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Mildew vs. Mold: What is the Difference?

Laundry left in dryer stinks! Unhappy woman holds nose.
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Mildew and mold are a pervasive problem in peoples’ homes—and many may not know the difference between the two. Being able to tell the difference between mildew and mold is one of the most critical aspects of battling the respective problems. This article explains how to differentiate mildew and mold based on their appearances, where they grow, and what they do—as well as how to get rid of them.

Mold Mildew
Appearance Slimy or fuzzy Powdery
Growth Habit Burrowing Surface
Effects Headaches; Respiratory Problems; Joint pain Headaches; Sore throat
How to Remove Remove moldy materials, clean with deep bleach; may need professional aid Household products and cleaners

Mildew vs. mold: Appearance

Color patterns are not always a reliable way to tell the difference between mold and mildew, but they do offer clues. Here are some more specifics to help you figure out which is infesting your home.

Emilija Manevska / Getty Images

Mildew

Mildew is often a grey, tan or white color. It usually grows in a flat pattern, expanding out and across an area to form patches until they all join together to cover a surface. It may appear to have a powdery or fluffy texture. If it has been allowed to grow for a while, it may turn a black or brown color on top.

  • Generally white, grey or white
  • Flat growth pattern
  • Texture fuzzy or powdery

Wildroze / Getty Images

Mold

Mold often appears slimy, although it can look light and fuzzy when it first starts to grow. It is usually irregular in its growth patterns and may form awkward spots of different colors. The color patterns come in a wide array of blue, green, yellow, brown, gray, black, and white. Mold eats through much of what it is resting on and often causes rot to occur underneath.

  • Can be any color
  • Starts fuzzy, grows to be slimy
  • Grows light-colored to dark-colored

Mildew vs. Mold: Where they grow and why

Another way to differentiate between mildew and mold is to identify where it is growing. While they both prefer to grow in warm, moist areas, there are more specifics that can be helpful in identification.

Mildew

Mildew tends to grow on consistently damp surfaces, like fabric, paper products, or on top of leather. You may find it on the floors, walls, or the ceilings of rooms with a lot of humidity, such as kitchens and bathrooms. Mildew can also grow on vegetables, but it typically prefers leafy plants like lettuce.

Mildew grows on:

  • Fabrics, paper, or leather
  • Floors, walls, ceilings in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Leafy crops

Mold

Mold also grows in damp areas, but it more commonly grows on food. Mold prefers expired food like cheese, bread, and meat products, but it is also common to find in dark wet areas, like corners of sheds, attics, or garages.

Mold grows on:

  • Anywhere with water damage
  • Food products like cheese, bread, and meat
  • Attics, sheds, and garages

Mildew vs. Mold: What do they do, and are they dangerous?

Both mildew and mold grow through a reproductive process involving spores, similar to mushrooms. But in the case of mildew and mold, the spores are more dangerous for humans.

Mildew

Mildew tends to be not as dangerous to humans as mold. However, mildew infections on plants can wipe out entire harvests. If mildew is growing on food in the home—such as leafy vegetables—throw them out as this can lead to toxic releases. If mildew is growing on a surface—like a bathroom wall or mirror—it won’t usually damage the surface. But if spores are released, it can cause people to experience symptoms like coughing, headaches, and breathing problems.

Mold

Mold is very invasive and a good deal more harmful to your home and your health. It may cause damage throughout entire structures and even vehicles. It causes drywall, wood, and grout to disintegrate and rot, and it can heavily compromise the overall structure of the home.

It may also cause more dangerous and long-lasting health problems for people. Depending on the type of mold, it can cause respiratory or cardiovascular issues, joint pain, migraines, fatigue, and depression. Plus, many people are allergic to mold and may exhibit symptoms such as congestion, skin rashes, and sore eyes and throat.

Types of mold in the home

There are many different types of mold that may grow in your home. But the good news is that only three or four of them are quite common, making them easier to identify and, in turn, eradicate.

