Mold in Your Apartment? Problems, Solutions and Prevention

If you suspect (or know) you have mold in your apartment, you may worry that your home sweet home has become a hazard to your health. What can you do, and whose responsibility is it to solve the problem?

Mold that concentrates on surfaces indoors can cause health problems, especially if you have a sensitivity like allergies or asthma. That's why it's smart to be alert for signs of mold, address mold problems quickly if you find them and take steps to prevent mold growth in the first place.

Signs of mold in apartment

This may surprise you: there are mold spores in your apartment already! The tiny spores float through the air both indoors and out. They can get into your apartment through open windows or by hitching a ride on your or your pet.

Fortunately, mold spores only grow indoors when they land on surfaces that provide the right environment for them.

The symptoms of mold in your apartment can be subtle if the affected area is small or dramatic if the mold has spread. Here are a few telltale signs to look for:

  • Your apartment smells like mildew or has an earthy, musty odor.
  • You notice signs of water damage like stains or bulging drywall.
  • You have physical symptoms of sensitivity to mold (especially when you're in your apartment) like a stuffy nose, watery eyes, coughing or trouble breathing.
  • Your apartment has visible signs of mold growing on surfaces.

Woman holding her nose because she smells mold

What does mold look like?

Most people think of mold indoors as the nefarious-looking black, yellow or greenish splotches that grow on walls and window frames, but mold can appear in a variety of colors and forms. It can have a slimy, fuzzy or suede-like texture (but don't touch it with your bare hands; some mold can cause skin irritation.).

Contrary to what you might have heard, the color of mold doesn't determine how dangerous it is.

How to test for mold in your apartment

The only sure way to identify what type of mold is present in your apartment is to have it tested by a professional. This is particularly true if you smell mold or have other symptoms of a mold problem but you can't actually see signs of mold growth.

However, if you're already convinced you have mold growth, testing for mold in your apartment isn't necessary. The CDC suggests that all mold should be treated as a potential health hazard and removed. Instead of wasting precious time finding out what kind of mold you have, follow the removal steps below to get rid of it as soon as possible.

5 common places where mold hides

Mold needs two things to thrive: moisture and some amount of darkness. Places where moisture is frequent or excessive are prime spots for mold growth, especially if those places don't have a lot of exposure to light.

Here are a few places where mold can lurk. But keep in mind that mold can grow anywhere indoors given the right conditions.

Someone looking at mold under a magnifying glass

1. Where leaks are present

Mold often appears when there's a leak causing a moisture problem. You may find mold on ceilings or walls if structural problems allowed moisture to enter. Leaks around window frames are another common culprit.

2. In your bathroom

Mold can also hide on shower walls and curtains or around the trim in your bathroom. You might discover it under sinks or any place where leaky pipes or condensation create a damp environment.

3. Where you do laundry

If your clothes dryer isn't properly vented to the outside, your laundry area can become humid. That excess moisture could promote mold growth. You may also find mold on damp towels that have been stored too long in a laundry hamper or on the surrounding walls of your laundry room.

4. Around windows

If you often have condensation on your apartment windows, check for signs of mold around the window frame. Mold can also grow in curtains, blinds or on the carpeting below windows where there's a moisture problem.

5. On organic materials

Mold especially loves to grow on damp cellulose. That means cardboard, stacks of paper, books or magazines, ceiling tiles, wood and anything made from organic materials. You may also find mold on (or behind) wallpaper and on upholstery and carpet.

Can you live in an apartment with mold?

If you've found mold growing in your apartment, take steps to remove it quickly and prevent the problem from spreading.

Exposure to mold can cause serious health problems for some and few or no issues for others. But whether you're allergic or not, mold can cause irritation to your eyes, nose, throat, lungs and skin. There are also studies linking mold exposure to an increased likelihood of childhood asthma, so if you have children living in your home, it’s important to be extra diligent with mold removal.

Mold allergies are common. If you're allergic, you can expect hay fever-like symptoms. In asthmatic people, mold sensitivity can trigger asthma attacks. Similarly, mold may cause breathing problems for those with respiratory diseases. You should also be vigilant for mold if you're immunosuppressed.

Someone having allergies from mold in their apartment

What's the difference between mold and mildew?

According to the EPA, mildew refers to certain types of mold or fungus, but it's often used as a catch-all term. The science gets a bit technical, but here's a simple way to think of it:

  • Mold: Mold thrives on organic (high cellulose) materials such as cardboard, wood, drywall, upholstery (including leather) and fabrics.
  • Mildew: Mildew is found on hard surfaces such as shower walls or vinyl window frames.

Both mold and mildew grow wherever moisture is present and both can create the same health risks.

Someone cleaning mold off their shower tiles

How dangerous is black mold?

You may have heard the phrase "toxic black mold" in the news and on social media, which makes this greenish-black splotchy mold sound particularly scary. But is it really more dangerous than other types of mold?

"Toxic black mold" is a term often used to refer to Stachybotrys chartarum. Stachybotrys belongs to a class of molds that are toxigenic, meaning they produce a toxic substance called mycotoxins.

