Mold. The word alone is enough to make homeowners everywhere shudder. This pesky little fungus can take root in any dark, damp corner of a building and spread without being noticed. Often, the damage has already been done by the time you’ve discovered the mold outbreak. Dealing with mold growth anywhere in the home can be headache-inducing, but some places are more prone to it than others. Unfortunately, this includes the bathroom.
Most bathrooms provide several growing conditions that are perfect for mold growth — soft surfaces, a consistently damp environment and slightly warm temperatures create a breeding ground for mold and other fungi. This can be especially hard to handle if mold is growing on something like a cloth shower curtain, where it is constantly exposed to heat and moisture from people showering.
Luckily, there are ways of treating mold-infested shower curtains other than just throwing them away. Your tactics may need to vary depending on the color and material of your shower curtain, as well as the intensity of the outbreak. Nevertheless, you have several options for getting rid of that unruly mold and keeping it away for good!
No matter the color, all molds are a type of fungus, meaning they belong to the eukaryotic animal kingdom. In short, mold is a living microorganism with the ability to reproduce. It thrives in moisture, mild warmth and darkness, but can grow in almost any indoor or outdoor environment.
Mold starts out in the form of spores, which are basically the tiny ‘seedlings’ that carry mold DNA. These spores travel through the air and take root once they land on a porous surface. From here, the tiniest mold spore can reproduce and develop into entire mold colonies, which are the larger patches that you can physically see growing on things.
Believe it or not, mold is present in much of the air you breathe every day. Tiny mold spores are constantly free-floating through the air and being carried by wind everywhere you go. In small amounts, mold exposure is fairly harmless and won’t cause serious bodily harm. However, people with respiratory issues, compromised immune systems, allergies or sensitive skin and eyes may experience the effects of mold exposure differently, taking on more severe symptoms the longer they are exposed to it.
A wide variety of molds exist all over the world, but they can all be generally classified as one of three major types:
Regardless of type, most molds have telltale colors, textures and/or patterns of spread that can be used to identify them. In some cases, you may be unsure if a surface is covered with mold or just a bit of dirt. For this, there is a simple test to help you determine what you’re looking at. Concoct a mixture of roughly 16 parts water to 1 part bleach (or about 1 tablespoon of bleach per cup of water). Dab a cotton swab in this mixture and touch it to the questionable patch on your surface; if it’s mold, the spot should lighten very quickly. Similarly, if there is a troublesome spot in your home that you’ve cleaned more than once only to find that the same discolored patches eventually return, it’s safe to assume that this is probably a mold outbreak.
Mold only needs a few things to grow: warmth, moisture and a porous surface. Most people take showers and baths at a temperature of around 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit, which can easily raise the temperature of a bathroom by 10-20 degrees. Along with this, plenty of warm water vapor is released into the air, which fills the room with moisture and covers nearby surfaces with a thin layer of water. Even after your shower is over, the moisture and heat often linger, especially when the bathroom door is closed and the environment is sealed off.
These conditions make bathrooms a breeding ground for mold outbreaks, and shower curtains are especially vulnerable. Your shower curtains are exposed to warm water every time someone bathes, and the material can stay wet for nearly an hour afterward. If you don’t properly unravel and spread out the curtain while it’s wet, moisture can stay trapped within the folds of the fabric and create pockets of mold that develop over time.
The method you use to clean your shower curtains may vary slightly depending on the cleaner you choose, but they’re all extremely similar. Typically it involves scrubbing down the curtain, then letting it set for a bit so the cleaning agent has time to kill the mold and lift the spores away. In most cases, you should do this on both sides of the shower curtain before rinsing and drying it.
Use this handy step-by-step guide with any of the above cleaners to rid your shower curtains of pesky mold. First, gather your tools:
Once you’ve assembled your materials, find a flat, waterproof area to clean your curtain on. If possible, take the curtain outside or into a well-ventilated space. If you have nowhere else to go, spread the curtain out as best as you can in the tub. Prep the bathroom or other area by opening any windows and exterior doors. Interior doors should stay closed and sealed off if possible, even if this just means stuffing an old towel in the gap between the door and floor. If you have a box or standing fan, turn it on high facing outside in an open window or door to get the air circulating. Now you’re ready to start cleaning:
A variety of chemical cleaners, natural antibacterials and acidic products can kill mold. The right cleaner for you depends largely on what kind of mold you’re dealing with and where it’s growing. Some of the most popular mold cleaners include:
White vinegar – Vinegar is one of the most widely used natural cleaners in households across the country. Its mildly acidic properties are effective against over 80% of mold species without giving off any dangerous fumes. Vinegar is especially effective against mold outbreaks on porous surfaces — harsh chemicals can cause mold spores to ‘retreat’ into the deeper pores of whatever it’s growing on, but vinegar is gentle enough to disinfect the area before the mold can react. Some sources may suggest mixing vinegar with water to create a 50/50 solution, while others recommend soaking mold outbreaks with undiluted vinegar. In most cases, the concentration of vinegar you need depends on how severe the outbreak is.
Bleach – Commonly heralded as a powerful multi-purpose cleaner, bleach is known for its ability to disinfect and sanitize just about anything. As far as cleaning mold goes, bleach solutions and bleach-based cleaners are great for outbreaks on solid, non-porous surfaces like tile, porcelain and glass. Unfortunately, bleach doesn’t penetrate into the deeper layers of porous materials, and its harsh chemical makeup can cause mold spores to retreat into pores that bleach can’t clean. When this happens, the mold spores will simply recolonize once the bleach is no longer present.
Tea tree oil – This natural anti-fungal is used for a variety of household cleaning and self-care purposes. It is harmless to humans and animals, is available in most natural food stores and can kill nearly any type of mold. Tea tree oil can be expensive but is highly effective at removing mold from almost any surface. It only takes a small amount of this oil diluted in water to make a powerful mold-killing solution. Like vinegar, this option is gentle enough to kill mold before it can retreat.
Baking soda – Baking soda is popular for cleaning especially tough stains and substances in the home. Its reactive nature and fizzing properties can bubble away almost any sort of stubborn filth, including mold spores. Baking soda can be mixed with water into a thick paste to be scrubbed into stubborn mold colonies, or it can be used in conjunction with vinegar to gently lift and kill mold spores.
Hydrogen peroxide – Most commonly found in first aid kits and medicine cabinets, peroxide is a quintessential bacteria killer and antifungal that can break down mold, lift stains and remove odors all at once. Hydrogen peroxide should always be diluted with water prior to cleaning carpets, and it’s wise to test an inconspicuous area of the material first to check for damage or discoloration.
Borax – This mild mineral powder is a fantastic natural cleaner and excellent for getting rid of mold. While it is toxic if ingested, borax doesn’t release any dangerous fumes into the air. In fact, it gets rid of mold in a very similar way to vinegar and baking soda. Borax is typically mixed into a solution with water and scrubbed into mold spots, and it doesn’t need to be rinsed once you’ve used it.
Dealing with mold on your shower curtains can be frustrating, but it isn’t impossible. Always remember to be safe, wear personal protective equipment and make sure the area you’re cleaning in is well-ventilated. Above all, have patience and don’t be afraid to call a professional for help if necessary.
Hiring a professional mold inspector will give you peace of mind. Being in a position where you are uncertain as to the toxicity of mold in your residence can be extremely stressful.
At moldremediation.io, we pride ourselves on being quick, thorough and effective in how we communicate the mold remediation tests that we perform for our homeowner clients.