Mildew is the common name of many different molds or fungi. It is most often associated with mold growing on a flat surface in a moist area. It can be found in shower stalls, on tiles, walls in closets, the basement, your attic, leather couches, curtains, and window sills. Mold growing on something in your house is a bad sign; it means that something is out of balance. Mildew can cause damage to the thing upon which it is growing through staining and decomposition, and it can also do harm to your health because of the spores it creates. Besides that, it looks bad and it can make your house smell like the inside of a rotten log. There are so many reasons to want to get rid of mildew and molds in your house. Cleaning the mildew is one part of the process, repairing the damage is the second, and preventing future mildew growth should be your ultimate goal.
Getting Rid of Mildew
If you have mildew you have a moisture problem. Excess moisture can lead to swelling and decomposition of building materials like drywall or wood, and that can be an even larger problem than just mildew. It could even threaten the stability of your home. There is no good reason to have a moist home; find a solution to make your home less humid. Fix leaks, insulate cold pipes to prevent condensation, use dehumidifiers and air conditioners, keep air moving in damp places like basements, install drain tiling and a sump pump to prevent water from rising under your foundation.
Remove material damaged by mildew. If the building materials in a damp area have been damaged by water and grown mildew, sometimes the best solution is just to remove the whole lot, fix the water problem, and replace it with new materials. They will almost certainly stink like mold till the end of time anyway. Take care when removing stuff like this to not inhale the dust or spores created by the mildew. It won't always hurt you, but some types of mold, such as black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum), are very toxic. Why risk it? Just strap on a respirator.
Allow the area to dry before repairing. If you've opened up an area and removed damaged, mildew-infested materials and also identified the moisture source and eliminated the problem, it's time to close things up. Before doing so, you really want to make sure everything is dry in there. Set up a fan or space heater to blow into the area for a few hours. Actually, a lot of mildew can be prevented with a targeted campaign of ventilation and air movement. Basements won't turn as sour, bathrooms will dry out faster, and the mildew won't stand a chance.
Clean surfaces affected by mildew. Surfaces in shower stalls and bathtubs can be easily cleaned with any kind of shower and bath cleaner. Check out the cleaners available from Seventh Generation, as they are effective but still environmentally safe. You might also want to make it a habit to dry or squeegee your shower after every use to prevent moisture from hanging around. If it's cool outside and warm and humid in the house, water is going to collect on and around your windows where it will encourage mold growth. Regular cleaning and drying will help curb this problem.
Preventing mildew means controlling the environment. Mildew and mold love warm, wet places. There are differing opinions as to what an ideal room temperature might be, even within households, but let's just generalize that most people keep their homes in the 70°F range. Mildew grows best in the high seventies to eighties and with a 70‒90 percent humidity level. That perfectly describes many homes during the summer season. This means that either you need to keep things cooler and drier (which can lead to a high electricity bill) or be more vigilant about keeping potential mildew areas clean. Maybe both?
If you have had a major mold and mildew problem growing out of sight in your home for a long period of time, it may be that the process required to clean up such a disaster safely is beyond the realm of doing it yourself. Not only is there a danger of inhaling spores while you are removing the mold, but there is also the issue of the dust getting into the air and landing somewhere in your house to be inhaled later. There are construction-type people who will have the equipment necessary to kill, safely remove, and prevent future mold and mildew in your house. Check your local yellow pages.