I remember watching an episode of CSI in which the case involved a man found in his home with half his face sunken in and no other apparent trauma. At first, the investigators thought he was a victim of foul play, but after the medical examiner conducted the autopsy, they found the real killer. They went back to his home, and found the smoking gun … in this case it was a leaky pipe behind a wall. The man had died from mold inhalation over a long period from mold and mildew growing in the interior walls.

After watching this, mold became my new four-letter word. The problem was I did not know what mold actually was, or how to combat it. Molds are microscopic life forms, which occur naturally, both indoors and outdoors. They can settle inside carpet, upholstery, wood, within the ceilings and walls, and tend to collect on damp areas such as on a shower curtains or sinks. It can even get into your heating/ ventilation/ air conditioning (HVAC) system and cause problems and spread.

Most molds are not hazardous, and go about their time breaking down organic components fulfilling nature’s cycle. Some molds, such as Stachybotys, are highly toxic. Since molds are fungi, they produce mycotoxins, which are chemicals that may cause toxic responses in humans. These range from simple allergic reactions to respiratory and nervous system disorders, as well as immune system dysfunction.

How do you handle such a problem, and how do you know what to do? This is something, which is not as hard as it seems, if you follow these four basic principles to mold mitigation: Investigate, Remove, Cleanup and Prevention.

Investigate the area in which the mold is occurring. It is best to know what type of mold you are dealing with so you can properly resolve the situation, and take the steps necessary to prevent it from returning. If it is a small area (10 square feet), most home improvement stores sell self-test kits for around $10. These allow you to test indoor and outdoor exposed areas, and have an optional mail-in lab analysis from an accredited lab telling you the type of mold you have. If the surface area is large, it is best to contact professionals who are trained on the hazards involved. Once you have identified the type of mold you are dealing with, the next step is to treat the cause. Mold needs two things to survive — an organic food source and moisture. If you remove the moisture, the mold cannot grow. Therefore, make sure you fix any plumbing problems right away, and properly clean the affected area making it as dry as possible. Using a dehumidifier to reduce the amount of excess humidity is often required.

Removal and Cleanup.If the area is small enough, (10 square feet) the 10/1 rule may be applied for your mold removal efforts in your Cincinnati home. This is ten parts water to one part bleach, and will temporarily remove the mold. It is best to return to the home improvement store and purchase a mold mitigation, or cleaning kit, with the proper detergents. Make sure you wear the appropriate protective gear of gloves, goggles, and respirator should you chose to clean the affected area yourself. If the area is bigger than 10 square feet, you should automatically contact a restoration services professional. This is probably the best and safest practice, as these professionals are trained and certified on the removal, cleanup, and restoration of the areas involved.  They will insure the mold and mildew removal is done right and, most importantly, will be performed safely.

Once removed, prevention is the last and most important step. You do not want to go through the above steps only to have the problem resurface. If the affected area is carpet, it may be best to replace it and move on. Mold can grow in the porous spaces and it is very difficult to remove completely. Until removed, never paint or caulk over the affected areas. Make sure you do not keep organic or porous materials in damp places, which give the mold an opportunity to return. If your basement was an area in question, look into getting it repaired and waterproofed.

Mold can be a four-letter word, but knowing how to properly handle the situation will make it easier to control. Knowing what to do can help you and your family live in a healthier and safe environment. For more information on molds and mildew, check out the EPA’s detailed section located on the web.