Contrary to popular belief, mold and mildew are not one and the same kind of microorganism that frequently inhabits warm and moist places in our homes. These microorganisms belong to different orders in the taxonomic grouping of fungi and as such will reflect different characteristics inherent in each taxonomic classification. However, even before we can begin to comprehend the nature of this difference, it is important for us to understand first the unique characteristics of these microorganisms.
The World of Fungi
Mold and mildew belong to a broad classification of living organisms known as “fungi”. Fungi is present everywhere and anywhere around the world, majority of which live off soil, dead matter, and as symbionts of plants, animals, and even other species of fungi. Fungi are not at all harmful to the environment because they play a very important role in the decomposition of organic matter and in the cycling and exchange of nutrients.
Fungi have been also useful as major sources of delicacies like mushrooms and truffles and have played significant contribution in the fermentation of wine, beer, and even soy sauce. Their use in medical therapeutic interventions has been highlighted by the development of the antibiotic penicillin from the fungal specie “penicillium”. Some fungi are also useful as sources of commercially important enzymes such as cellulases, proteases, and pectinases in the development of detergents and other cleaning solutions.
However useful majority of fungal species present some degree of harm to the environment, other living organisms, and even to humans. The production of toxins and other bioactive compounds render many of the fungi as harmful to animals and humans. These largely impact human health, food supply, and local economies which can greatly influence the quality of life experienced by man.
Mold and Mildew at a Glance
Going back to differentiating between mold and mildew, there are a variety of ways in which one can identify one from another.
1. Taxonomic classification will indicate that molds belong to the general fungal divisions of Zygomycota, Ascomycota, and Deuteromycota. Furthermore, mildew belong to the order Erysiphales under the division of Ascomycota. This means that mildew is a more specific type of mold under a given taxonomic division of fungi.
2. Mildew is more common in paper, fabrics, showers, and other warm and moist places such as the bathroom, underneath kitchen sinks, and even basement floorings and walls. Mold can be often found in food such as bread, fruits, and other edibles that have been left in humid places.
3. The color of the mildew colony is usually grayish white because of its close semblance to plant aphids. Mold, on the other hand is mostly black green, red or even blue in color.
4. Mildew can either be downy or powdery depending on where the mildew grew and developed. Powdery mildew are often found in plants such as roses and other ornamental flowering plants. The downy form of mildew is often seen in agricultural products like root crops, legumes, fruits, and other vegetables.
In sum, the difference between a mold and a mildew stems from their taxonomic grouping. As such, mold will be used to identify the streaks of greenish to blackish fungal growth on food items whereas mildew will be more common in inanimate objects like bathroom floors and walls, shower curtains, kitchen sinks and other similar places.
It should be noted that this differentiation is made within the context of how the average American household views mold and mildew as possible sources of household concerns. By simplifying the differentiation process, a more appropriate management of either types of fungi can be readily initiated and exercised.
1. Although mold is technically found on food items, it still requires a generally humid environment in order to thrive. And since both mold and mildew grow and colonize in highly damp settings, the homeowner’s management protocol should always include the complete drying of susceptible areas such as the bathroom, kitchen, and basement. Keeping these areas dry at all times will help prevent the growth and colonization of mold and mildew.
2. Since the bathroom is essentially the dampest place in the house, especially when there are no provisions for adequate ventilation, the homeowner may need to re-think the design of the bathroom. Care should be taken to allow for the much improve flow of atmospheric air into and from the bathroom in order to facilitate faster evaporation of moisture from bathroom surfaces.
3. Using technology to facilitate the complete elimination of moisture from the various rooms of the house is considered a very useful solution. Dehumidifiers can be switched on in order to condense the moisture from the air, re-warming it in return, and returning it to the room as warm air.
4. For more thorough water and moisture removal, subsurface extractors can be utilized. In the event that one is not readily available, the use of ordinary household electronic appliances like the electric fan, heaters, and even hair dryers can prove beneficial in terms of improving air flow over surfaces. This greatly improves the circulation of atmospheric air, evaporating water molecules with it and rendering the area relatively dry and free from moisture.
5. Homeowners should immediately discard food items that already show signs of spoilage such as streaks of white to grayish growth. These are signs of mold growth and may render the food item harmful if digested, not to mention the awful taste it leaves on one’s palate.
6. Care should be taken in the handling of moldy food because these microorganisms can release potentially harmful spores into the air. Some types of mold have been known to emit spores to as high as several feet into the environmental air. These spores are especially risky to individuals who have known allergies to dust and pollen.
7. In the general cleaning of areas with mildew growth, care should also be taken not to agitate the whole colony. As such, purposeful and forceful scrubbing of affected surfaces is not actually recommended because this will only facilitate the release of spores in the air. These mildew spores, like those of mold, are harmful to persons who have allergies or those whose immune systems are at their lowest.
8. Consider using bleach in the removal of both mold and mildew colonies from affected places and articles. Just remember the cardinal rule in cleaning such mildew surfaces: never forcefully scrub the surface to prevent mildew agitation and the eventual release of harmful spores into the air.
9. Although there are some cultures that feast on moldy food (some of which have been well documented to have already maggots and worms wriggling inside rotten food items like meats) it is generally not acceptable to eat food items with the slightest sign of mold infestation. No amount of food saving measures to cut down food costs is enough to counter the health risks involved in such a behavior.
10. In cases where the cleaning of such mildew colonies has become quite a daunting task, perhaps the idea of seeking professional help is more practical than doing the task yourself. One has to remember that professional companies that provide ample mold and mildew cleaning services have perfected their trade. These companies come with state-of-the art equipment and resources in order to make mold and mildew cleaning thorough.
As a matter of prevention, it is usually a good idea also to seek professional health assistance in terms of identifying any allergies for each member of your household.
Allergies can present relatively benign complaints such as runny nose, watery eyes, skin itching, and skin reddening. What we often dismiss as mere physical symptoms of fatigue and the changing weather can already be tell-tale signs of an impending allergic reaction to an unidentified agent.
We have to remember that some types of mold release a variety of toxic substances through the spores that are released during agitation and during reproduction. These toxic chemicals, once they find their way into a susceptible person’s system, can wreak havoc in the various organ systems of the body.
One should note that depending on the susceptibility and immune status of the affected person, complaints may range from simple cold-like symptoms to more life-threatening complaints such as difficulty breathing, temporary cessation of breathing, brain and kidney infections, and even pneumonia.
Differentiating mold from mildew is a lot easier than finding ways to effectively manage them. Although the distinction has a seemingly innocuous effect on the way homeowners perceive it, caution should be exercised in initiating any activities to get rid of these infestations from one’s home.
By closely looking at the fungal growth and its inherent characteristics like color and place of occurrence, homeowners can have the leverage of easily discarding the item away or can still initiate activities that clean and restore affected items. Remember, food items that have mold should be discarded right away while articles and surfaces with mildew can still be cleaned in order to be restored and used again.
However, for the average homeowner, it doesn’t actually matter whether it is mold or mildew he or she is contending with. What actually matters is the realization that the fungal growth is something that is unwanted such that it should be removed at all cost.