Mold and mildew have become inseparably linked as buddies and buzzwords in the news, particularly as they relate to our health and homes. It's not like the good old days when I associated the word mold with tasty cheeses and mil-“dew” with a spring scent. No, today’s mold and mildew have reached “celebrity” status as new and sometimes toxic enemies that come in a variety of colors and forms that can unfortunately wreak havoc on your home and your health.
So what exactly are they? Mold and mildew are funguses, which I’ve learned means they’re a microscopic plant life without chlorophyll. Since they like warm, humid conditions and a steady supply of it, they usually take up residence in places like our bathrooms and basements. It is there where they come home to roost or, as the experts say, “form colonies” —reproducing (they form spores) on anything and everything that remains wet for more than 24-48 hours, like washing machines, showers, tubs, toilets, floors, fridges and even Junior’s tub toys. And that’s what we see — their colonies, which are actually spores preparing to reproduce and grow. Are you thoroughly grossed out yet? If not, read on.
Lots of allergies and allergy symptoms (sneezing, runny or clogged noses, coughing, itchy eyes, etc.) are attributed to the common types of mold and mildew that inhabit our homes. That means it’s a good idea to stop them as best you can before they take up permanent residence.
Mold and mildew hangouts
And believe it or not, our washing machines are one of their favorite hot spots. And doing laundry has become my numero uno chore that bores, unlike my sister-in-law Gayle, who finds doing laundry a chore she adores. Perhaps that's because her sons are out of the house. Mine, at the ripe young age of 15, has discovered hygiene and the need to change his clothes every day-part that he might see his first girlfriend. Believe me, I am thrilled that he now believes cleanliness is next to godliness, but even God took off the seventh day!
So alas, I am now truly overloaded with laundry. Shuttling him to and fro, here and there, and preparing food for his insatiable appetite already occupy enough of my already time-starved life ... I suspect many of you can sympathize! As a result of his mega laundry, my washing machine is emitting a lovely, eau de mildew-like scent 24/7 — yuck! At first I thought it was my fault, since I’ve been known to turn his white undies pink and shrink his favorite golf shirt to munchkin size, but then I did some research and learned that it wasn’t me or the detergent I was using. It’s the simple fact that, like many places in our homes, the washing machine is a moisture magnet, so mold and mildew are taking up residence there.
But fear not! Help is here, and not in the form of bleach, which is what our mothers told us works. Nope, now there are handy-dandy, manicure-friendly, premeasured packets called Tide Washing Machine Cleaner that remove residue and prevent those buggers from doing their thing. Just tear one open and pour into your powder dispenser (works in either your HE or traditional washer) and it’ll help wash away those stinky smells and avoid future buildup without using pure bleach. And don’t forget to clean the rubber seals on your doors with a disinfecting wipe or vinegar, which is a natural sanitizer. It's either this or keep your child age 8 forever and interested in SpongeBob vs. girlfriends!
How to ‘whack the mold’
Experts say mold and mildew can begin to reproduce within 12-48 hours if the conditions are right. The key is to keep in mind that they are very quick to call certain parts of your home, their home. But if you practice some of these tips, you can make your bathroom and other areas of your house mold-free zones:
- Towels: Always make sure to throw them in the dryer during colder months.
- Shower curtains: Cut off the hem on plastic curtains so water will drip off, and stretch out after each use.
- Buy washable shower curtains and wash according to directions regularly — typically once a month. Throw in some towels, which will help act as scrubbing brushes. Machine wash with your regular detergent and a cup of baking soda for stains and odors. Use warm water and drip dry.
- In between washings, use a spray bottle filled with original Listerine (which will also remove lice!) or white vinegar and water (1:3 vinegar/water). Vinegar can kill more than 80 percent of mold and germs. And use a microfiber sponge that can hang to dry.
- Tub toys: Give them a vinegar bath. Soak them for 10-15 minutes in the sink (vodka works too, but this would be for adult tub toys). You can also wash toys on the top shelf of your dishwasher; just check the instructions. Keep toys in a netted bag so they air dry. If you find any holes or torn parts, throw them out — those areas can harbor and hide mold and mildew growth.
- Vacuum brushes: According to a study at the University of Arizona, 50 percent of vacuum brushes have bacteria from sucking up dust and the doo those yucky dust mites deposit. They also contain mold, so spray the brushes with a disinfectant spray and/or wipe the inside with an alcohol-based disinfecting wipe. Also buy bagless vacuums if you can.
- Fridge drip pans: The drip pan under your fridge is a place mold likes to take up residence, so be sure to empty it regularly. It’s also a favorite watering hole for roaches. Use vinegar and a scrub brush to clean.
- Shoes, sneaks, boots, sweaty stuff: Moisture is a breeding ground, so a little bit of sweat can get those mold and mildew buds growing. Keep things dry by using newspaper to absorb the moisture.
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