Stopping a Mold Outbreak After Water Damage

Mold Basics

Artist Marlene McCarty experienced a flood that jeopardized her work before a major show

Where there’s water damage — even severe dampness — mold can develop within 48 hours. It grows fast when there’s high temperature and humidity plus lack of light and air circulation.

Mold is a type of fungus that:

  • Spreads fast, by reproducing tiny airborne spores, and feeds on organic materials (though it can grow on plastics, too!)
  • Likes humidity — at 68°, it can develop if the relative humidity is 70% or higher, but will stop at 45% or lower humidity
  • Is temperature-sensitive
  • Can aggravate or cause health problems.

 You can get a humidity and temperature monitor hygrometer at a home improvement store. Your goal is 45% or lower relative humidity.

Identifying Mold

Live (active) mold is slimy, fuzzy, or downy, smells musty, and smears when touched


Dried (inactive) mold is dry and powdery, and does not feel cool to the touch.

Mold Health Concerns

moldhoriz-100Toxic vs. Non-Toxic Mold

Only a small portion of the 1000s of types of mold are toxic. Black mold is very common, but not all black mold is toxic. If you have concerns about the toxicity of mold in your studio or storage space, call a local hospital, health department, or university biology department.

DO NOT WORK IN A MOLD INFESTED SPACE if you — or others helping — have allergies, asthma, respiratory problems, or impaired immunity systems.

If working in a mold infested space

Avoid prolonged exposure

Always wear protective gear

Be sure to wash your hands and face with soap after general cleanup and salvage

Stop work immediately if you (or others) feel feverish, develop skin, nose, or eye irritations, or have other allergy-like symptoms, seek medical treatment.

8 Steps to Prevent or Stop a Mold Outbreak

Art Conservator MJ Davis puts damp artwork in the freezer to prevent mold

1. Wear protective gear

2. Find the mold.

  Check all porous materials (wood, paper, fiber, leather).

  Inspect places with trapped moisture and poor circulation (drawers, closets, behind baseboards).

 3. Document and report the damage

  Use a cellphone, digital or video camera

  Call your insurance agent to report the problem, AND send a letter, fax or email. Keep copies! Needs an Expert

 4. Determine whether you need to call a professional:  Needs an Expert

If contamination is larger than 10 sq. ft or if there is sewage or other pollutants, call a commercial hazard or disaster recovery cleanup service

Check references, licensure, and be sure procedures are in compliance with industry standards. See Avoiding Post Disaster Scams

5. Assemble useful equipment and supplies if you are doing the cleanup

6. Stabilize the environment

  Stop leaking or flooding

  Remove standing water

  Remove water damaged drywall and insulation

  Use dehumidifiers, fans & open windows to lower the temp (to 70°) and humidity (30-60°)

 7. Isolate the mold

  Seal off a room with plastic sheeting.

  Separate and cover moldy items with plastic sheeting or bags

  Move undamaged items to a clean, dry space

  Move wet items someplace where temp and humidity are stable and you can work

 8. Scrub surfaces with 10% bleach/water mix (1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water)

Ventilate well

Don’t turn on the heat

Never mix bleach with ammonia

If a major disaster occurred, you may wait some time for an insurance adjuster. In the meantime, absolutely do these things so that the company cannot refuse the claim because of your lack of vigilance:

Consult with your insurance agent, then write a letter/email/fax confirming your conversation and documenting your actions to protect your property from further damage. (Keep copies!)  Needs an Expert

Don’t completely dispose of any damaged property until it has been inspected by the insurance adjuster. Seal moldy items in plastic if necessary.

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