Black Mold vs. Mildew: Are They in Your Home?

Two years ago, my brother-in-law was selling his home in Ashburn. He had an A2 water heater burst. While there was no major damage, he was always concerned about black mold. Now, in his new home, he calls frequently to see if the stuff he’s found is mold or not. At first glance it can look similar to mildew, so he’s right to be wary, but black mold needs water and paper for its food sources while mildew only needs dampness. Because of that need, mold is not as common in homes as mildew.

Discovering black mold can certainly be alarming. While a threat at any size, it can grow rapidly and get into a home’s HVAC system, increasing the likelihood of people and animals having severe reactions to its mycotoxin. Infants and others with health concerns are at particular risk; though an unlikely scenario for most homes, in a worst-case situation black mold can be fatal. That’s why knowing what to look for, and especially getting it tested, is so important.

Identifying Black Mold

Black mold is very toxic because it gives of mycotoxins.So how can you protect yourself? First, know what your home’s risk factor is. If you do or did have a lot of humidity, leaks, and flooding—particularly if it’s recent or ongoing—there is a strong chance of mold somewhere in your residence.

Next is to know what black mold looks like. Unlike usual mold, black mold is actually more of a greenish-black in color. It can leave behind ugly spots that are black, yellow, or green. It can be found virtually anywhere there’s sufficient “food” for it, but the best places to begin a search for black mold are in the basement, laundry rooms, bathrooms, kitchen, or closets, as these are the likeliest places for the ideal habitat to develop. The mold will look like something that’s growing—somewhat plant-like, with a “fluff” to it; it grows up and off the surface and often has the appearance of soft, fuzzy cotton balls.

But rest assured, even without visible signs of mold your sense of smell can alert you to a potential infestation; black mold often has a strong and musty odor. Check the nooks and crannies and drawers of your home and take a good sniff around. Just be careful that you don’t directly sniff anything that you suspect is a patch of mold. Make a note of the location and contact a professional to test for you and make the final judgment.

Mildew is a type of mold, but not as toxic as black mold.Handling Mildew

From time to time while inspecting I’ll see black veining in the concrete walls of a basement and get asked by the homeowner if it’s black mold. It’s not; as I mentioned at the beginning, black mold can’t survive without paper to feed on. This veining is mildew, which grows pretty much anywhere that has a high moisture content and tends to be more “surface-oriented.” For mildew there are over-the-counter products to deal with the issue, and it can usually be remedied safely by the homeowner. Mold is much harder and more dangerous to get rid of, though, and should be dealt with only by a professional with the appropriate protective equipment.

What Should You Do?

It should be kept in mind that there are many different varieties of mold to be wary of. Black mold is the worst, but there’s also white mold—not quite as toxic, but still harmful. Mildew, being a type of mold, is also somewhat toxic. That doesn’t mean that every stain in the basement is black mold or mildew trying to grow, or that there’s any reason to be alarmed because the toilet backed up and overflowed that one time. A spill promptly and thoroughly cleaned up in an area that’s usually dry isn’t likely to grow anything.

However, it’s a good idea to have an expert look for mold, especially if a resident’s health is a concern. At Sanford’s, we know exactly what to look for, and we’ll point it out to you if we see it. But recognizing any form of mold as a potential issue is as far as we can go. At that time, if we determine something is there we’ll recommend you get the suspicious area tested by an independent company. This is usually just a simple swab test, after which you’ll be able to make an informed decision.