Mold is one of the most dreaded potential invaders in your homes. It is all around us, and some of it is beneficial, but when it accumulates on hidden surfaces, it is a sign of trouble.

Self-storage units aren’t immune from the dangers of mold either. When your goal is to safely store items outside of your home, the last thing you want to find is mold growing on your cardboard boxes and family heirlooms.

Because it grows slowly and thrives in places that are out of sight, you might not realize it when mold takes over your stored items. At the first sign of mold, self-storage renters need to act quickly to eliminate a potential health and property damage nightmare.

Dangers of Mold

In our living spaces, mold can cause serious health problems. Mold spores — the tiny particles that are similar to pollen or seeds in pant life — can create allergic reactions, respiratory problems, and more.

The potential for damage doesn’t stop at human health. Mold can destroy fabrics, papers, wood furniture, upholstery, and virtually any porous object. Mold can develop slowly over time. It settles into undisturbed areas such as basements, attics, garages, and other storage spaces. Water leaks and other causes of dampness in a home or storage area can trigger mold growth and accumulation.

Mold Versus Mildew

Is that every splotchy water stain caused by mold? Sometimes a less-threatening fungal spore is the culprit. Mildew and mold both are microscopic fungi. Mold is often scarier from a health perspective, as in the case of black mold which is highly toxic. Both mold and mildew can, however, cause considerable property damage if not addressed.

When tackling mold and mildew in a storage unit, take an organized and orderly approach that simultaneously reduces the problem, determines responsibility, and ensures that the moldy situation won’t recur.

Here’s what to do if you find mold or mildew in your self-storage unit:

1. Assess the Mold Problem.

If you walk into your storage unit greeted by the pungent, dank, musty odor of mold or mildew, speed is your best ally. While it is crucial to move quickly, it is also essential to fully understand the situation at hand. Thoroughly inspect your items and the storage unit in general. This step will help you identify potential sources of the spore activity.

Were your furniture and other things already damp when you placed them in the storage unit? At the same time, a visual inspection of the unit can identify if there is a leaky roof or another source of water or dampness.

As a precaution you should always try to check in on your unit after heavy rains.

2. Take Immediate Action to Mitigate Damage.

Since mold and mildew can cause irreparable harm, it is essential to start cleaning it up as soon as you can. In most cases, you should empty the storage unit so that all damage is visible. If mold is present in the unit itself, cleaning your items inside the unit will likely just provide a nice new surface for the mold to attack. Since removing your items and finding a staging area for cleaning can be problematic, it’s also important to advise the storage facility management of the mold.

Since the unit is infected with mold, your priority should be to remove your items from the unit and into a new location for cleaning.

When you are ready to store your items again, the storage facility may provide you with a new unit, or you might prefer to take your items to a different storage facility all together.

3. Understand the Terms of Your Storage Unit Agreement.

While it’s crucial to minimize delay, you should be familiar with the terms of your storage unit rental agreement before you proceed to contact the management of the facility. Although state and local laws may render some clauses unenforceable, standard storage unity language places the risk of loss for water damage squarely on the renter. In other words, mold and water damage are not their problems, but yours.

Many storage unit operators require their renters to insure their belonging for this reason. Your homeowners or renter’s insurance policy may cover the damage, or if you purchased a separate policy, mold damage might be covered. If you discover mold damage, file a claim right away.

Take the time to review your rental agreement and any insurance policies to determine if you have a source of assistance, but be sure to work quickly to stop the spread of mold. Although your rental agreement may make your responsible for any damage, notify management anyway. If there is a water leak, the unit owners need to correct the problem to avoid further damage or problems with other units.

4. Make Sure Everything is Mold-Free.

Since mold is both damaging and prone to spreading, it is crucial to clean it before it gets worse. Before you start cleaning, make sure you minimize health risks by wearing gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask.

If there are items that are unsalvagable, such as papers or damaged items with little or no value, dispose of them. In general, the more porous an item, the more difficult it is to clean. Hard-surfaces such as wooden furniture can be simply washed with a mild detergent and a damp cloth.

Fabrics and upholstery can present a challenge. With these items, mold dives deep into cushions and fibers. But, all is not lost if you find mold on your stored couches, chair pads, linens, or even mattresses.  For these more vulnerable pieces, start with a dry cleaning method before introducing water or other liquids.

  • Use a vacuum and a soft brush to loosen and remove mold spores.
  • Remove cushions and inspect the deep crevices and other hidden areas of furniture to determine if the mold has spread.
  • Use a simple solution of 1 cup of rubbing alcohol and 1 cup of warm water to blot the mold away. Be sure to avoid soaking the fabric, as dampness can exacerbate the mold problem.

Allow items to dry completely before putting back into storage.

5. Take Steps to Avoid a Mold Recurrence.

Once you’ve stopped the mold, you should look to the future to make sure that the situation doesn’t happen again. If the climate is humid, dampness and the resulting mold may be unavoidable, but there are a few steps to take to minimize the problem.

First, make sure you are not storing damp items. Next, you can add a moisture-control or mold prevention product to your storage area, such as DampRid, Dri-It or Eva-Dry to help balance out humidity levels.

Another preventive measure involves protecting your items from mold. Use airtight storage containers for fabrics, and cover furniture in plastic. Finally, if the self storage unit has high humidity and is prone to mold and mildew, you may want to seek storage elsewhere. Your best option is to choose a climate-controlled storage unit, which has HVAC systems that maintain optimal humidity levels.

Mold can be bad for our health and can ruin our belongings. It’s in the air all around us, but it doesn’t have to destroy your storage unit situation. Keep your items dry and clean, visit your storage area frequently, and know which items are vulnerable to mold damage. With information and an action plan, you can avoid or reduce costly damage before it gets out of hand.

Kevin Wheatley
Kevin is a New York-based blog writer.