Mold vs Mildew: What's the Difference?

A close-up of mildew or mold.

Mold and mildew are certainly no one’s favorite topic to think about, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean that they’re a subject to be ignored. Especially if you’re a homeowner, you need to know the warning signs as well as the difference between the two since they are commonly confused with one another. Below we discuss the differences between mold and mildew, where they are most likely to occur, and how to get rid of each in certain occurrences.

Similarities Between Mold and Mildew

There are definitely a range of characteristics shared by mold and mildew. First, they both thrive in moist and warm areas. Next, mold and mildew find themselves able to grow on a variety of surfaces, whether that be on food or on your shower tile. Most importantly, they’re both a type of fungi associated with certain health issues, making them highly undesirable in peoples' homes.

The Signs and Effects of Mold

Mold near a window.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are over 10,000 species of mold that can live inside your home. From a texture and appearance standpoint, mold looks different from mildew. It usually appears to be “fuzzy,” as well as slimy. It shows itself in irregular shapes and the colors of these spots are rarely consistent, ranging in shades of blue, green, yellow, brown, gray, black, or white. Unfortunately, it can be tough to spot mold right away, as it only becomes visible as the colonies begin to spread and grow. However, mold does possess a musty smell, which is a tell-tale sign of its existence in a space.

There are several adverse health and home effects associated specifically with mold. First, it can cause structural damage when it’s left untreated for a long length of time. Next, depending on which strain of mold exists in your home, it can cause several different health problems. These include allergic reactions such as sneezing or skin irritation, respiratory problems such as breathing difficulty or increased coughing, heart problems, migraines, joint pain and inflammation, dizziness, or extreme fatigue. Clearly, you want to rid your home of this substance as soon as possible to avoid any of these less-than-ideal consequences of exposure to mold.

The Signs and Effects of Mildew

Mildew on a green leaf.

Mildew is different from mold in the fact that it usually affects plants and crops. However, it does and can develop indoors, and the appearance and texture of this substance is much different from that of mold. It develops as a flat pattern that looks powdery or fluffy. It is typically white, gray, or yellow and will be found along a moist surface. Over time, mildew will darken in color, turning brown or black.

Exposure to mildew can cause health issues just as mold can, although not as severe. When it’s inhaled, mildew spores lead to headaches, a sore throat, coughing, and other respiratory issues.

Mold and Mildew Prevention

The best way to take care of these substances is simply to prevent them from developing within your home in the first place. The first step in doing this is to keep the inside of your home devoid of moisture as much as possible. Use a dehumidifier to keep the inside humidity level between 40 and 50 percent at all times, and have your heating and cooling systems regularly inspected. Good air circulation helps to eradicate the chance of moisture building. You should also immediately fix any leaks in a kitchen or bathroom as they arise. Finally, since mildew occurs commonly on plants, remove any affected by the substance from your home immediately to prevent an infestation.

Removing Mold

Cleaning mold off of a shower ceiling.

Ridding your home of mold can be a daunting task in many cases. This is because it attaches to the affected materials and penetrates beneath the surfaces. It also works against your favor, since mold spores spread quickly and easily and can exist in even extreme conditions.

While DIY mold removal is not always recommended, if it’s not a severe infestation you can work to get rid of it yourself. Wear goggles, rubber gloves, a face mask, and old clothes while performing the procedure. Also, you’ll want to ensure there is good ventilation in the room, perhaps by adding a fan you won’t mind throwing out after, as it’ll be nearly impossible to clean any mold spores off of it. To get rid of a moldy carpet, wrap it in heavy plastic and double-bag the debris in garbage bags before disposal. To further control airborne spores, you’ll want to moisten moldy areas with a garden hose spray as you’re working outside.

As you work to remove mold, keep in mind that it could easily spread beneath the surface of an affected area. You may need to peel back layers of a floor or wall to ensure you are adequately ridding your home of the harmful substance. As mentioned above, this frequently requires the help of a professional.

Removing Mildew

Getting rid of mildew in your home is relatively easy to do, albeit not a very glamorous task. All you need is a commercially available cleaner, a durable scrubbing brush, long rubber gloves, and a facial mask for safety. Perform the task in a well-ventilated area to avoid the inhalation of spores and the fumes of the cleaning product. Thoroughly clean and scrub the affected area until it's completely clean, drying it well after cleaning.

Mold and mildew are not desirable infestations in any home, but they’re more common than you may think. Identifying and addressing the problems promptly are important to minimizing health issues that could come as a result of their presence and, perhaps most importantly, avid prevention is key to a happy and healthy home!