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Not exactly the menage-a-trois we were hoping for
January 10, 2011 10:10 PM   Subscribe

Mold or mildew have gotten into bed with us. Is the furniture doomed?

Usually about once a year in the winter time (in the SF Bay Area) we find mold (or mildew, what's the difference) on the wall behind our bed and behind the adjacent dresser. This time it was a bit more extensive than the previous times, and Mrs. Armoir was especially peeved, so I decide to lift the mattress and box spring (which had been sitting directly on the floor for about 4 years). Well, what did I find, but the carpet underneath was pretty darn damp, as was the top of the box spring; the latter also smelled pretty strongly of mildew, as did the bottom of the mattress. I suppose this is of no great surprise; the bedroom is directly above a big pocket of air we call "the garage" which is unfinished; part of it is exposed earth.

I guess this might explain the mild respiratory, and less mild skin irritation, suffered by my better half over the past couple of years.

But I digress. So for the past 24 hours we've had both the mattress and box spring standing vertically, in the hopes they might "air out", and a fan running across the damp spot on the carpet.

I'm trying to assess the long-term impact of this circumstance, on the health of (a) the bed, and (b) the missus. Also, I'm soliciting recommendations for what steps (if any) can be taken to de-mildew the mattress and box spring. Our first step of course will be to get the whole affair up off the floor and onto a proper-like bedframe. (Thanks, AskMeFi.)

The missus is of the belief that we should try to heat the area (rug, wall, along with mattress and box spring) with a 'space heater' in order to dry them out and hopefully kill / remove the mildew (of course we've already scrubbed the wall with a bleach mix). Does this have any chance of making an improvement in the situation? Do you have any other recommendations?
posted by armoir from antproof case to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
If it's an option, my recommendation would be to move. I was in a similar situation and we tried extra heaters in the affected rooms and at the time we thought it helped a bit. We were blown away when we finally moved at how much better our health was. I can't even express to you how much healthier I felt immediately after we moved. Mold and mildew are evil!
posted by sadtomato at 10:21 PM on January 10, 2011


bomb every mildewy surface in the room with lysol spray, including matress/boxspring, run the heater/fan, do not enter for a few hours. good luck — i lifted my matress mid-winter last year and was horrified to find a splotch of fuzzy mold on it; needless to say the ventilation is much better this year.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:27 PM on January 10, 2011


Mold or mildew in the walls means that the room in question needs to be gutted to the joists and frame that comprise the room and re-built from scratch.

Your best bet is to move. And get a new box spring and mattress.
posted by dfriedman at 10:34 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


New box spring, new mattress, no joke.

I'm in CA too and I know tenants have a lot of rights here. If you can't move, talk to the landlord about fixing the problem (this will likely cost them a lot of money to do it right, so they'll want to try other probably ineffective solutions first to shut you up). If they won't do anything, call the local health department.

Also, see the California Tenant's Rights Handbook [PDF]. Lots of useful information in there. And here's the HTML version of the page from the handbook that deals with habitability problems such as mold.

For now, I would suggest buying a nice air mattress and sleeping in another room that is not above the damp garage. Mold issues are not something you want to mess with. It can make you seriously ill.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 10:46 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tri-Sodium Phosphate (tsp) works great for killing mold on walls and floors. Painters use it to prep surfaces. I wouldn't use it on carpets.

I would steam clean the carpets to kill anything in the carpet pad and slow down the damage that might be occurring to your sub-flooring.

Next, I would get a couple of buckets of Damp-rid. It's a desiccant substance that absorbs moisture from the air. They sell it in multiple sizes You might consider putting a few small ones in your bedroom and a few big ones in the "garage" to cut down the amount of moisture that comes up from below.


I would agree that getting the mattress off the floor will help. Your wife is right, keeping things heated and dry will help, but only if you manage to stop the water from wherever it's coming from.

You can also purchase a de-humidifier for a few hundred dollars that will pull moisture out of the area. It'll help cure the problem long term.

Before you sound the alarms about Brain Melting Death Mold, you can purchase a mold test kit to determine if the particular species living with you is dangerous.
posted by JimmyJames at 10:48 PM on January 10, 2011


You need good airflow and a dehumidifier.

