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How to Remove Mildew

Black spots on the ceiling, fuzzy lines in grout, mildew is the bane of anyone trying to keep a house that not only is clean, but looks clean. (No one is going to believe that you clean over the mildew, whether you do or not.)

So, what is that disgusting substance, anyway? Mildew (or mold, although that name is popularly used just for the green type) is a filamentous fungi. Under a microscope, this fungi looks similar to dandelions--puffy spores (the fruit of the plant) balancing on stalks. It's those spores that make the mildew look fuzzy, and can irritate allergies since they can easily break away from the stalk and find their way to your respiration system.

Mold eats organic substances--the vegetable oils in paint, fibers in cloth, or soap film. To do so, it needs a lot of water (they're pretty thirsty)--that's why your bath, kitchen, and boat are so vulnerable to infestation. As the mold digests, it releases aldehydes, alcohols and ketones, which create that musty odor we associate with mildew. A bowl of white vinegar left in the area for a few hours, or overnight, can help in eradicating that smell.

Preventing mildew is the first line of attack. Good ventilation is a must, as is keeping a low humidity level (below 50% is ideal). A dehumidifier is a good idea for those that live in humid climates. Make sure that your water pipes are in good condition, and aren't leaking, which can cause mildew in the drywall. An air-conditioner is a great way to ventilate an area, but the dehumidifier on it needs to be checked regularly. For showers, squeegee after every use. Microwave kitchen sponges for 60 seconds, or toss in the washing machine.

Mildew-resistant paints and caulks are a great method to prevent further problems, but don't paint or caulk over existing mildew. Remove the mold first, or it will continue to grow underneath the new layer of paint or caulk, creating more problems in the future.

Don't toss wet towels or bathing suits into the hamper--mold can easily form before you get to the week's laundry. Always dry out wet items before putting them into a closed, dark space.

Removing mildew doesn't require expensive materials, but it does require some patience and elbow grease. Wear protective clothing (that you don't mind getting bleach spots on) as well as protective eyewear when tackling large projects.

If you have mildew on the siding of your house, combine half a gallon of non-chlorine bleach (this is less damaging to grass and plants), one and a half gallons of water and one cup of trisodium phosphate into a large sprayer. Cover plants near the house with a waterproof drop cloth. Spray on affected areas, letting the solution sit for about 15 minutes before rinsing off. If there are still spots, apply solution with a clean nylon bristle brush, and rinse again when area is clean. Rinse the grass and plants around the area afterward.

Inside your house, get out the vacuum cleaner. By pulling the spores into the vacuum, you can keep from spreading them to new areas. Make sure the area is dry first, before vacuuming.

To remove mildew from grout, use the following solution: one cup of chlorine bleach with one gallon of water. Sponge the area and allow the solution to dry. If your mildew resists this treatment, follow up with an application of hydrogen peroxide, leaving on for at least 15 minutes before rinsing. (When cleaning the bath, always thoroughly dry when done--otherwise you are allowing for the possiblity of future mildew breakouts.)

For shower tracks, the above bleach solution applied with a sponge paintbrush is the answer. Or, if that becomes too troublesome (shower tracks are big problem areas), consider switching to a shower curtain and liner, which are much easier to clean.

For plastic patio furniture, add a squirt of ammonia-free dishwashing liquid to the bleach solution, and wash the pieces thoroughly, and rinse with a garden hose. Dry thoroughly.

Basement floors can benefit from bleaching powder. Sprinkle generously on the bare floor and let sit until musty odor disappears. Sweep away the powder, and you're done!