When my daughter was about four years old, she had a severe allergic reaction. At the hospital, she tested positive for allergies to a number of substances, among them house mould.
We asked the doctor how best to keep mould out of our home. His answer was “Move to the Karoo.” Even in the hospital, he said, you’d find mould if you took swabs from the walls and ceilings.
Mould is a fact of life in Cape Town, and the season that mould and mildew love best is now upon us. Mould spores thrive in Cape winters because of the damp conditions and a lack of ventilation, which results as we all rush to close windows against the cold.
Why is mould a problem?
House mould is a common cause of allergies and respiratory problems, including asthma. Some moulds also produce mycotoxins, which can make people extremely sick.
Mould on walls, ceilings and carpets is unsightly and corrosive. It can leave permanent stains and eat into fabrics. It also has an unpleasant smell.
How to remove mould
A number of widely available household products are effective for removing mould and mildew. No matter what you use, it’s important to wear gloves, eye protection and preferably a surgical mask, to minimise the amount of mould you inhale.
Note that for large mould infestations, it’s often best to call in the professionals.
A solution of one part chlorine bleach to three parts water, plus a squirt of dish-washing liquid, is an effective way to remove mould. The bleach kills the mould and the detergent helps in removing it.
Spray the bleach solution onto the affected area, leave it sitting for 5 to 10 minutes, rinse it off well and dry thoroughly.
Although bleach is effective, it has disadvantages. It’s important to remember that bleach and the fumes it releases are toxic. You should open a window or use a fan for ventilation, and be careful to avoid splashing bleach onto your skin or into your eyes.
Never combine chlorine bleach with any product that contains ammonia. Mixing the two substances creates a poisonous gas.
Bleach may also stain surfaces or fabrics. It’s best for removing mould from non-porous surfaces like tiles, rather than from walls or ceilings.
An excellent (and affordable) alternative to chlorine beach is baking soda. Also known as bicarbonate of soda, baking soda is a non-toxic mineral powder. It both kills mould and absorbs moisture, thereby helping prevent mould from returning.
To use baking soda to remove mould, simply follow these steps:
- add half a teaspoon of baking soda to about half a litre of water and mix in a spray bottle
- spray the affected area and leave sitting for a few minutes
- scrub and then rinse the surface to remove the mould
- spray the area again and let it dry.
Hydrogen peroxide is another good alternative to chlorine bleach. As well as killing mould, it has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.
To remove mould, make a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide in water. Spray or sponge the affected area and leave sitting for about 10 minutes. Scrub to remove the mould, rinse and dry as thoroughly as possible.
Because of its acidity, vinegar is effective in killing many species of mould – and unlike bleach, it’s not toxic. It has a strong smell but this subsides fairly quickly.
It’s best to make a solution of white vinegar and water, spray it onto the affected surface and leave it sitting for as long as an hour. Then scrub to remove the mould, rinse and dry thoroughly.