Mold and mildew are both types of fungi that are commonly found in the home. They thrive in moist environments, spread easily, and live on various surfaces which makes them very difficult to get rid of. If left unattended, however, the harmful microorganisms can quickly affect large areas of your property and may even result in health problems and structural damage. While the two types of fungi share many common features, they pose different risks and respond to different treatment.
So, in order to come up with an efficient cleaning strategy and ensure the safety of your living environment, you need to understand the difference between mold and mildew.
What Is the Difference between Mold and Mildew?
Mildew can be described as a specific type of mold. Mold is a fungus that contains multiple identical nuclei and grows in the form of filaments or hyphae which penetrate beneath the surface of the affected material. Mildew, on the other hand, has flat growth that remains on the surface. While mold usually grows on food or inside permanent structures, such as walls and crawl spaces, mildew is to be found on damp surfaces, paper, fabrics, and various organic materials in your home.
Common Mildew Types
Primarily, mildew is a plant disease that causes great damage to crops and plants. It is classified as powdery and downy:
- Powdery mildew mainly affects flowering plants and first appears as white or gray patterned splotches that gradually become yellowish brown or black as the fungus grows;
- Downy mildew is commonly found in agricultural products, such as grapes and potatoes. Its appearance varies depending on the type of surface it grows on, but usually downy mildew starts as yellow spots that eventually turn brown.
Common Mold Types
Although the number of mold species that can live indoors exceeds 10,000 according to the latest CDC estimates, most household molds belong to one of the following five types:
- Alternaria grows on walls, in showers, around windows, under sinks and in various other damp places. It is often found in buildings that have suffered some kind of water damage. Alternaria mold can appear black, grey, or dark brown and has a wooly or down-like texture. Prolonged exposure to this kind of fungi can cause allergic reactions and asthma attacks;
- Aspergillus is the most common type of mold found indoors. It can look grey, brown, yellow, green, white, or black. Aspergillus mold usually grows on walls, insulation, paper products, and clothing. It can causes allergic reactions and respiratory infections, as well as inflammation of the lungs in people with weak immune systems;
- Unlike many other molds, Cladosporium can grow in cool areas. It usually appears on fabrics, such as carpets or curtains, and on wood surfaces, like cabinets and floorboards. It has a characteristic black or olive-green color and can cause a variety of respiratory problems;
- Penicillium can be found on various materials that have been in contact with water, including carpeting, wallpaper, insulation, and mattresses. It looks blue or green and produces strong musty odors. Penicillium spores spread very easily and often result in allergic reactions;
- Stachybotrys chartarum, often referred to as “black mold” because of its color, is the most dangerous kind of household mold – it produces toxic compounds called mycotoxins that can cause severe health problems, such as allergic symptoms, breathing problems, asthma attacks, chronic sinus infections, fatigue, and depression. The toxic black mold has a characteristic musty odor and usually grows in areas that are constantly damp – around leaky pipes, inside air conditioning ducts where there is a lot of condensation, etc.
How to Tell the Difference between Mold and Mildew?
There are several crucial differences in the appearance and properties of mold and mildew that will help you recognize the type of indoor fungi you have discovered in your home:
Differences between Mold and Mildew in Appearance
Typically, mold appears black or green while mildew looks gray or white. Yet, there are some more detailed specifics in the appearance of the fungi:
- Mildew usually grows in a flat pattern and appears either powdery or fluffy. It can be easily identified as a patch of white, gray, or yellowish fungus that is lying on the surface of a moist area. Mildew usually turns black or brown over time;
- Mold is usually fuzzy or slimy in appearance. It appears as irregularly shaped spots that can have different colors – blue, green, yellow, brown, gray, black, or white. Oftentimes, surfaces that are covered in mold begin to rot.
Differences in the Effects of Mold and Mildew
Both mold and mildew need to be taken care of in a quick and efficient manner as they can cause a lot of trouble over time:
- Mildew usually affects plants and crops. If it develops indoors, however, it can also pose health risks. When inhaled, mildew spores cause coughing, headache, sore throat, and respiratory problems;
- Mold can result in considerable structural damage when left unattended for a long time. Prolonged exposure can cause a variety of health problems, depending on the strain of mold. Common health effects of mold include various allergic reactions (sneezing, skin irritations, irritation of the eyes and throat, nasal congestion, etc.), respiratory problems (difficulty breathing, coughing, pneumonia, asthma attacks), heart problems, migraines, inflammation and pain in the joints, dizziness, depression, and extreme fatigue. The mycotoxins produced by black mold are particularly harmful and may have severe long-term health effects, especially in younger kids and individuals with weak immune systems.
Mold and Mildew Testing
If you are not sure what type of fungi you are dealing with, you can have them tested:
- Home testing – the easiest way to identify the kind of microorganisms in your home is to drip a few drops of household bleach on the affected area. Wait for about five minutes and inspect the spot:
– if it has become lighter, you are dealing with mildew;
– if it remains dark, it is mold that has developed in your home.
You can also use various mold and mildew testing kits that are available on the market;
- Professional testing – if you suspect considerable mold growth in your property or if you aren’t sure about the best course of action to take, your best bet is to ask for professional assistance. Contact a trustworthy mold removal company in your area for inspection, testing, evaluation, and efficient mold removal services that will help you get rid of the harmful fungi in your home.
How to Get Rid of Mold and Mildew?
If you can prevent mold and mildew in the first place, you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle and headaches.
How to Prevent Mold and Mildew
The most efficient way to prevent mold and mildew in your home is to keep all the areas dry and moisture-free. Maintain a humidity level of about 40-50% inside the house (a dehumidifier provides the most advantageous solution for ensuring appropriate indoor humidity), have your heating and cooling systems regularly inspected, keep air ducts clean and in good condition, ensure good air circulation inside the premises, fix any leaks in the bathroom, kitchen or other areas, etc. Remove any mildew-affected plants and weeds as soon as you notice them in order to prevent mildew infestation.
How to Clean Mold and Mildew
Mildew is a surface fungus that can be efficiently treated with a commercially available cleaner and a scrubbing brush. Just make sure you work in a well-ventilated area and wear a facial mask to prevent inhaling mildew spores, as well as to avoid breathing in fumes given off by the cleaning product you use. It is also advisable to put on rubber gloves in order to protect your hands both from the mildew and from the cleaning agent. Clean all the surrounding areas carefully as well, to ensure that all the fungi have been successfully removed.
Mold, on the other hand, attaches to the affected materials with microscopic filaments that penetrate beneath the surface. The mold spores spread very easily and can survive in extreme conditions, so they can quickly affect large areas of your property and result in permanent damage. Moreover, despite its characteristic musty smell, mold is only visible to the eye when the colonies start growing, so early detection and prevention is very difficult. Worst of all, mold can have a very negative impact on your health, so DIY removal attempts are not recommendable. Besides, DIY remedies are rarely efficient because the fungus usually grows in areas that are very difficult to access and to treat.
The safest and most efficient way to get rid of a mold problem is to call a mold remediation company. An experienced professional will come to your home to assess the situation and determine the type of mold or mildew in your property, as well as the extent of the damage. Then, the most appropriate actions will be taken to remove the harmful fungi and prevent its appearance in the near future. The experts will help ensure not only the safety of your living environment, but also your peace of mind.