Wet Basements and the Threat of Mold

Sandy bullied her way through the east coast a week ago, devastating areas north of us but leaving minimal damage in Maryland.  Flooded basements and the risk of mold seem to top the list of homeowner issues.


What should I do to prevent mold growth?

In order to prevent mold growth, homeowners should:

  • Remove standing water and all porous wet materials including wallboard (sheet rock), carpeting and upholstered furniture.
  • Air out the home to reduce moisture by opening the windows and using fans if possible
  • Accelerate the drying process by cycling the air conditioner and heat.  Chill the house and then, with the windows and doors closed, turn on the heat.  As the cold air warms it absorbs the moisture. When the house becomes hot, turn off the heat, open the windows to let the moisture-laden air out (assisted by fans if possible) and repeat the cycle.
  • Use a dehumidifier if possible to help draw moisture out of the air.

After the house is dry, how do you tell if you have a mold problem?

Homeowners can usually tell if there is a mold problem. Mold can usually be seen. It can look furry, discolored or slimy. It often has a musty, earthy or foul odor.  Mold does not affect everyone, but exposure to mold can cause health effects and so those that are sensitive to mold should avoid areas with active mold growth.

Can mold be removed? In most cases, but not all, mold can be removed.  Porous materials with visible mold such as drywall, carpet, upholstered furniture and bedding should be discarded.

Hard surfaces such as wood or concrete can be cleaned with a rag or a brush and diluted detergent. Rubber gloves and a N95 dust mask should be worn to minimize exposure and individuals with known allergies or respiratory conditions such as asthma should not clean or remove mold.  If there is a large mold problem, an experienced professional should be called in to do the clean up.

Homeowners should recheck previously flooded areas periodically for new mold growth and ensure that there is no remaining moisture before re-carpeting or re-walling a once flooded space.

Where should I go for more information?

For more information, the Environmental Protection Agency has online resources about mold including a factsheet about flood cleanup.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has online information about protecting yourself from mold.