Does something smell funny in your berth? Mold infestations are one of the common hassles facing boat owners. The humid conditions on the water make for the perfect breeding ground for mold, fungi, and bacteria.
Add some heat into the equation, and you have a recipe for mold infestations. When mold takes hold of your boat and living quarters, it’s challenging to get rid of it. The spores spread readily through the air, landing everywhere in the interior of the boat. If the spores find a dark, damp area, they start to reproduce.
Mold and mildew can present a health risk, damaging the respiratory and nervous systems. It’s critical that you get rid of any mold or mildew as soon as possible to prevent sickness.
We put together this guide on how to prevent mold and mildew gives you everything you need to know about identifying, clearing, and remediating your boat’s living spaces from these infestations.
- What Is Mold?
- How Can I Tell If Mold Is Present?
- Health Risks Associated with Mold Infestations
- How to Find and Prevent Mold and Mildew on Your Boat
- How to Remove Mold Infestations
- Prevent Mold and Mildew – Cover the Boat When Not In Use
- How to Prevent Mold and Mildew on Your Boat – Key Takeaways
What Is Mold?
Mold is a fungus common across the United States and worldwide. Mold thrives in warm, humid conditions, spreading rapidly in areas where spores settle. Mildew is another type of fungus and mold displaying flat growth.
Molds include microscopic species of fungi growing as multicellular filaments, known as hyphae. Mold will grow on organic materials, including paper, leather, clothing, furniture fabrics, and ceilings. You’ll often see mildew growing in showers and bathrooms where the humidity levels remain higher for longer than in other rooms.
How Can I Tell If Mold Is Present?
The easiest way to tell if mold is present in the boat is to use your nose. The air will smell stale and stuffy due to the spores floating around in the infested area of the vessel.
If it’s a few days or weeks since you opened the cabin, and you find a musty, stale smell greeting you inside, the chances are there is mold growing somewhere in the space.
Identifying mold is relatively easy. You’ll usually see it on the walls, ceilings, or around the windows. In many cases, the biggest infestations are in dark areas, such as cupboards, drawers, and closets.
If you suspect a mold infestation., open all the windows in the affected area and start searching for the mold. If you find an infestation, remove it using the techniques we’ll go through later in this post.
If you locate the infestation, don’t assume that it’s the only one on the boat. It’s common for several spots around the room or boat that will have mold growing. You need to find all of them to effectively remove the infestation and return the living quarters to healthy air quality.
Health Risks Associated with Mold Infestations
Most mold infestations will cause complications in the upper and lower respiratory tract. As the mold grows, it releases microscopic spores into the air that float around, and we breathe them into the lungs, where they can start to grow in warm, moist conditions.
A fungal infection in the lungs can cause severe health complications, requiring fungicidal medications to get rid of the disease. Most mold varieties are harmless, and you won’t end up in the emergency room after a mild exposure to the spores.
However, there is a variety of mold presenting a life-threatening disease to people. Black mold contains “mycotoxins,” which are toxic to the body. If the pathogen enters the lungs and the mycotoxins get into the bloodstream, you’re going to end up feeling very sick.
The infected individual may perish without the right treatment and continued exposure to the black mold. Black mold is very common in coastal environments. It can infest areas quickly and spread fast. If you notice any signs of mold on your vessel, you’re going to need to remove it and remediate the site right away.
How to Find and Prevent Mold and Mildew on Your Boat
Mold is a common problem for boaters. However, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s way easier to clean up and remediate than repairing a hull or keel.
Now that you know what to look for to assess a mold infestation on your vessel, it’s time to look at a strategy for locating mold and preventing it from spreading and taking hold of the living quarters on the boat.
Look for Leaks
Mold and mildew need warm, humid conditions to survive and thrive. These pathogens won’t set up shop if the boat’s interior is dry. The first step in preventing mold is to look for any leaks around the vessel.
Start the inspection by examining all hardware on the boat like the stanchions, hatches, vents, ports, bow rollers, and windlasses. If there is any water getting through the seals, remove it and look to see if there are any signs that the water seeped into the deck’s core.
Remove any rot that you find and seal the area. Refit the hardware and add sealant. Remember to check the thru-hulls, bilge, and scuppers hull joins. The scuppers can backup, causing blockages, affecting drainage.
The thru-hulls might need resealing, and you’ll have to test the bilge pumps to see that they’re moving water correctly.
Ventilate Cabin and Small Spaces
Water penetration into the boat is the biggest problem involving the spread of mold and mildew. Fungi require stale air with no circulation in the affected area. The still air inside the boat collects moisture, increasing the humidity.
As the temperature changes, the moisture in the air starts to condensate, creating the perfect living environment for the growth and spread of mold spores. You’ll need to ventilate the affected area to ensure that you get fresh air in to remove the mold spores from the air.
All interior areas of the boat should have vents allowing for the free-flowing of fresh air into lockers, cupboards, bilge covers, and rooms. If you discover mold, open all the windows where possible and clean out the vents to remove spores.
If your boat doesn’t have the required ventilation for keeping mold at bay, consider installing a few vents yourself. It’s a somewhat easy task if you have handyman experience. However, if you don’t know your way around a toolbox, a shipyard can install the vents for you at a reasonable cost.
