By Mary H.J. Farrell
Last updated: September 17, 2018
Florence has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical depression, but the potential for heavy rains and serious flooding continues. Along with that comes the threat of mold outbreaks, which can ruin home furnishings and pose health problems for people with allergies, asthma, and compromised immune systems.
To keep mold in check, you should attack the problem within 24 to 48 hours. Follow the advice from federal safety experts below.
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But people whose homes have been soaked or affected by dirty water are likely to need help from a professional mold remediation service, especially if their heating and/or cooling system has been affected.
The agency doesn’t rule out the use of bleach or other biocides for larger problems. “Make sure you use fresh bleach,” says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports, noting that household bleach will lose its potency over time.
And never mix bleach or bleach-containing products with ammonia or ammonia-containing products because the combination can create toxic fumes that cause respiratory problems.
Dealing with mold is not a do-it-yourself project if you have respiratory problems or are immunocompromised, Rogers says, because both the use of bleach and the prolonged exposure to mold can be harmful to people with certain health problems.
If floodwaters have affected your heating or air conditioning, don’t turn it on. You’ll need help from a qualified professional, the CDC says. All surfaces of a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system and all its components that were submerged during a flood are potential reservoirs for dirt, debris, and microorganisms, including bacteria and mold. In addition, moisture can collect in areas of HVAC system components that were not submerged (e.g., air supply ducts above the water line), and this also can lead to the growth of microorganisms. That’s why all components of the HVAC system should be thoroughly inspected, cleaned of dirt and debris, and disinfected by a professional.
If you are attempting your own cleanup, the EPA recommends that you wear the right gear. While you don’t have to wear a complete hazmat suit, you should cover your eyes, nose, and hands when attempting mold remediation. You should also wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, and work shoes. Here’s how to limit your exposure to mold and mold spores.
Wear a respirator. A dust mask or handkerchief will not protect you because mold can pass through it. Instead, use an N-95 respirator, available at many hardware stores and online. (They cost about $12 to $25.) Some N-95 respirators resemble a paper dust mask with a nozzle on the front; others are made primarily of plastic or rubber and have removable cartridges that prevent mold spores from entering. To be effective, the respirator or mask must fit properly, so carefully follow the instructions that come with it.
Wear goggles. To avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes, wear goggles that do not have ventilation holes.
Wear gloves. Avoid touching mold or moldy items with your bare hands. Long gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm are recommended. When working with water and a mild detergent, you can use ordinary household rubber gloves. If you are using a disinfectant, a biocide such as chlorine bleach, or a strong cleaning solution, you should select gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC.
When you’re done, there should be no visible mold and no moldy odors, although there may be some collateral staining and cosmetic damage. Once the area is clean and dry, you can paint over that.
If your basement is usually damp, use a dehumidifier to keep the moisture content down. We recommend buying a model with a large tank that can collect 60 to 70 pints of water per day, so you don’t have to empty it as often. Our top-rated large dehumidifier is the LG UD701KOG3, $280. Six other large dehumidifiers perform well enough in our tests to make our dehumidifier top picks list.