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Mold Growth on Concrete - How to Clean it and How to Prevent Regrowth

Mold growing on concrete wall

First, is it really mold growth?

Identifying mold growth on concrete can be a bit tricky.  If it’s black mold growth, it is easy to identify.  But if it’s white mold growth, things can get confusing.  There are several similar looking substances that can fool you.

Efflorescence

Efflorescence can look very similar to white mold growth.  It occurs when moisture moves through concrete (or other types of masonry) and pulls minerals along with the water.  As the water evaporates at the surface, the salts and minerals are left behind, leaving a crystalline growth.

Can mold grow on concrete?

Mold or efflorescence? (it’s the latter)

Differentiating between mold and minerals is easy.  Spray a small amount of water on the substance.  If it dissolves away, it’s efflorescence.  If it doesn’t, it’s likely mold growing in your basement.

Mold on concrete or efflorescence?

Looks like white mold, but it’s just mineral deposits.

Why does mold grow on concrete?

Mold requires two primary elements for growth – food and moisture.  Although concrete is not directly a food source, the thin layer of dust that settles on the surface provides plenty of nutrients.    Unless you’re willing to regularly wipe down your concrete, it will be impossible to eliminate the food source for mold.  Ditto for the temperature requirements for mold.  It will happily grow at any temperature you’re comfortable to live in.

Moisture.  This is the one variable we can control when dealing with mold.  With concrete you have 3 primary avenues for excess moisture.

Liquid water intrusion

If any part of your home is below grade, you’ve essentially created a giant empty bowl surrounded by water.  Without proper drainage and/or a sump pump, the water will eventually make it through the concrete.  Large cracks or holes are not necessary.  Hydrostatic pressure is quite powerful and can force large amounts of water through hairlines cracks.  Liquid water intrusions certainly can cause mold growth, however it is usually quite localized.

mold on concrete floor

Mold growing on concrete beneath failed waterproofing

Humidity based mold growth

Concrete is a poor insulator.  During the winter months when the temperature drops, the cool surface of a concrete wall can cause condensation.  In time this elevated surface moisture creates an environment conducive to mold growth.

Mold growth on concrete due to humidity is typically diffuse and spread across a large area.

Mold growth on a concrete wall due to excess humidity.

On it’s own, concrete does not provide a sufficient food source for fungal growth. Unfortunately this is not especially helpful, because like almost anywhere in a building, dust quickly accumulates on the surface.  Within this layer of dust large quantities of food sources for mold are present.  Therefore, unless the concrete is kept extremely clean, mold growth can occur.

Of course, even if the concrete is covered in dust, mold will not grow without sufficient moisture.  In most situations, controlling the moisture, rather than the dust, is far more desirable.  This includes tackling both airborne moisture (lowering the humidity) and liquid moisture (flooding, vapor drive).

How do I remove mold from concrete?

Thankfully, because of the extreme durability of concrete, removing mold growth is a relatively simple process.   If it’s a large area, a professional should perform the remediation.  They’ll setup containment and HEPA filtration to ensure the spores don’t spread throughout your home during the cleanup process.  If the area is relatively small, you can likely tackle it yourself.

 

The removal process typically requires the use of both a fungicide and physical removal of the mold. The fungicide will deactivate and kill the mold spores, but staining and discoloration will likely remain.  This is often addressed with HEPA vacuuming, scrubbing, sandblasting, etc.  In large commercial settings, dry ice blasting is occasionally used to remove mold from concrete.

Preventing mold regrowth

If the problem is related to ground water intrusion:

If at all possible, resolve the moisture issue before it hits your concrete wall.  This may be as simple as redirecting downspouts away from the affected area or sloping the ground away from the wall.  It’s cheap and certainly worth a try.

Saturated ground next to concrete wall.

This is not helping their basement concrete mold issues…

If those techniques don’t solve the problem, you’re left with two choices – a french drain or interior footing drain. French drains are a great choice when a home is being built.  There’s little additional excavation because the foundation wall is already exposed.

