Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Mold And Mildew: Tackling The Dirty Truth

September 19, 2010

Mold and mildew: These naturally-occurring fungi cause headaches for building occupants exposed to their potentially detrimental health effects and for cleaning contractors hired by building managers to deal with messy cleanups.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mildew spores in indoor environments.

The way to manage their growth is to control moisture and use modern methods to clean and remediate the fungi wherever it grows, taking steps to create a fungus-free environment.

Mold and mildew can be found almost anywhere moisture is present and can grow on almost any surface — from floor tiles to ceiling tiles and everything in between.

Respiratory illnesses, including aggravated asthma attacks, allergic reactions and skin rashes, are among the many potential health risks of being exposed to the fungi.

Preventative measures are among the best ways to reduce the spread of mold, mildew and other fungus-related problems.

Awareness of the issues and routine, careful use of sanitizing methods, along with modern building maintenance practices and the use of precautionary environmental moisture controls, can help minimize health risks.

Cleaning professionals that use state-of-the-art systems and equipment, including newly available eco-friendly products and procedures, help stop the spread of these undesirable fungi and protect against "sick building syndrome."

John Wunderlich, vice president of sales at NYCO Products Company, observes: "The issues of mold and mildew are both real and perceived. It is well-documented that mold can lead to respiratory illness and may be an asthmatic trigger and/or a source of problems for people with allergies and sensitivities to mold. Keeping a building interior as clean as possible, keeping everything inside dry, having adequate ventilation and humidity control and using appropriate antimicrobial cleaning products will reduce the risk of mold."

Janitorial Training

Well-trained personnel are vital for successful mold and mildew control.

Janitorial teams that fail to follow proper procedures for cleaning systems and equipment or fail to "go the extra mile" to make sure that surfaces, corners and crevasses — particularly in restrooms, gyms, kitchens, basements and other moist areas — are clean and sanitary are not doing their jobs correctly.

Likewise, it is crucial that appropriate products for mold and mildew control are applied correctly.

In this regard, cleaning teams should follow guidelines shown on all cleaning products'' material safety data sheets (MSDS), which are intended to provide workers and emergency personnel with procedures for handling substances safely.

Wunderlich advises: "When using any item that is registered with the EPA, such as a disinfectant, sanitizer, germicide or fungicide, remember that it is a violation of the law to use the product in a manner inconsistent with its directions."

Overuse will not make a product more effective but will instead contribute to increased costs and may actually impair the product''s cleaning efficiency.

An under-diluted disinfectant will not be effective and you risk not killing the mold, mildew or other organisms claimed on the label — contributing to the possibility of chemical resistance.

Read the directions for a disinfectant''s specific kill or efficacy claims and chose the product that is effective against the microorganisms you are trying to kill.

In addition, be aware of these factors:

  • Not every product kills both mold and mildew, so read the label or ask your supplier

  • Different products may not be recommended for certain surfaces and their use could cause unintended damage

  • Some products may have potential health risks, so products chosen should be appropriate for the skill levels of the cleaning personnel

  • If a building is occupied during cleaning, use products that will not be hazardous or irritating to occupants.

Legal Risks

Cleaning contractors and property managers, as well as developers and subcontractors who construct or renovate buildings, need to be aware of the potential legal risks of mold and mildew contamination and matters such as failed remediation efforts.

In situations where mold has led to structural deterioration or personal health issues for tenants, the potential outcome can cost millions to resolve or settle.

Angela N. Loehr, a partner at Gallop, Johnson & Neuman LC, has dealt with mold-related legal issues, litigation and defense for more than 10 years.

Loehr states: "Construction dispute cases frequently involve allegations that defective work led to water damage, which ultimately caused mold. Unlike a typical construction defect case or product liability claim, mold cases frequently include both a property damage element and a claim that a person''s health has been adversely affected by the mold exposure."

According to Loehr, it is routine to see allegations that mold remediation was undertaken by inexperienced or unqualified professionals.

Loehr ascertains: "Employees should be properly trained to recognize mold and possess a clear understanding of company policies and procedures."

Reputable Contractors

It is likely that mold and mildew are present in some area, in some form, in virtually any building.

Building owners, property managers and janitorial supervisors are advised to identify what areas of their buildings they believe are most susceptible to mold and mildew growth and develop a plan to reduce the potential for growth.

Most plans start with commonsense: Keep areas as clean and dry as possible at all times and maintain adequate airflow and humidity control.

If mold or mildew is present, quickly remove it.

If fungi continue growing in certain areas, search for underlying causes before taking appropriate measures to address the problem in the most efficient, effective manner possible.

Reputable cleaning professionals with a track record of excellence who can demonstrate that they possess the knowledge, experience, equipment, products and services necessary to fully handle the job — and who have completed optimum training — are best suited for addressing mold and mildew surface cleaning and containment tasks.

If the notion of cleaning mold and mildew is new to you, good sources of information are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the EPA report "Healthy Buildings, Healthy People: A Vision for the 21st Century."

Applicable codes, insurance regulations, inspection guidelines, legal matters and other issues about mold typically fall under state or local jurisdiction and, as such, can be reviewed at local municipal agencies.

Even in the modern world of cleaning, chronic problems such as mold and mildew are still around.

When correctly applied, new tools, chemicals and equipment can address these problems effectively — making your team function more seamlessly while keeping your facility looking great and its occupants safe and healthy.

Dennis Jarrett, chief executive officer, and Pete Frese, president, co-founded Stratus Building Solutions in 2004. Today, the St. Louis-based commercial cleaning franchise company is a fast-growing international brand with operations in 23 states and Canada, Europe and Central America. Stratus franchisors provide building owners and property managers with cost-effective solutions for commercial janitorial services, including the firm''s exclusive "Stratus Sani-Proof" program. In 2010, the St. Louis Business Journal and Franchise Times magazine identified the firm as The Number One Fastest-growing Privately Owned Company in St. Louis. Stratus Building Solutions is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Green Business Bureau, VETFRAN and other respected trade organizations. Fore more information, see or call Stratus Building Solutions at (314) 731-2000 or toll-free at 877-731-2020.