Science hasn't found a causal link between black mold and certain serious health issues, so Stachybotrys isn't necessarily more dangerous than other types of molds. According to the CDC, all mold problems should be addressed quickly, especially since the presence of mold in your apartment could be a sign of a long-term moisture problem.

What to do if you find mold in your apartment

When you encounter mold in your apartment, it's time to act quickly. Mold that's left untreated can spread. It can also damage whatever it's growing on.

1. Consider the source of the problem

First, consider whether whatever has caused the mold to grow is something you can manage yourself. If you find mold in your shower, for instance, the solution could be as simple as cleaning it up and then cleaning your shower more frequently. But if the mold growth is the result of a problem like water damage, you'll need to get your property manager involved.

2. Clean up mold on hard surfaces

You can remove the mold in your apartment yourself if it's:

  • On a hard surface (such as your shower walls)
  • Not related to moisture problems that are outside your control (such as leaks)
  • Commercial cleaning products, soap and water or a mixture of no more than one cup of household bleach to one gallon of water are all effective ways to remove mold from hard surfaces. There are also some natural ways to get rid of mold.

Never mix bleach with other household cleaners or ammonia. Doing so can create poisonous fumes. Always wear gloves and keep your room well ventilated when you use cleaning products.

Someone wearing gloves and removing mold from their window

3.  Clean up small mold patches on organic surfaces

According to the EPA, you can clean mold from organic surfaces yourself if the affected area is smaller than 10 square feet (about a 3×3 foot area). Cleanup techniques will vary by surface type.

Mold on fabrics and other soft surfaces may be hard to remove completely, so consider replacing the damaged item. For example, if your bathroom throw rug has significant mold growth, it makes sense to replace it with something you can wash and dry regularly.

4.  Notify your property manager of larger problems

If the mold is the result of a moisture problem or water damage that you can't control, it's time to get your property manager involved. They should take the underlying problems that cause mold seriously and act quickly.

It can be helpful to take photos of the mold problem and present them to your property manager. Be sure to document any conversations you have for future reference. If the problem isn't addressed, check with your state's landlord-tenant resources for guidance. Additionally, if there's existing or upcoming legislation related to mold it will be cited by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

5.  Check your renters insurance policy

If structural problems beyond your control resulted in mold damage to your personal property, check with your renters insurance agency. You may have coverage that would help you get damaged items like furniture, rugs or clothing replaced.

Is mold the landlord’s responsibility?

There aren't many laws that specifically govern a landlord's responsibility when it comes to mold in rentals.

Some property managers require renters to sign a separate waiver or document related to mold on the premises when they move in. Make sure you review it along with your lease agreement to get a better understanding of your rights and responsibilities.

Even though there aren't many mold-specific laws in the books, in most states your property manager is legally required to provide a habitable premises. Here are a few questions to ask yourself that will help you determine who's responsible.

Woman concerned and looking at mold from water damage

Did your behavior cause the mold?

If something you did resulted in mold in your apartment, then it's your responsibility. If you've created excess moisture, failed to clean up and dry a spill or your cleanliness routine needs an upgrade, it will be up to you to take care of the mold problem. You could be liable for damage if you don't.

Did your property manager's failure to act cause the mold?

Leaky pipes, a leaky roof or poorly sealed windows are your property manager's responsibility. If a problem with your apartment's fixtures or structure wasn't fixed promptly and caused mold to grow, your property manager may be liable.

How to prevent any future mold

You can often prevent mold from growing in your apartment in the first place. Here are a few tips to keep it from gaining a foothold:

  • Keep the air moving. Open windows when weather permits. Use portable or ceiling fans to keep air circulating.
  • Use ventilation fans. Always use the fan in your bathroom and above your stove to vent moisture out of your apartment.
  • Keep humidity low. Air conditioners and heaters can help control humidity. You can also use a dehumidifier if necessary.
  • Clean up any moisture problems quickly. If something like a spill or an open window during a rainstorm drenched part of your apartment, use fans and ventilation to dry everything thoroughly.
  • Use mold-killing cleaners and clean regularly. Keeping your bathroom clean and dry is the best way to prevent mildew growth.
  • Don't store wet towels or clothing. Hang damp items up to dry before putting them into a hamper.

As worrisome as mold seems, in most cases, it's possible to avoid mold growth. When searching for a new place, be sure to read Rent.com apartment reviews to find the perfect rental and avoid any problematic properties. Before you move into a new apartment, inspect it carefully for signs of damage that could lead to mold.

Once you're moved into a new place, keep it well maintained. A clean, dry and well-ventilated apartment is usually a mold-free apartment.

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Alex HeinzAlex Heinz is a writer with experience in a variety of industries from tech to lifestyle. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, TechCo and PopSugar. She's lived in a handful of large cities including New York and San Diego, giving her first-hand knowledge of the ins and outs of renting. In her spare time, you can find her exploring new hikes with her dog.

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