Once a house is up and running, it’s a very different story.  The excavation must deal with plants, trees, driveways, decks – basically anything within a few feet of the perimeter of your home.  If it’s a single, unobstructed wall, it can be accomplished.  But in many cases it’s cost prohibitive.

For existing homes, an interior footing drain is best.  It’s the same concept of a french drain, but it’s installed in the concrete slab, directly next to the concrete foundation wall.

If the mold problem is due to humidity:

Lower the relative humidity.  Concrete is a poor insulator and therefore can become quite cool during the winter months.  In a poorly ventilated basement, this can cause airborne moisture to condense on the surface and cause mold growth.  There are three ways to reduce the RH in the area.

  1. Increase the temperature. The warmer the air in the room, the lower the RH.  Now remember, if the temperature of the room increases, but the temperature of the concrete wall remains the same, the problem will remain.  This is due to the dramatic increase in RH that occurs in the air immediately adjacent to the cold wall.  However, in a fairly mild climate, the increased temperature of the air will sufficiently increase the temperature of the wall to prevent condensation from occurring.
  2. Improve the ventilation.  Assuming the condensation occurs during the winter months, bringing in fresh air from the outside will reduce the RH inside the building.  This is because warm air can hold much more moisture than warm air.  So if we bring wet cold air into the home through ventilation, and heat it up, the net level of humidity will drop.  It seems counter intuitive, but this can dramatically reduce the moisture load within the basement.
  3. Dehumidify.  This isn’t our first choice, but occasionally it is the only option. There are a couple of reasons I don’t often recommend this technique.  First, dehumidification requires a significant amount of electricity.  Second, while it reduces the moisture in the air, it does nothing to improve the quality of the air.  Musty odors, chemical fumes, VOCs, etc. will all remain in place if dehumidification is used.  Alternatively, if the ventilation is improved, both the RH and the air quality will improve.

Case Study > Mold on Concrete in a Basement

Mold Growth in Basement

This project is a perfect example of the compounding factors of poor ventilation and uninsulated concrete walls.  The RH in the basement was 80%.  This is very high.  Mold will begin growing on random contents at this level.

80% RH is problematic even in well insulated walls.  In a room with concrete walls, it’s guaranteed to cause mold growth.

The solution?

Increase ventilation by installing a constant flow exhaust fan in the bathroom.  These units replace a regular bath fan, but operate 24/7 at a reduced speed.  They provide continuous ventilation throughout the day.

Project Notes
  • RH: 80%  Temp: 56 deg F.  CO2 = 545 ppm   CO = 0 ppm
  • 15-18 inches of standing water was present throughout basement.
  • Virtually every surface (wood paneled walls, ceiling, subfloor joists, concrete etc…) was covered with mold growth.
  • All appliances were submerged and required removal.
  • Sump Pump was present but was not running due to the power being cut off to the home.
  • No ventilation to basement has trapped humidity and has allowed mold growth to occur on all surfaces.
  • Mold growth was observed behind all ceiling panels on car-decking subfloor and ceiling joists.

 

Got a question? Ask it here and we'll post the answer below

My basement leaked during heavy rain and a towel was left on the floor. Upon removing the towel, the floor was slimy and black. How do I clean it up?

Assuming the floor is concrete, spray the area with a Borax/water solution.  Clean up the solution and any debris with paper towels.

Occasionally the mold growth will leave behind a stain, even after a vigorous cleaning.  The staining is an aesthetic rather than a health issue.  If this occurs, steam/pressure cleaning may be necessary.

My concrete mold is located on the front corner of step outside. It looks like harden yellow substance?

If it’s hard to the touch, it is likely efflorescence, not mold growth.  Occasionally, efflorescence can appear in different colors (see photo above with orange deposits).  This is due to an interaction of the minerals within the concrete.