Um, What's the Difference Between Mold and Mildew? (Hint: They're *Not* the Same)

Phew, you're seriously overdue for a bathtub cleaning. There's mold between some of the tiles...or wait, is it mildew? Either way, it ain't pretty and it's got to go. But there are actually a handful of distinctions between the two. So, what's the difference between mold and mildew? Let us explain.

The Difference Between Mold and Mildew

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mold is an umbrella term for all species of microscopic fungi that grow in hyphae, or multicellular filaments. Mold can grow on any organic matter—from leather to ceilings to floors—that's gotten wet, especially if you have a chronic issue with moisture in your home. It loves wet, warm environments. Mold can also cause musty, unpleasant odors in spaces with limited circulation, like basements.

Mildew only refers to certain types of mold or fungus that usually appear where moisture or humidity levels are high, like shower walls, bathroom tiles or windowsills. It's a type of surface fungi, so it can almost always be remedied with a simple cleaner, scrubbing brush and a little elbow grease. Mold, on the other hand, can be much more widespread. For instance, if you see mold on your side of the ceiling, there's likely more that isn't visible to you. That's why mold can signify lasting damage, while mildew is more of a quick fix.

What Do Mold and Mildew Look Like?

Not sure if you'd be able to tell what's what? Thankfully, there are some key visual differences between mold and mildew. Mildew usually looks like a patch of yellow, gray or white fungus that's grown on top of a surface in a moist environment. Mold can be anything from fuzzy to slimy in texture and is usually green or black in color. Instead of growing on top of a wet surface, it grows beneath it.

Are They Dangerous?

When mildew spores are inhaled, they can cause headaches, coughing or breathing issues. Mold can cause much more serious problems, like cardiovascular and respiratory issues, migraines, joint pain or fatigue. Those with mold allergies are also susceptible to additional complications, like congestion, sneezing and eye or throat irritation.

How Do I Get Rid of It?

If you have mildew, just buy an appropriate cleaner at the supermarket and scrub it away. If there's a lot of it and you're concerned about inhalation, feel free to wear a mask. If you have a mold issue in your home (other than in your bread or fruit basket, of course), you can tackle it with a diluted mix of bleach and water, says the CDC. If it's widespread, leave it to the professionals—there could be even more mold that you're not seeing that could be dangerous to inhale. Luckily, there are a few preventative measures you could take before needing to call a pro, like keeping your home's humidity level to a minimum and fixing leaks in the walls, roof or plumbing as soon as you become aware of them.

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taryn pire
Taryn Pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...
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