Move furniture away from the walls, move the bed off of the floor. Run a fan behind the furniture/under the bed to keep air moving.

A dehumidifier will generally also warm up a room somewhat, but watch out that you don't get the place too dry, or you and the missus will be suffering from different issues (painfully dry skin etc). Although I'd not be as worried about that in San Francisco in the winter.
posted by that girl at 10:50 PM on January 10, 2011


Do you rent or own?

Anyway, how about replacing the carpet? The subfloor might be the problem though--if you pull up the carpet and find tons of mold, then what? Can you pull up the subfloor?

In any case, getting that carpet out of there is probably a good idea.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:59 PM on January 10, 2011


So, is it damp down in the "garage"? To really fix this problem, I'm sorry to say, you have to find the source of the moisture, and stop or redirect it. Are you sure it's coming from below? Is your bedroom adjacent to a bathroom? It is possible a leaking pipe is the problem?

I've had to deal with basement mold/mildew as well as mold from bad plumbing (exhibiting itself eventually as mushrooms in the bathroom, yes, mushrooms). You can get rid of the stuff with thorough cleaning AND making sure no more water is reaching the area. A heater or dehumidifier is, in the long run, an inefficient way to deal with the problem.

Ideally, you should probably have this handled professionally, as some molds are really dangerous. I've never called in a professional, though, and we've had pretty good luck with bleach along with stopping the seeping moisture.
posted by torticat at 11:07 PM on January 10, 2011


My understanding is a considerable amount of damp accumulates as we sleep if the mattress is on the floor. This is definitely not the whole problem for you, but I was surprised to learn that little additional fact way back when!

- Are there pipes in the wall, too? There may be a small leak -or- condensation contributing to the issue, especially if areas are uninsulated, as you indicate.

- Do you own or rent?

In a former life, I've had heaps of experience with this sort of thing in older buildings (LA, not SF.) Above info about stripping everything back to the studs is ENTIRELY correct, especially because this has been going on for some time. After discarding the walls and floors, treating or even replacing the studs, etc., etc., -- the proper way to handle this is for the contractor to add insulation, vapor barriers to guard against moisture and condensation affecting the new drywall and sub-floors from the outside, and then for you to keep airflow around your bed.

Regardless of what type of mold you have, the amount of growth you describe is pretty serious from a structural standpoint. What you see growing through the walls and floors is a fraction of what is going on underneath. It is fixable. But a little bleach and new paint won't stop the problem.

I know it sucks. I'm sorry.
posted by jbenben at 11:14 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oops! to answer your question about the furniture and mattress...

Any furniture is probably salvageable if it is hard wood or plastic or metal. Not so much if it is particle board. If something doesn't have mold, just wipe it down (bleach, tsp will harm the finish) and remove it from the room until this is fixed.

Anything fabric (carpet, mattress, box spring) maybe you should replace unless it's just teeny tiny bit affected - like blankets or pillows - which can be thoroughly cleaned. (Carpet, mattress, and boxspring probably don't qualify as "a teeny bit affected" but you could try steam cleaning and super heat drying, first. Your mattress and box spring will still get damp in the future from regular use because we apparently sweat a lot more than we think while we sleep, which might re-grow the problem. YMMV.)

TAKE PICTURES OF ALL WALLS, FLOORS, AND FURNITURE.

- If you are renting, you want to be compensated fully for all damage to your stuff. I know landlords in CA are not responsible for damages from flooding, but I think mold is a totally different story. Especially if you have notified landlord in the past and the problem wasn't appropriately addressed.

- If you own, it's possible the repairs and replacements might be covered by your homeowner's insurance?? You'll have to look into that because I could just be very wishful on your behalf with that suggestion.

Good luck.


BTW, I'm not super mold-phobic and I've had success dealing with this sort of thing by just ripping out the affected areas, treating the underlying studs, and then replacing the drywall and floors in the affected areas. But that really only works well if you know the exact cause of the moisture and it's isolated. Permanently sealing the area from moisture is key to any repair. So is getting rid of any drywall and sub-flooring that has been repeatedly growing mold for the past few years or even longer.
posted by jbenben at 11:48 PM on January 10, 2011


If you can't move in the immediate future, try making a blend of oil of cloves and water, as described here. It kills the smell, and also the mould spores. But it probably isn't a long-term fix.
posted by indienial at 3:09 AM on January 11, 2011


Thanks everyone for your input!