Passive vents like dorades or cowls are inexpensive and easy to fit. Passive systems do the job, but you’ll get better airflow by installing an active vent like a solar fan. With dynamic systems, the rated capacity of the vent exchanges the air inside the boat every hour.
We recommend fitting active inlet and exhaust vents to provide the best airflow throughout the living spaces in the boat, removing the possibility for stagnant areas. You also have the option of installing an airflow barrier to increase air movement around mattresses and cushions. The barrier features design and construction with layers of woven polymer materials allowing for optimal air circulation.
Reduce Relative Humidity
Relative Humidity (RH) is a measurement of the water concentration in the air and how it interacts with changes in temperature in the environment. As mentioned, mildew and
mold thrive in humid, moist air conditions.
Reducing the humidity inside the boat helps dry out the air, making for an inhospitable environment for mold growth. There are several options for controlling the moisture on your boat. A boat dryer is a dehumidifying device that pulls the water from the air, expelling dry, clean air from the unit.
However, using electrical equipment around water sources and in moist conditions is hazardous, and many fires break out on board boats each year due to interactions between water and electricity. Never leave electrical equipment running while you’re not on board, even for short periods.
However, an electric dehumidifier system is a great way to dry the air inside the living quarters. You’re looking to achieve an RH between 55% to 60% for optimal healthy air conditions. Drying out the air too much can cause health problems involving the upper airways, so make sure the RH doesn’t drop below 50%.
We recommend investigating fitted boat dryers. These dehumidifying systems have a specific design for use on boats, and they offer a whole-home dehumidification system for the largest boats. These dryers are ideal for 24/7 drying of the air. They have features that prevent the device from overheating, causing a fire.
- Quickly removes stains caused by mold and mildew on contact without heavy scrubbing; EASY TO USE - spray, wait until the stain disappears, then rinse
- STAIN REMOVER + CLEANER: High-alkaline, triple-action formula contains; BUFFERED-BLEACH to remove mold stains & mildew stains; CHELATING AGENTS to lift ground-in dirt; SURFACTANTS to cut grease & grime
- BUFFERED-BLEACH TECHNOLOGY; more gentle than regular bleach to not harm stitching on vinyl upholstery or outdoor acrylic fabrics like Sunbrella
- More effective cleaning power than unbuffered "bleach-water" based products, or diluted supermarket brands
- Works on; awnings, fiberglass, wood, concrete, drywall, siding, tile & grout, gutters, roofs, vinyl upholstery, most outdoor acrylic fabrics, and more *(test fabric for colorfastness before use)
Calcium Chloride Packs
Try using calcium chloride packs if you’re looking for the most cost-effective way of drying the air inside the living quarters. These chemical dehumidification solutions absorb moisture from the air, pulling it into a container.
After the container fills, remove the water and leave the pack to do its thing. These calcium chloride packs have a limited lifespan, and they become less efficient as they draw more moisture from the air. You also have options for using silica bead packs.
When you purchase them from the store, these packs are similar to what you find inside supplement bottles or in clothing products, like shoes. These packs absorb water from the air, collecting in the packs.
Like the calcium chloride packs, they eventually lose efficiency as the material in the pack saturates. However, you can dry the packs out in the oven to restore their efficacy.
How to Remove Mold Infestations
If you find mold during your inspection, you need to remove it to ensure that it doesn’t grow back. If you fail to remove all of the spores from the affected area, the mold will spread again.
Mix a solution of distilled water and spirit vinegar at a ratio of three parts water to one part vinegar. Add half a teaspoon of baking soda to the liquid and let it settle. Clean up any infestations using this formula, and ensure that you get all of the spores in the affected area.
The vinegar acts as a sterilizing agent, making it impossible for the mold to grow. The baking soda helps absorb the room’s musty smell and clean the localized infection.
If you have aggressive mold growth in your boat after leaving it unattended for the winter, try using a 10% hydrogen peroxide or bleach solution with the water instead of the vinegar provides a stronger sterilizing effect.
If you’re using the bleach solution, remember to wear a respirator mask to prevent breathing in the fumes in the area as you work.
After washing and cleaning away the infestation, leave the windows and doors open to allow air to circulate and remove the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) dispersed into the air from the bleach solution (the VOCs are that “bleach” smell in the air.
Prevent Mold and Mildew – Cover the Boat When Not In Use
When you return from a fun day on the water or when you put the vessel into storage for the winter, use a cover for added protection against the elements. The cover not only preserves the paint on your boat but also prevents pests and mold or mildew spores from entering the vessel.
However, the cover also limits airflow inside the boat. Therefore, you’ll need to ensure that the interior is bone dry before covering the vessel. Covering the boat with a damp interior provides the ideal environment for mold growth.
How to Prevent Mold and Mildew on Your Boat – Key Takeaways
- Mold grows readily in humid environments where there are limitations on airflow.
- Mold and mildew are varieties of fungi, and there are thousands of species.
- Black mold is cytotoxic, causing respiratory problems and blood-related illness in infected individuals.
- Reducing the humidity in the living areas of the boat reduces the chances of mold growth.
- Dehumidifiers and boat dryers are your best option for keeping the living quarters dry.
- If you discover mold, remove it using a mixture of water and spirit vinegar at a 3:1 ratio.
- Add some baking soda to the solution to increase cleaning power and remove odors from the air.
- Cover your boat when not in use, and make sure the interior is dry before covering.
- Inspect for mold before every boating trip.