Prevention is best cure for mildew

  • Wed Feb 1st, 2012 9:37am
  • Life

By the Carey Brothers

Mildew in your home is easy to remove. Just mix 1 cup of powdered laundry detergent (less if concentrated) and 1 quart of liquid bleach with 3 quarts of warm water. Scrub with a bristle brush and in minutes the mildew disappears.

Although this reasonably mild solution can be used for most painted surfaces, rubber gloves and eye protection should be used. But why spend time removing mildew when you can prevent it?

Mildew can’t grow without a food source, and the food source that mildew thrives on is moisture. Mildew spores are in the air everywhere. They look for moist places to settle, feed and grow.

So how do you prevent mildew from growing in the first place? Reduce or eliminate the food source by cutting down on the amount of moisture, usually condensation, that settles on walls, floors and ceilings.

Given varying degrees of attention, eradication is possible even in relatively humid climates.

Improving air circulation inside the home reduces the chance of condensation and makes it hard for mildew to find a place to grow.

A portable or whole house dehumidifier may also be required. But the problem can’t always be found inside the home. Sometimes the culprit is damp earth beneath the floor.

The area under a home built with a raised wood floor can generate a substantial amount of moisture that mildew can feed on.

What happens is simple. Natural warmth from the floor of the home moves downward into the sub-area, the warmth vaporizes the moisture in the damp soil, and the vapors rise into the floor and walls above creating a new place for mildew to thrive.

It’s best to prevent moisture from getting into the sub-area in the first place, but once it’s there it can be dealt with.

If the moisture in the sub-area was created by a one-time occurrence then a fan can be used to circulate the air and dry out the earth. If the dampness is an ongoing problem, then a layer of polyethylene sheeting (use the 6 mil thickness) should be laid on the earth in the crawl space.

When the heat from the house attacks the moisture in the dirt below, condensation is forced to occur on the underside of the plastic instead of on the underside of the wood floor and walls above.

Insulating the floor can help prevent condensation and improve the energy efficiency of your home.

Installation of the plastic sheeting can provide a decade of protection as long as certain pests (rats, mice, moles, gophers, snakes) aren’t making a home there. But that’s another column.

For tips from James and Morris Carey, go to or call the listener hot line, 800-737-2474, ext. 59. The Careys are also on KRKO (1380-AM) from 6 to 10 a.m. every Saturday.