Prevent Mildew in Your Home

You may first notice mildew by its musty odor. It leaves an ugly black stain which can rot fabric, leather and paper. And it can cause problems for those with allergies.

Mold and mildew are often found in basements, crawl spaces, closets, showers and under beds. They will grow wherever it is damp and warm, and there is little air movement.

Mold and mildew are hard to remove, but not hard to prevent. Since they are tiny plants, you must make it hard for them to grow. To keep your home free from mold and mildew:

  • Keep things and places clean. Even small amounts of dirt or dried food will help mildew grow. Keeping closets, drawers, walls and clothing clean will prevent many mildew problems.

  • Keep things dry. At the first sign of mildew, find the source of moisture. Is it from a leak in the basement or roof or a spill? To keep your home dry:

    • Wipe down shower walls after taking a shower.
    • Cover pots while cooking.
    • Use air conditioning to remove moisture from the air.
    • Vent the clothes dryer to the outside of the house.
    • Use exhaust fans in the kitchen, utility room and bathroom.
    • Waterproof the basement. Seal any cracks in the foundation.
    • Spread heavy plastic or roofing paper over 80 percent of your crawl space to control dampness.

  • Be sure you have air movement in all areas.

    • Open windows to let outside air in, if the weather is nice.
    • Use a fan, even in the winter, to move the air.
    • Leave closet doors and dresser drawers open sometimes.
    • Be sure clothing is dry when stored. Hang it loosely in the closet.
    • Store items where they will not get damp.
    • Don't put furniture tightly against the wall.

  • Dry the air.

    • Heat the air in closets by keeping a light bulb burning, if there is one in the closet.
    • Use a heater, or turn on the furnace if the house is damp.
    • Use a dehumidifier.
    • Use chemicals such as Silica gel to absorb moisture. Place on a closet shelf or hang in a cloth bag to absorb moisture. Keep out of the reach of children.

  • Keep fabrics clean and dry.

    • Dirty clothing should be dry before putting it into the hamper.
    • Wash or dry clean clothing or household items before storing them.
    • Store clothing in a warm, dry place.
    • Stretch shower curtains out to dry after taking a shower.
    • Don't put damp clothing on the floor, especially a cement floor.
    • Air tents and sleeping bags before storing.

  • Protect with a mildew-resistant finish. Cotton items like awnings and tents can be treated with fungicides (chemicals to make them resistant to mildew) before using them.

  • Protect leather goods by applying a paste-wax shoe polish or saddle soap.

    • Store shoes, purses and suitcases in closets, not in basements.
    • Never put shoes or leather items away damp.

Prepared by Barbara Dahl, Consumer and Family Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension.

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