In a country as big as Australia, there always seems to be at least one location facing catastrophic flooding or rains.
The initial damage captures all the media attention, with horrifying images of cars floating down streets, homes destroyed and ankle-deep mud.
But after the flood and clean-up, there is often more insidious damage that can take years to eradicate and represents serious potential to impair your health. That’s mould.
Mould is part of the fungi family and is present in our everyday lives almost everywhere. There are more than 100,000 types of mould. Some are harmless, some are helpful – penicillin for example – and some are very dangerous.
Mould reproduces via tiny particles in the air called spores. These spores can cause health problems for people who are allergic or sensitive to them, such as asthmatics or people with weakened immune systems.
Mould thrives in moist and dark areas and hates well-ventilated, dry areas.
The most likely spot to see it in everyday houses is your bathroom, specifically your shower, but it can also lurk inside walls, ceilings, carpets and insulation material. It can be black, white, green, orange, grey or white. While sometimes it’s obvious you have mould, other times it can just look like a stain.
So the flood’s passed and you’ve done the initial clean-up. Your home may not even have been flooded, but there may be water damage from heavy rains and humidity levels that may also put you in danger of a mould infestation.
What are the next steps?
Before all else, if your house has been damaged by a natural event, put in an insurance claim as soon as you can.
You will probably need to engage a professional to remove or prevent any mould, but there are a few steps you can take beforehand. Apart from anything else, professional services will be busy after a flood.
You need to remove all sources of unnecessary moisture from the home, such as pooled water and wet carpet, and flood-damaged items such as wallpaper, curtains, rugs, saturated bedding and furniture and even stuffed toys.
If the weather is warm and dry, open all windows and doors as much as you can. Warm, dry air is the natural enemy of mould, so at least you should inhibit any further mould outbreaks. Use fans and dehumidifiers if you have them.
It may be your first instinct to use air conditioning or central heating to dry out your house, but they may have been damaged or contaminated, so until you have had them checked by a professional, leave it to opening doors and windows.
Hate to break it to you, but that’s the easy part. If you are serious about getting rid of mould, if you feel confident about your DIY skills, you may have to also remove plasterboard to properly dry out the interior of the walls. If that sounds daunting, leave it to the professionals.
Anything that can be stored away from the home should be, preferably in a clean, dry space such as a garage or shed, although they may be hard to come by locally after a flood.
If you want to get started on cleaning mould, preparation is the key.
Buy a professional face mask, rubber gloves and protective clothing. Once again, make sure there is good ventilation.
Around the house, small areas of mould can be cleaned using a solution of one part bleach to three parts water. You can also ask at your local hardware store for a commercial mould cleaner. Naturally, using bleach, whatever the strength, comes with a potential for damage. Be mindful of what surfaces you are using it on and quickly wipe up any splashes with water.
Do not brush the contaminated areas, instead wipe them firmly until the mould is removed.
Brushing can flick spores around the room contaminating other areas, or move the spores into the air, creating health problems.
And finally, it’s a good tip to keep all receipts of anything you have spent in the cleaning process. Depending on your insurance policy, these can often be claimed.
Have you ever had to clean a flooded house? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?
Also read: How to sort out your flood insurance