The main differences between mold and mildew

The main differences between mold and mildew

cleaning mold and mildew


From the shower to the leftover food in the refrigerator, you can probably find mold and mildew. Although both are unpleasant to have in your home, they are common and it’s important to know how to identify and clean them. 

While similar in nature, mold and mildew have a number of differences. Knowing how to spot these differences can help you know how to clean the area and avoid health risks associated with mold and mildew. In this article, we’ll go over the key differences between mold and mildew, their effects on your home and ways you can remove them.



Differences between mold and mildew

Mold and mildew are types of fungi that thrive in warm, moist areas of the home. The key differences between mold and mildew can be found in their appearance, how destructive they are to surfaces, how to clean them properly and how harmful they can be to our respiratory system if left untreated. 

If left untreated, mold and mildew will continue to thrive and spread. This can cause or increase existing health problems or health issues in certain individuals, including allergic reactions, sneezing, sore throat and respiratory problems.

Let’s go over the differences that can help you determine if you are dealing with mold or mildew in your home.


Traits of common household mold

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Molds can thrive on any organic matter, including clothing, leather, paper, and the ceilings, walls and floors of homes with moisture management problems.” Moisture management problems can range from damp drywall due to water damage, collected condensation or leaky pipes in crawl spaces of homes and areas of the home with high humidity levels, such as bathrooms or the laundry room. 

Homeowners can often identify areas of mold growth by its musty smell and its appearance on household surfaces. Knowing how to find and identify mold is an important part of ensuring your home stays free of it.


Depending on the kind of mold and its location, mold can appear as smooth and slimy or fuzzy and in a variety of different colors, like black, blue or green. 

While there are many types of indoor and outdoor molds, some common indoor molds include:

  • Cladosporium can grow on fabrics and wood.
  • Aspergillus prefers chalky materials, such as drywall.
  • Penicillium has a preference for materials damaged by water and usually appears as green or blue. 
  • Alternaria prefers to colonize in places like showers and usually appears as black or dark green. 
  • Stachybotrys chartarum, also known as black mold, requires constant moisture to grow. This type of mold may produce mycotoxins, which can cause adverse health effects in people.

Where mold usually grows in your home

Mold may grow anywhere in the home where there is moisture. In fact, according to the EPA, “There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.” That being said, mold can grow in kitchens, bathrooms, windows, plants, furniture, basements, attics, garages, crawl spaces or areas with collected garbage. 

No matter where mold is present, though, it’s important to clean the area immediately to lessen the mold’s effects on your home and eliminate the source of moisture.

Effects of mold in your home

Mold is generally a more serious issue, as its growth can penetrate surfaces and eat away at their structural integrity. Porous surfaces, such as wood or drywall, are particularly susceptible to damage caused by mold. To prevent further damage from happening, it’s important to get rid of mold quickly and completely.

To clean the affected area, scrub with a non-ammonia detergent and water. Allow the area to dry completely. Although a common practice, the EPA doesn’t recommend removing mold with bleach. However, the agency recommends applying bleach to the affected area after thoroughly removing the mold to disinfect the surface. Remember to use caution while using bleach and never mix it with ammonia. Ventilate the area by opening a window to avoid lung irritation. 

Once the affected area is disinfected, allow the surface to air dry. Wash or dry clean items like towels or clothing. Items that can’t be cleaned, such as mattresses, need to be thrown away. For sentimental items, such as photo albums, mold remediation companies may offer suggestions on restoration. 

To help prevent recurring growth, reduce the moisture level in the affected area with a dehumidifier or fan. Frequent cleaning can aid in prevention, as well.


Traits of common household mildew

Mildew is a close relative to mold. As a type of fungus, mildew closely resembles mold but has a different growth pattern, color and texture. Like mold, mildew can give off a musty smell. This is because of the microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs) produced. mVOCs typically give off a strong, distinct odor. If an earthy, musty smell is present, it’s a strong indication of mildew.

While mold can eat through the surface of materials, mildew sits on top of the surface and can be easier to remove. The following sections can help you identify mildew in your home, where it commonly grows and how you can remove it. 


Mildew is typically a gray, white or light brown color with a dry, fluffy or powdery appearance. However, powdery mildew more commonly affects plants. Mildew doesn’t appear as colorful as some molds, such as blue or green Penicillium, and its growth pattern is flat — meaning it grows outward as it covers the area, whereas mold has a splotchy, disconnected growth pattern.

Where mildew usually grows in your home

According to the EPA, “Mildew often lives on shower walls, windowsills, and other places where moisture levels are high.” Unlike mold that likes to live on any type of damp surface, mildew prefers organic materials, such as plants and natural fabrics like cotton. It can also grow on cellulose-materials, such as paper, wood and synthetic fibers. 

Because of its preference for organic materials, mildew can also be found on window and shower curtains, damp bath towels and household plants. Keeping these items dry will curb the growth of mildew, lessening its effects in your home. 

Effects of mildew in your home

While mildew may not destroy surfaces in your home, it can cause a very unpleasant odor and cause respiratory issues over a period of time. Common symptoms of mildew exposure include a sore throat, coughing and headaches. Therefore, it’s equally important to treat mildew quickly.

As mentioned, mildew removal is much easier than mold removal since mildew lies on top of the surface rather than eating away at it like mold does. To clean the area, simply brush the mildew away with a scrubbing brush and follow with your regular household cleaning solution. 

For houseplants, mildew may impact the growth and overall health of the plant. The visible powdery spots are the layering of mildew spores. You can wipe these away with a cloth. To prevent further infestation in your houseplants, place the plants in a location that receives a lot of sun, avoid overwatering and remove any parts of the plant that are severely affected to help prevent spread.


Protect your home with a home warranty from Cinch

Identifying and removing mold and mildew quickly from your home can help ensure the health of you, your family and your home. For extensive water damage or instances where you can’t find the source of a musty smell, though, you may need an experienced professional to get rid of the mold problem. 

You can further protect your home with a home warranty from Cinch Home Services. Cinch’s Home Protection Plans are an affordable way to help minimize the cost of expensive repair and replacement bills. From major appliances like your washer and dryer to built-in home systems like your plumbing system, a Cinch home warranty can make unexpected breakdowns more manageable.

Gain peace of mind and eliminate the frustration of finding experienced service technicians. Find the right coverage with Cinch and request a free quote today.


Learning how to identify mold vs. mildew can help you know how to clean them. Here’s how to spot the differences between these two fungi.

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