Homeowner Safety Tips: How to Tell Dangerous Mold From Mildew

by Ben SanfordDecember 3, 2018

Everything You Need to Know About Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew are a prime example of two things that are similar, but different. For starters, they are both fungi, and they both live in moist environments. Further, they both spread rapidly and can cause severe breathing and health problems, and they can both be difficult to get rid of.

But as common as they are, they do have their differences, and some of them are quite important. For instance, when mold grows, it can penetrate the surface of the material it’s growing on, whereas mildew grows only on the surface of the material. Mold can also be much more dangerous.

Here’s what you need to know about mold and mildew, including how to tell them apart.

mold vs mildew

Where Is Mildew Found?

Mildew is most commonly found on damp surfaces like shower walls, duct work, and refrigerators. It can also form on paper, fabrics, and organic material like plants and fruits and vegetables.

Mildew is classified as either downy mildew or powdery mildew. The downy variety starts off looking like yellow spots that gradually turn brown. Grapes and potatoes, for example, will develop downy mildew if they’re left out for a period of time. Powdery mildew, on the other hand, first appears as white or gray fluffy looking patches that then eventually turn yellowish-brown or black.

Where Is Mold Found?

Mold tends to be most commonly found on food and in parts of the home where moisture exists, such as in crawl spaces and behind walls where leaks have occurred. According to the CDC, there are more than 10,000 species of mold that can be found indoors, although the most common are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and Aspergillus.

The most dangerous form of mold is called Stachybotrys chartarum, also known as black mold. This type of mold is dangerous because it produces toxins called mycotoxins, which have been linked to a wide range of respiratory problems, chronic fatigue, and even depression.

Black mold has a distinct musty odor and is most commonly found in areas that are constantly damp, like around leaky pipes. It can also grow inside a home’s air ducts due to the amount of condensation that’s typically inside of them.

mold vs mildew

Telling Mold From Mildew

If you think you might have mold or mildew, then it is important to be able to tell the two apart. Mildew can be identified by its flat growing pattern, which spreads along the surface of the material. It looks white, gray, or yellowish and eventually turns brown or black.

Mold forms in irregular spots that can sometimes consist of various colors, like white, black, brown, gray, yellow, blue, or green. Mold will look fuzzy or slimy, and if the mold has penetrated the material, it will start rotting it.

mold vs mildew

How to Get Rid of Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew need four things to exist – food, water, air, and temperature between 41- and 104-degrees Fahrenheit. Eliminate one of those four, and they won’t be able to grow.

Since mold can grow on just about any surface, removing its food source is impossible. Living outside of that temperature range is also impossible. And, there’s nothing you can do about air. So, the one thing you must focus on is removing the water aspect. If the mold is being caused by a leaky faucet, then fix the faucet and stop the leak. If condensation is the problem, then increase air flow through the space to prevent it from forming.

Cleaning up mildew is easier than mold. Because mildew only grows on the surface of things, it can be removed by wiping it away with a cleaning product that features bleach or vinegar. Mold, on the other hand, needs a lot more scrubbing and cleaning. And, if it has penetrated the surface, then professional mold remediation services may be required to make the environment healthy again.

At a cost of $2,000 to $6,000 for mold cleaning services, this is something you don’t want to have happen, so check for and repair any leaks you might have before they turn into a nightmare.

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About The Author
Ben Sanford
Ben is a real estate agent and freelance writer. He's lived on the east coast his entire life and is just as "at home" on a snowboard as he is in the office. When not writing about local real estate markets and researching hot new tips for homeowners, he can be found working on his home renovation projects with help from his wife Melissa and their kids, Josh and Cheyenne.

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