not to panic. While homeowners have come to fear all kinds of dark-hued mold, the term “black mold” really refers to one specific species: Stachybotrys chartarum. Any type of mold can be gross to look at, of course, and there are a wide variety of fungi that can release illness-causing mycotoxins.
However, the fact remains that not every type of bathroom mold is going to be “true” black mold, nor is its presence going to warrant ripping up shower tiles and replacing all of your furniture.
So, how do you know whether the mold in your shower or tub is “true” black mold, or something else entirely? What’s the correct way to clean up a mold infestation? And how do you prevent the mold from coming back again and again?
Preventing Black Shower Mold
When it comes to mold, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While there’s no 100% fool-proof way to eliminate your chances of ever having to fight unfriendly fungi, here are a few ways to help prevent mold from growing in your bathroom—or coming back after you clean up an infestation:
1. Stay Dry
Moisture in the air can encourage mold growth, which is why bathrooms are often prime real estate for the stuff. Do your best to keep your bathroom well-ventilated by running an exhaust fan during and for several minutes after each shower or bath, and leave the bathroom door open whenever you can.
Launder towels, washcloths, and bathmats frequently, too. For added protection, you can even squeegee down tile and glass surfaces and towel-dry your sinks to remove excess water.
2. Use A Shower Curtain
Most adults know to draw the curtain every time they shower, but if you live with children, make sure that they know to do this, as well! These days, decorative fabric shower curtains are usually paired with a disposable plastic liner, which eliminates the need to replace the “pretty” curtain when it gets dirty.
Regardless of your decorating tastes, make sure that the curtain (or at least the liner) is tucked into the bathtub properly (instead of draped over the tub) when the water’s running; doing so can do wonders for keeping water off of your floor. Moldy shower curtains can sometimes be laundered, but plastic liners that show signs of mold growth should be replaced completely.
3. Keep An Eye Out
Stay vigilant; mold infestations almost never go away on their own, and a small spot is significantly easier to clean up than a huge patch. Do remember that, while dangerous “black mold” (that is, S. chartarum) is always black in color, mold can actually come in a wide variety of colors, including pink, green, red, brown, dark blue, and white.
If you see a discolored spot on the wall of your daughter’s bathroom, don’t assume that she just got careless with her strawberries ‘n’ cream body wash—grab your mold-fighting arsenal and prepare for battle!
Removing Black Mold
Let’s be clear: a possible S. chartarum infestation should be taken seriously. So, if you find black-colored mold in your bathroom (and it must truly be black—not brown, not blue, but black), you should immediately stop what you’re doing and call a reputable environmental inspection firm. Explain your concerns and make an appointment for an expert to come assess the situation. A trained professional will be able to tell you whether or not you’re really dealing with S. chartarum.
The bad news is that, if you really do have S. chartarum mold growing in your bathroom, that’ll be the end of your DIY journey—toxic black mold should only be cleaned up by an expert using professional equipment (and top-of-the-line safety gear). The environmental inspector—and a representative from the mold removal firm you’ll inevitably need to hire—will be able to advise you further.
Now, if the mold you found turns out to not be black mold, then you’ll probably be able to tackle the job yourself (we say “probably” because mold patches larger than 10 square feet in size may still require professional mold remediation, regardless of their composition). Here are some steps for success; be sure to vent the bathroom by opening a window or turning on a fan before you start:
Skip The Soap And Water
While soap and water may be an old standby for most house-cleaning jobs, it’s just not strong enough to kill mold spores. Instead, go for a commercial cleaner specifically designed to combat mold and mildew, or—if you’re uncomfortable using manufactured cleaners—use undiluted vinegar.
Working in one small area at a time, wipe the bulk of the mold off of nonporous surfaces using a cloth or sponge, and then use a scrub brush on stubborn patches or porous surfaces. Rinse the spot with plenty of hot water afterward. (Note: respect the laws of gravity by starting from the top of the mold patch. That way, the mess won’t run down into already-cleaned areas as you go!)
Use Bleach On Stains
Mold (especially dark or brightly-colored mold) has a knack for staining grout and other porous surfaces. While bleach isn’t the best at actually killing mold, it’s hard to beat when it comes to stain removal. Using a spray bottle, apply a solution of one part bleach and one part water to soiled areas, let it sit for several minutes, spray the surfaces with bleach and water again, and then use a scrub brush to banish the discoloration.
Rinse thoroughly with regular hot water afterward. (Note: an old toothbrush, or a cheap new one from your local dollar store, works great for narrow, hard-to-reach areas. Just remember to throw the toothbrush away afterward!)
Do A Final Spray-Down
Give the area one last spritz with undiluted vinegar; this will likely kill anything that managed to survive the initial cleaning and bleach scrub. Don’t bother rinsing away the vinegar; simply let it air dry—or get washed away the next time someone uses the shower. (Note: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, MIX VINEGAR WITH BLEACH OR ANY COMMERCIAL CLEANER CONTAINING BLEACH!
The two will combine to create dangerous chlorine gas! Always rinse the work area thoroughly with plain water in between steps. This potential hazard is also why ventilation is so important!)
Finding mold in your bathtub or shower can be a bit stomach-churning, and if that mold is dark in color, your discovery can be downright scary. But the good news is that most mold infestations can be cleaned up without the use of professional tools and equipment.
To reiterate, it’s always important to have mold looked at by professionals to verify that it isn’t immediately dangerous to you and your family. And however the mold gets cleaned up, you should do what you can to prevent regrowth. At the end of the day, people rely on their shower stalls and bathtubs to get themselves clean. It stands to reason, then, that you’ll want to keep your washing areas clean and mold-free in return!
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