So ... we rent. And unfortunately, moving is probably not an option right now.

As for the source of the moisture, well:

(a) Us. I've read elsewhere that, as jbenben mentions, most of the moisture in / underneath the box spring comes from those sleeping on it. The missus does tend to be a bit of a sweaty one when she sleeps.

(b) The wall in question is underneath a rooftop gutter of questionable flow quality. Granted it'd not underneath trees or anything, but it hasn't been cleaned in the 4 years we've lived here. I'm pretty certain I can get the landlord to get that fixed in short order, and will remind them to inspect it next year before the stormy season. In any event, the mold / mildew only happens during the winter / rainy season so I suppose this might be The Smoking Gun. Then again, it also supports the theory that it's only happening now because the air in the garage underneath is now cold enough to condense the moisture in our bodies & keep it low enough to the carpet / wall.

(c) I've done down to the garage and looked up at the area of the ceiling underneath the garage. I don't see any obvious signs of mold on the exposed wood; also I felt up there for moisture and everything felt pretty dry. In the corner where the wall and ceiling meet, there is some discoloration of the wood which I suppose could be signs of mold from previously, but also I know there have been termite problems in the past (which I think were gotten under control, and the landlord has the house inspected every year, I know this for sure).

The bed itself is new (we got it when we moved in). I'm thinking I will try to 'salvage' it using one of the methods listed above; there's no visual sign of mold on either the mattress or box spring, and as for the mattress, the mold / mildew smell is only along the bottom where it contacted the box spring.

We're going to get a frame in the next couple of days. I was thinking we'd get one of those simple set of rails, which would allow everything to dry out from below; but the missus has her eye on a platform thing (Malm? and others) from IKEA that appears to be a slab the mattress sits on top of, sans box spring. Thoughts on:

-- getting rid of the box spring entirely? Unnecessary, necessary, or Just A Good Idea?
-- Moving the bed to a different room. This is an option. I'm assuming that "mildew" would not travel with the bed as readily as "mold" but in either case, is there a chance that this would just be taking the problem with us, creating a problem in the other room?
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:49 AM on January 11, 2011


Just came in here to recommend a dehumidifier as well. I live in SF and we had horrible mold/mildew issues before getting ours, and it returns within a few weeks of turning the dehumidifier off in Winter. Ours is a small, portable one; it does our whole apartment (about 800-900sqft) reasonably well and added only an additional $10/month onto our already-negligible electricity bill.
posted by kdar at 9:33 AM on January 11, 2011


re: the bedframe, I personally would research long and hard before losing my heart to a platform bed.

The above-mentioned fuzzy mattress was actually an ikea, although the frame was not a solid platform. It is an open frame, without boxspring, and the mattress sits on wooden slats, and still the mold grew, because I had too much stuff shoved under the bed which restricted airflow.

Alot of the ikea mattresses are constructed differently than a coil+boxspring setup (mine is more like a heavy foam with layers of poly batting and lighter foam under a fabric cover) which is why I'd research whether throwing the existing coil mattress on top of a platform without the benefit of the super breathy layer of the well-ventilated box-spring was non-mold feasible before committing to the purchase. good luck!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 3:35 PM on January 11, 2011


Thanks, Rube.

Well, yesterday morning I got a can of Lysol and sprayed the living piss our of the box spring (inside and out) and also the bottom of the mattress. It's been about 20 hours since then and the mildew smell is almost entirely gone from the latter. The box spring appears to be a lost cause. We are leaning heavily towards getting rid of it.

I also rented a Rug Doctor and gave the area of carpet that laid under the box spring, a good once over. I'd say it smells about 75% better and am attributing the fact that some remains, to the other fact that I wussed out and probably went a little soft on the soap. Am considering taking another pass once its dry (the instructions say you can over-soak the carpet if you go over it too many times in succession)

The mold on the walls has been removed using a 1/4 mix of chlorine bleach. And now there's a fan blowing on them.

Will report back later on new developments.

Thanks again everyone!
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:57 AM on January 12, 2011


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