Mold in Basement
Water damage in the basement usually comes hand in hand with mold. And since the basement is the most likely room in a home to experience significant water damage, mold in the basement is extremely common. The two things that mold needs to grow in a space is moisture and a material to grow on. Once materials are exposed to water in a flood or a variety of other circumstances that lead to the need for water damage repair, it only takes less than two days for mold to begin growing. This is why it is so important to dry any moisture-ridden materials as soon as possible. In a dark and poorly ventilated area like a basement, it can be particularly difficult to accomplish. Because of this, you have to take action quickly to avoid basement mold.
The way all mold begins is as a mold spore floating around your home. Mold spores are always present in a house and cannot be completely eliminated. If water is not added to the spores and left to sit, then they will never turn into a mold problem. If water is added, then the mold will begin to grow. As it grows, little tentacle-like arms called hyphae start to spread and tangle as the mold moves along the surface it is on. Generally all basement mold will be slimy or fuzzy in appearance.
Below is a guide for everything that you need to know about basement mold to help you better handle your particular problem.
Basement Mold on a Variety of Materials
Mold can grow and thrive on almost any material in your basement.
Here is how it affects various items and surfaces found in a basement:
- Pipes, drains, and faucets
If you have ever walked downstairs to see water coming into the basement after rain, you are not alone. A wet basement is an extremely common problem. Sometimes heavy rainfall or a great deal of snow melting very quickly can oversaturate the ground around your home and leak into your basement. When water is constantly being dumped from the roof and downspouts into the ground near your home, it will eventually run out of room and start to pool. The force of this water can be so powerful that it breaks through basement waterproofing systems installed or cracks in the foundation and causes basement flooding.
Sometimes the basement mold issue can happen behind your walls in the space between them and your foundation. This is a significant issue because it can be longer before you figure out the issue as it is hidden. During this time of not knowing it exists, it has had free rein to spread as quickly as it can without ventilation to stop it. One way that professionals can determine if mold is growing behind your drywall is to drill a hole in your wall and stick a tool in there to test for mold. If they find mold, you will likely have to have significant portions of drywall and possibly some wood framing replaced.
Wood can be found in your basement in the form of wood framing, flooring, furniture, and any variety of items you could be storing there. Wood is another vulnerable material to mold growth since it also has pathways in it for mold to bore into and grow. It is another material that you should be worried about as it may not survive basement mold.
If mold on wood framing is not cleaned up properly, it can grow into a very serious and expensive issue for you. This is because if left to spread on unfinished wood, mold can eventually break down the material causing structural problems in your basement. Similar conditions occur when wood flooring is involved. Mold growth can also hide on the underside of the planks making it harder for you to discover.
When it comes to furniture or other smaller wood items, bring everything upstairs or even outside to dry in better ventilated areas for a faster drying process. This will help reduce the likelihood of getting mold in the basement. If mold has already begun to grow, read our mold removal tips further down on this page. One thing that you do want to be careful of is when carrying mold infested materials from room to room you risk spreading the mold to new areas of the home. Transporting objects in sealed plastic bags helps reduce this risk.
Fabrics show up in basements on in all sorts of places such as couches, upholstered chairs, padded desk chairs, stored clothing, towels, etc. Fabrics are also porous, meaning again they are more vulnerable to significant mold contamination. Anything that can be brought outside to air out more quickly should be removed from the damp basement and taken there. Some fabrics like clothing and towels can be easily tossed in the washing machine on a special cycle to get mold out, but fabrics on some chairs and couches may be permanently damaged and need to be replaced.
Carpeting a basement is always risky since basement flooding or wetness is always likely if something goes wrong with a pipe or a new crack forms in the foundation. Carpet handles mold growth most similarly to fabric. If it cannot be properly cleaned, it will need to be taken out and replaced.
Basements often have HVAC ducts running through them, which are also likely places for mold to appear. Be sure to regularly check the drip pan, because if it is left uncleaned for too long it can be a breeding for basement mold. Condensation can form along the inside and outside of the HVAC ducts providing a moisture source for mold.
This is particularly problematic in the basement sections of the HVAC system since the room typically has very poor ventilation and the condensation does not dry as quickly as it needs to. Thus, creating another source of basement mold. If mold starts growing on the inside of your HVAC system your problems have grown significantly because now mold contaminated air will be distributed throughout all of the rooms in your home. Professional help is recommended in this situation.
Pipes, Drains, Faucets
The typical basement is also the location of many pipes, drains, and faucets for your home systems. These could be related to a variety of purposes including general basement drainage, washing machine and dryer, wet bar, or a bathroom. Again the recipe of moisture and little ventilation makes these areas likely spots for mold growth, so frequently monitor them.
Mold in Basement Health Risks
As mentioned above, mold growth can come with a significant amount of health risks. The damp and dark nature of basements with the added element of sometimes getting very little foot traffic, mold in the basement can be trouble. The people most vulnerable to health problems when exposed to mold are children, older individuals, and those with weak immune systems.
