The Surprising Distinction Between Mold & Mildew — And How To Treat Both

I’m here today to solve the biggest debate in bathroom cleaning history: Is it mold, or is it mildew? The answer is that it’s probably both. At the end of the day, mildew is just another type of mold—and it can be just as harmful if not properly treated. Here’s what to know.

What’s the difference between mold and mildew? 

Molds come in all sizes, shapes, textures, and colors, while mildew is typically characterized by a white or gray powdery fungus.

When you see “mildew,” you are most likely seeing a mold that is in the Ascomycota division, which tends to be lighter in color and more powdery in texture. (You may have heard the term “powdery mildew,” which is a plant disease caused by Ascomycota fungi.)

One mold that falls into this Ascomycota category is Aspergillus—an allergenic mold that can cause adverse health reactions. Aspergillus tends to look like a white/gray, powdery substance, fitting the bucket of “mildew.”

Aspergillus can produce toxins called mycotoxins, which can spur allergy-like symptoms or what seems like a perpetual cold that never seems to go away. Mycotoxins have also been associated with neurological and neuropsychiatric symptoms including pain syndromes, movement disorders, delirium, and disorders of balance and coordination.

It’s a common but potentially harmful mold that we see often in the remediation industry throughout the home—mostly on windows and surrounding frames and sills; on doors and frames leading outside; under bath mats; on shower curtains, often between the liner and the curtain; and on bathroom grout or caulk.

Connecting the dots, it’s better to err on the side of caution when you have what looks like mildew growing in your home.

Why it’s important to treat any type of mold right away + how to do it.

It’s important that we are really careful about how we respond to mildew in our homes. If you see what you think is mildew, or mold on your shower curtain, bath rug, etc., it’s time to take action!

When and how to clean it yourself:

If you spot a one-off case of mildew on hard, nonporous surfaces like metal or glass, you can simply spray it with a mold remover (I recommend this one) and wipe the area down with a microfiber cloth. Since these areas are enclosed, the roots (hyphae) of mold will not have a chance to grow into them, so a quick clean should take care of things. Always be sure to discard the microfiber towel when you are done. Yep, do not wash it; discard it!  

If you spot mildew on surfaces that are semi-porous such as hardwood, you might need to sand the area down to fully remove the rootlike structures of mold. Otherwise, you run the risk of it easily growing back. (Think of mold as a weed: If you just remove the stem, it will continue to grow back. You have to get rid of the roots, too.)

For mildew on textiles, you have two options: Either clean them with a fabric cleaner that can remove mold (this is the one I recommend) or replace them.

When to call in a professional:

All molds—mildew included—produce by means of spores. When those spores find an opportunity to grow where there is water or moisture, they will do so.

So if you have mold perpetually growing in your bathroom, it often means you have mold elsewhere in the home that is getting aerosolized and finding the perfect opportunity to grow in that damp space.

For that reason, I always recommend having your home inspected by a licensed mold inspector if you have mold or mildew perpetually growing anywhere inside, including the bathroom. Be sure to choose an inspector who focuses solely on mold. 

How to prevent mold & mildew in the first place.

Here are a few quick tips to help prevent mold and mildew from growing:

Mildew is a type of mold that can be dangerous if left on its own. Treat mildew with the same seriousness that you would treat mold, and you’ll keep it from potentially getting worse over time. 

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