When it comes to mould, did you know you only have a 48-hour window to dry up a leakage before it can become a huge problem for health and building structure?
As many as one in three Aussie homes experience water damage from a variety of factors including leaking roofs, flooding, burst pipes or even something as minor as spilling a cup of water. Lucinda Curran, Environmental Health Assessor at Eco Health Solutions, tells Starts at 60 that when left damp, mould can begin to creep into the home.
“Any time there’s been water damage, what happens is if the material that’s wet stays wet for long enough, it can promote mould growth because we’ve got mould spores everywhere,” she says. “If we’re looking at only 48 hours to dry it out, we don’t have long. Most people just go, ‘It’s a bit of a leak. We’ll fix it next time’ or ‘just let it dry naturally’. That’s often not going to be quick enough.”
And, while mould can certainly be a big problem in the cooler months, Curran says it will be present in homes or offices as long as there is water damage.
“We can create enough moisture just through occupant activity – what we do in our homes and work places and built environments,” she notes. “Things like showering and cooking and breathing and sweating creates moisture in the air. Even doing our washing and clothes drying. That can create a lot of issues internally, which then become a bigger problem in cooler months because people don’t open their windows and doors as much.”
In more humid climates, mould can become a problem due to the use of air-conditioning units which can result in temperature variations and lead to condensation.
An important step for any home is proper ventilation. Curran says many of the homes she visits, the occupants never open their doors or windows, creating the perfect environment for mould to flourish in.
“We want to ventilate our homes daily and get an exchange of air from the outside diluting the inside air. Extractor fans in kitchens, bathrooms and laundries should all be vented to the exterior of the property, not into the roof space,” she notes. “Unless it is vented to the exterior, all the moisture gets transported up into the roof space and you end up with the problems up there. You’re not actually fixing the problem. Be sure to have them vented to the outside of your home.”
And while bathrooms and kitchen areas are obvious hotspots for mould, Curran says bedrooms are also big areas because people sweat, go to bed with wet hair and don’t ventilate as much as they would in other parts of the house.
Outside the house, lack of maintenance and blocked drains are the biggest contributors to mould.
Mould can also be growing inside the wall cavities, made worse when homes or buildings are built with materials that aren’t vapour permeable.
Curran says it’s important to realise that mould doesn’t like to be disturbed and doing so can cause it to spread even further.
“It’s important to understand any time you disturb mould, it thinks it’s under attack and releases spores to maintain its species,” she explains. “Disturbing mould can be temperature, air movement, light, moisture levels, all those things can constitute a change, therefore a threat for mould.”
On a non-porous surface like tiles, windows, metal or concrete, mould will likely just be on the surface and should be easy to clean off. Curran suggests using a bowl of warm water with detergent and Oregano Essential Oil and using microfiber clothes to wipe the mould away. Each cloth should only be used once, dipped into the mix and used to wipe the surface without double-dipping. It needs to be disposed of afterwards to prevent mould from spreading.
“If it’s on a porous surface such as a bathroom ceiling from too much steam and condensation, as long as it’s from that side of it, you can do the same process and work on ventilation,” she says. “Make sure you’ve got a really good extractor fan, but also a big enough gap under the door so there’s a good flow of air.”
She also says it’s important not to spray or squirt mould with anything as it will disturb it, while bleach will only whiten mould instead of getting rid of it. An Environmental Health Assessor may need to be called if the mould keeps reappearing to figure out what the problem is.
If you notice a stain in a ceiling from an outside leak, you should always call professionals for help as the mould you’re seeing is likely just a small part of a bigger problem.
“That’s something I wouldn’t touch,” Curran says. “That would need professionals because that’s the tip of the iceberg that you’re seeing and that means there’s a lot happening on the other side that you can’t see. If you disturb that, you will create problems.”
As such, it’s always a good idea to check things regularly to make sure there isn’t any mould, so regularly pull out furniture as you clean. You have 48 hours to act in the event of a spill or leak, otherwise a professional will need to assist with the problem.