1 minute readDisaster, Health & Safety

Dealing with Mold – Disaster Recovery Tips

Editor’s note: Jim Judge is a member of the American Red Cross scientific advisory council, and is an expert on preparedness,including post-disaster safety. With thousands of people still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, we thought that Jim’s tips on safely cleaning up homes could be helpful.

Sandy - Cleanup Kit 11.10.12

How do you identify mold or potential for mold when coming back to your home after a disaster?

Things that stayed wet for 2 days have mold growing on them even if you can’t see it.

Sight – are the walls or ceiling discolored or do they show signs of mold growth or water damage?
Smell – Do you smell a bad odor, such as musty, earthy smell or a foul stench?
If yes to either it’s mold!

More tips:

  • Mold can look grey, black or even brown. Mold colonies may appear cottony, velvety, granular, leathery or glassy.
  • Mold will begin to grow on most surfaces after just 24 hours in a damp environment.
  • Certified/licensed mold inspectors are available in most communities.
  • The color of mold does not impact the choice of mold cleaner, the cleaning methods are the same.

Red Cross gives out clean up kits to help with recovery. These kits often include bleach. Does bleach help kill mold?

Yes. Use bleach to clean mold off hard things, like floors, sinks, countertops, flatware, plates and tools. Items soaked with water such as clothes, carpet, etc. have to be discarded.

More tips:

  • Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaners.
  • Mix no more then 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water.
  • If the surface is rough, scrub with a stiff brush.
  • Rinse with clean water.
  • Dry the item or leave it out to dry
  • Take out items that have soaked up water and that cannot be cleaned and dried, carpet, clothing, mattresses, furniture, all other items that cannot be disinfected. Flood waters generally have sewage so take protective precautions.

How do you dispose of ruined furniture, carpet, clothing, etc. safely?

Generally, in an area where many homes have been affected, by taking the contaminated items to the curb for a solid waste pick-up. Disposal at the local landfill or local solid waste facility is the safest method. Even calling the local solid waste office for information on having the items safely removed if the damage only affects a single home.

Wear protective boots, gloves, mask, and eye protection during this phase and all phases of cleanup to removal.

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  1. Please stop promoting chlorine bleach as a solution for mold.


    Bleach is 94% water. Water is one of the main contributors of the growth of harmful bacteria and mold. Attempts to remediate mold using bleach only re-grow and regenerate mold and bacteria – at twice the rate originally found before bleaching.
    (For more information about the hazards of using bleach see Dr. Mercola’s interview with Dr. Jack Thrasher at http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/07/30/dr-thrasher-on-the-health-dangers-of-mold.aspx?e_cid=20110730_DNL_art_1)

  2. Hi Kristine,

    Bleach is an extremely powerful cleaning agent that destroys almost all bacteria, mold and microorganisms – and all it takes is a tiny mount. Bleach has been used for thousands of years in different forms, and some die-hard fans say it’s the only substance that gets the job done. Chlorine is the basis for the most commonly used bleaches. Bleaches are used to whiten clothes, as disinfectants and even to purify water. From Wikipedia, there is a great deal of information on Bleach, it’s chemical properties as well as antimicrobial efficacy. Bleach is 99.9% effective in destroying bacteria.

    Vinegar is produced from formation of ethanol and typically contains between 4%and 8% acetic acid. Because of this acid, when combined with baking soda or hydrogen peroxide, is also effective in killing mold and bacteria, while not as strong as bleach it can destroy 80% of bacteria. It should not be used on stone tile such as marble or granite because it can eat away at the surface and cause discoloration.

    Wood and drywall that is saturated and shows signs of mold is best handled by removal and proper disposal.

    Bleach, is inexpensive, and easy to use, and comes in a variety of spray bottles, or you can mix it yourself. Never mix more then 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water.

    As the article by Dr. Mercola points out, for minor surface mold the mixed vinegar solution will work, but also, so will plain soap and water.

  3. We are 2 senior citizen on limited income, live in Niles IL
    We suspect a mold and mildew in our house.
    Can you help with inspection?
    We have been always giving donations to Red Cross.
    Thank you and G-d bless you!
    Jeff Reznikov

  4. Hi Jeff, we’re sorry to hear about the difficult circumstances you described. Please call “211” to be connected to local social service agencies, as “mold issues” are outside our scope. We send our best wishes for better days ahead.


  6. Hi Dena, We’re so sorry to hear of your difficult circumstances. Please call “211” to be referred to social service agencies and resources in your community which may be available to assist you as this is outside of our scope. Best wishes for better days ahead.