MSU researchers offer another 'solution' for stopping mold growth


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Posted: 10/26/2005


As Gulf Coast homeowners engage in the post-Katrina rebuilding process, a team of Mississippi State wood protection specialists is urging them to "think beyond bleach and water."

While that tried-and-true combination has its place, university scientists also are recommending a borate supplement with mold-controlling agents prior to hanging sheetrock.

"Many coastal residents already may have used a mixture of bleach and water to clean mold from their water-damaged homes," said Terry Amburgey, a professor in MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center. "While bleach is germicidal and will clean mold from wood surfaces, the mold growing within the wood will return if the wall cavities are not completely dry."

That's why Amburgey and his MSU colleagues are recommending borates supplemented with a mold-control agent, which kill molds as well as bacteria and wood decay fungi--and termites, roaches and other insects, for that matter. If those weren't enough reasons, then consider that borates can penetrate wood and are colorless, odorless, non-corrosive, and, yes, essentially not toxic to humans, he added.

"Bleach is corrosive and can compromise electrical connections and be absorbed by building materials," he observed. "Using bleach as a cleaning agent for large areas such as wall cavities also will cause the gradual release of chlorine gas into living spaces for an extended period of time."

So what is a borate? According to the land-grant researcher, it's simply a material made from or containing a form of boron, a non-metallic natural element mined from the earth and found literally in hundreds of forms and uses--many in pest control.

In responding to questions from South Mississippi residents who have not yet begun cleaning their homes, the MSU team is recommending a low to moderate pressure application of a mild detergent solution, followed by a borate formulation containing a mold-control agent.

Amburgey said the fungicide should be an Environmental Protection Agency-registered product that is designed for the use intended and applied according to label instructions.

Steve Hunter, an assistant professor in MSU's Institute of Furniture Manufacturing and Management, also urged homeowners to ensure that abundant air is circulated throughout damaged structures. "Mold hates moving air," he explained.

As for dealing with water-damaged furniture, Hunter offered the following tips:

  • First, move all damaged furniture to a clean room in which a normal and stable household moisture level can be maintained;
  • Wipe each piece with a damp cloth that has been soaked with a solution of bleach and water; and
  • Dry immediately and thoroughly to prevent water damage to the original finish.

After a month of continuing inspections for the recurrence of mold, Hunter said homeowners then should give all bare furniture surfaces a good covering with paste wax.

Returning to his discussion of house structures, Amburgey said that, while molds grow on wood building components, they do not cause actual structural damage to the wood itself.

"Though they are primitive organisms, molds require the same four factors for growth that humans do," he said. "Those are air, temperature, water, and food. If the growth of mold fungi is to be prevented or controlled, one or more of these four basic factors must be altered."

Amburgey also cautioned homeowners to refrain from replacing interior wall coverings until the moisture content in wall cavities registers below 20 percent. A licensed pest control agent should be contacted to verify the moisture content, he said.

The bottom line: If wall cavities are closed while moisture remains in the walls, those nasty, hated molds surely will return.

For more information on mold removal from home structures, contact Amburgey at (662)325-3057 or .

For help with mold removal from furniture, Hunter may be reached at 325-8344 or

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