If people inhale, ingest, or touch mold, they could experience any of the following:
- Neurological issues
- Sore throat
- Respiratory issues
- Eye irritation
- Blurred vision
- Skin rash
- Heart issues
Different types of mold you may find in the basement:
White mold, which is most commonly found on foods going bad in your pantry or refrigerator, can also be found on all kinds of water laden materials in your basement. Although white mold is not as likely to produce mycotoxins, it is possible and it can also cause negative health effects such as allergic reactions and respiratory issues. If you find white mold in the basement, its species classification is probably Aspergillus, Penicillium, or Cladosporium.
Black mold is one of the most common molds you can find in a basement and is considered the most harmful to huma health. The main reason for this classification is because black mold releases tiny things called mycotoxins as it grows, which are toxic agents that if ingested can cause a wide range of negative health effects. We go into more detail on this in the basement mold health risks later on this page.
If you find black mold in the basement, it is most likely the Stachybotrys chartarum species. This type has been known to release mycotoxins, but not all of the time. It is commonly found on basement walls, carpeting, and wood framing. Black mold in your basement is something that you want to clean up immediately, whether that is on your own or with the help of professionals. This can usually be determined by the severity of the problem.
Just like with white mold, you will find many species of green mold on your rotting food. But if you do find green mold in the basement, it is likely Cladosporium. This species of mold comes in a variety of colors and easily travels through the air in your home. Mycotoxins only sometimes come with Cladosporium growth, but allergy symptoms almost always appear in anyone exposed to it.
Basement Mold Removal
Getting rid of mold in the basement can vary in difficulty depending on the materials affected, but no matter how large or small the contamination you need to remove it all as soon as you possibly can. Before you begin cleaning, make sure to properly protect yourself with full coverage clothing, rubber gloves, and a respirator if needed. If the clean up is more extensive you will likely need to call in professionals, who will come in with head-to-toe protection before entering the contaminated area. Basement mold removal cost will vary depending on how large the infestation is and the type of materials affected.
Here is how to remove mold in the basement if it is growing on non-porous surfaces:
Cut the moisture source:
Once you find the source of the water causing the mold growth in the first place, make sure to fix the problem so it does not continue to flow in and accentuate the problem.
Completely dry the area:
As long as the area is wet, mold is still very much alive and growing. Be sure to dry the area before you begin the cleanup. This process can be sped up by bringing in fans and dehumidifiers into the basement.
Clean the mold with soap and water:
Non-porous surfaces such as metal and tile are much easier to clean mold off of since mold cannot dig into the material and break it down. Cleaning the area with soap and water should be enough to kill mold in the basement that is growing on hard surfaces.
Clean/dispose of cleaning materials and continue to monitor:
Since your cleaning materials are now covered in active mold spores, thoroughly clean them or throw them away after you clean up the area. Make sure to continue to check the spots of past mold growth for any new signs of water or mold. If you notice any, then you never really fixed the problem in the first place.
Here is how to remove mold in the basement if it is growing on porous surfaces:
Cut the source of the moisture
Completely dry the area
Clean the material if it can be cleaned or pitch it if it must be pitched: This process differs for various materials (contact mold professionals if you are unsure if your home materials are salvageable). Here’s a breakdown:
If it is minimally affected and the water source is cut off, a small amount of soap and water may be able to clean the basement mold for good. But if mold is growing behind the wall or the drywall itself is significantly warped, it will probably have to be replaced.
Finished wood is the most likely to survive a mold infestation because mold cannot get through it. A small amount of soap and water can do the trick here as well. Unfinished wood is another story and will likely need to be replaced. This can be pricey if it is from your wood framing, but it will end up causing even pricier damage if left alone.
Run all of the fabrics affected by your basement mold through a cycle in your washing machine. Hopefully any furniture with fabric in your basement has a removable cover so you can easily toss them into the wash as well. Be sure to thoroughly clean your washing machine after these cycles to avoid passing mold spores along to other fabrics. If you cannot run fabric through the wash, like for example on upholstered couches and chairs, try to get them professionally cleaned. Otherwise, you may be out of luck and need to purchase new furniture.
Try bringing in professional cleaners to deep clean the carpeting as it can harbor mold for very long periods of time. In many cases, mold infested carpeting cannot be saved.
HEPA Vacuum: Run a HEPA vacuum over the porous materials to pick up any lingering spores.
Clean/dispose of cleaning materials and continue to monitor: Don’t forget to clean the HEPA vacuum!
how to prevent mold in the basement
- Frequently check pipes for leaks
- Bring in fans and dehumidifiers to reduce standing moisture
- Regularly clean HVAC and dehumidifier drip pans
- Make sure all drains are clear of debris and draining properly
- Check basement for any cracks in the foundation and quickly have them
sealed if you spot any