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Mold or Mildew? How to Tell the Difference (and Get Rid of It, Regardless)


You might already see it around your home: fuzzy white or black specks on the ceilings and walls, especially around the kitchen or bathroom where moisture loiters.

Your first instinct is likely to ignore it; maybe it will die or disappear on its own. However, the longer you let that fungus linger, the longer it has a chance to do major structural damage to your house; the home that you’ve worked so hard for and designed.

Ultimately, you do need to clean that stuff off your walls and ceiling, but before you do, it is critical that you identify it as mold or mildew.

One is essentially harmless and incredibly common — but the other is toxic and exceedingly dangerous to the integrity of your structure.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know about mold and mildew — and how to safely get rid of them both.

What Is Mildew?

Mildew is a very small fungus that grows on damp surfaces in high-humidity areas.

There are many varieties of mildew, including some that can only grow on plants, but the fungus has evolved to thrive in modern households, growing on clothing, leather, paper and even walls and ceilings.

Mildew typically has a musty smell, and it can stain the materials it grows on gray or brown as well as cause holes in more delicate materials like paper and fabric.

Mildew tends to be soft and powdery, which makes it relatively easy to dust away.

While mildew is a type of mold, few inspectors or cleaning professionals place it on the same level as black or toxic mold. Instead, mildew is relatively innocuous, if incredibly unsightly around your home.

Thus, you should try to clean up mildew as soon as it grows, but you don’t need to worry about becoming ill from it or saving for reconstruction of your home.

How to Clean up Mildew

There are different techniques for removing mildew from different types of materials.

Here’s a quick run-down:

If mildew is growing on your walls, ceilings or hard floors:

Use bleach. This cleaner will kill mildew growth and spores, so the fungus won’t immediately grow back.

Plus, it should eliminate foul odors and surface-level stains. A mixture of three parts water to one part bleach should do.

If mildew is growing on your clothing, furniture, draperies or other fabric:

Use a stiff brush, oxygen bleach and a hot spin cycle. If you catch mildew early enough, you might be able to brush away the fungus before soaking the fabric in oxygen bleach and running it through the washing machine on the highest-temp setting.

However, if mildew has had time to embed itself, your best course of action might be to throw the fabric in the trash.

If mildew is growing on books or paper products:

Toss it. You won’t be able to salvage paper goods from the ravages of mildew, and there is no sense keeping the fungus around to create spores that will spread to walls, ceilings and fabrics.

What Is Mold?

While there are many varieties of mold, most of them are disastrous when they make their way into your home.

Unlike mildew, mold is sneaky — often growing unseen and unnoticed for weeks or months before homeowners recognize that there is a problem.

Mold is more aggressive than mildew, and it can eat away relatively hard materials like wood in a relatively short period of time, causing major structural damage to your home.

Worst of all, some varieties of mold are toxic to humans. Breathing in mold spores can result in serious respiratory problems, immune disorders and even depression.

The children and the elderly are most susceptible to mold-related illnesses, but healthy adults and pets can also suffer due to mold.

Mold blossoms don’t look much like mildew. They tend to be dark black, bright red or green in color, and instead of looking and feeling powdery, they are fuzzy and stiff.

Once you see mold on the surface of your walls, ceilings and/or floors, you can be certain that there is a serious infestation hidden out of sight.

How to Eradicate Mold


As soon as you think you might have mold, it is best to call in the experts.

Cleaning and restoration professionals can diagnose your mold issue and perform tests to understand its extent.

Then, they can develop a plan for identifying all locations of mold and removing it from every nook and cranny of your home.

The cost of this type of service will vary depending on the type of mold investing your home, the size of the infestation and more.

Ways to Prevent Fungus Growth

Fortunately, if you don’t have mold or mildew yet, there are ways to prevent any fungus from growing where you don’t want it.

1. First, you should ensure your home is water-tight — meaning there shouldn’t be cracks in your roof, walls or foundation that allow moisture to seep in.

2. Next, in interior spaces that are often subjected to moisture, like bathrooms, basements and kitchens, you can spray the walls and ceilings with a clear, anti-mold coating. You can find products for this at your local hardware store.

3. For extra protection, you can install moisture-managing insulation and mold-resistant drywall. This might be a good option if you are planning to complete a home remodel or if you recently had to renovate due to mold infestation.

4. Finally, you should focus on keeping your home clean. Wiping down walls and ceilings, mopping and drying floors, disinfecting bathrooms and performing other simple cleaning chores will keep fungal spores at bay.

Seeing fuzzy specks should prompt your research — but it might not mean you have to burn your house to the ground.

Before you waste time, money and energy on solving the wrong problem, diagnose your fungal growth properly and take the right steps from the start.

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