  • Stachybotrys: Also called “black mold,” this mold is one of the most harmful and invasive. It is highly toxic and has a slimy texture that grows in large oval patches in a dark green or black color.
  • Aspergillus: This is a widespread mold commonly found in walls or ceilings that have water damage or no proper ventilation. It comes in many different colors.
  • Cladosporium: This mold is found on walls in poorly ventilated areas and on fabrics, such as carpets or clothes. It has a textural appearance close to that of suede, and it’s usually olive or a light brown color.
  • Fusarium: This is the mold that is found growing on food products. It often starts as pink, white, or red and darkens as time goes on. It is toxic, and food containing it could lead to harmful allergic reactions.
  • Acremonium: This is a typical mold that is pink, orange, white, or grey and needs high humidity to grow. It’s often found in humidifiers, HVAC systems, window sealants, and similar areas.
  • Alternaria: This mold is either black or deep, dark green. It can cause asthmatic symptoms and is one of the most common forms of mold. It’s often found in bathrooms that aren’t well ventilated or have water damage.

How to get rid of mildew

Getting rid of mildew in your home depends on the area that it is growing in. With that said, the steps below can be used and adapted for almost any surface in your home.

  1. Dry out the material that has the mildew. You can do this by setting it in the sun (if it is possible to move). If it is a large part of a room, place a fan in the area. Be careful, though, since this can cause the spreading of the spores.

Pro tip: If using a fan, try to place a box over both the fan and the area. This contains the spread of spores.

  1. Use white vinegar first to kill small patches without damaging the area. Use the vinegar at full strength for larger patches. Scrub the mildew away and leave the area to dry.
  2. If it is in furniture or other areas of the home, use ammonia. Mix a cup of ammonia with half a cup of white vinegar, a quarter cup of baking soda all in one gallon of water. Wash the area down with this thoroughly, scrub the mildew away, and make sure the area dries properly.

How to get rid of mold

Small patches of mold underneath windows or in humidifiers are easy to remove with a little bit of bleach and scrubbing. However, if you have a significant infestation in your walls or other areas of your house and don’t want to call a professional, follow these steps to get it cleaned out.

  1. Protect yourself. Wear old clothes and cover your hair and eyes. Most importantly, wear a mask to prevent breathing in the disturbed spores.
  2. Turn off any ventilation systems, i.e., furnaces or air conditioning units, while working.
  3. While working in an area, set up a fan in the window to keep the room ventilated. (Know that you should throw the fan out after working since it is almost impossible to clean.)
  4. To limit the spread of spores while working, moisten the workspace.
  5. Seal the damaged area off from the rest of the home to stop any spread. Do this by covering any doorways with plastic taped around the wall and floor. Pay attention to any air ducts leading in or out of the room.
  6. Start in a room by removing any moldy carpet. Carpet with mold is ruined and needs to be thrown out.
  7. If it has gotten into the walls, pry the baseboards and the trim away from the walls. If a wall is heavily stained, stick a screwdriver behind it to check if it is in the insulation and frames.
  8. While cleaning away stained sections of the wall and perhaps insulation, wet the area first to keep the spores stuck to the wall while moving it.
  9. Place removed materials in a double bag and firmly tie it shut before removing it from home.
  10. Be sure to check for rot in wall frames and insulation and remove and replace anything necessary.

The bottom line

Whether you have mildew or mold in your home, the consensus is that it is essential to clean it out as soon as possible to stop harm to your home, or worse, your health. It is ordinarily manageable to clean it out yourself. However, in very damaging situations, professionals may need to be called in to help limit the amount of damage.

Frequently asked questions

Black mold vs. mildew: What’s the difference?

Mildew is generally white, gray, or yellow and has a fluffy or powdery texture. Black mold is either black or dark gray and has a slimy texture as it grows.

Is mildew mold?

No. Mildew and mold are very different, although they can sometimes appear similar. Mildew is typically less dangerous than mold.

What is the difference between mold and mildew?

Mildew usually is white, gray, or yellow and has a fluffy or powdery texture. Mold can be white or gray but commonly grows into a darker black or green color. It may become slimy instead of the initial fuzzy stage as well.


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