Before Heading up North, Snowbirds Need to Beware and Prepare

This is a repost of an article written by Marla Ottenstein and re-published here with her permission. The original article can be viewed here:

Contrary to popular belief, mold — those microscopic, virtually indiscernible spores that float through the air and cause havoc on our lives — is not just a Florida phenomenon, in fact, in Southern California, a place where most people assume mold would never be found, the problem is nothing short of catastrophic.

It’s true homes that aren’t properly cooled are more susceptible to mold infiltration and damage than others, but homes where the air conditioner runs on an extremely cold setting 24/7 are also at risk, albeit much less. Remember, a certain amount of condensation is necessary when running any HVAC system, but too much of a good thing will undoubtedly result in a damp environment, which is just what those nasty spores are looking for.

So, what does mold look like? Have you ever noticed a constellation-like string of tiny brown dots on your clothing? Those spots are mold and no amount of detergent or elbow grease will help.

Wondering what that fine dusting of “powder” is on your leather handbags, jackets and shoes? MOLD! And what about that wet, dank smell you detect in your closets? Mold!

Remember, “mold kills,” so anything, and I mean anything, with the slightest indication of mold must be pitched — immediately — no matter how expensive or near and dear the item might be to you.

Living in Florida we hear more horror stories than most about unhealthy homes. Unfortunately, no matter where you live or how high you run your air conditioning, there is no foolproof way to completely prevent mold from entering your home. There are, however, ways to ward off the malicious curse:

Keep your air conditioning running at all times and check air ducts for debris.

If you have ceiling fans, use them. Contrary to what you might have heard, they will not blow up and burn your house down, but they will circulate the air more efficiently.

Leave closet doors slightly ajar or, preferably, leave them open all the way. (Yes, this means you may have to clean and organize your closets as well.)

Mold thrives in a dark moist environment. Remove clothing from plastic dry cleaning bags the moment you read today’s column.

The strip of colored foam that comes on some dry cleaning hangers should be removed immediately. Given time, the foam will disintegrate and stain your clothing.

If you are afraid dust might settle on your clothes, turn an ordinary king-size pillowcase (100 percent cotton is best) into a cover for your clothing by cutting a hole in the top seam and pulling the hanger through it. Note: It’s best to have one “cover” per item to let your clothing breathe.

Place one or more containers of DampRid moisture packs (I prefer the free standing containers to the hanging ones) in each closet and be sure to empty once a week. (The five minutes it takes to empty the containers once a week could save you thousands of dollars in mold mitigation fees.)

If your HVAC’s air handler is in a closet, keep the door ajar and place a container of DampRid in the closet as well.

Closets will smell fresh if you use Renuzit “Air Freshening Pearls” or a similar product.

Clothes need to breathe. Using your hand as a gauge, place one finger between each piece of clothing to create sufficient space (1-inch minimum) between hangers.

Invest in matching hangers; the ultrathin “huggable” ones are an excellent choice and will add space to your closets giving your clothes more room. (Wire hangers, which are also thin, would be my second choice; anything but the bulky plastic hangers works!)

Before hanging something up, carefully check for spots and stains. Stains left unattended for too long will “set” and cause irreversible damage.

Never hang clothes in the closet unless they are completely dry.

To avoid moisture and keep them dust-free, stuff handbags with tissue paper and store them inside the cloth dust-cover bags that come with many handbags.

Keep shoes in tiptop shape, first by spraying the insole with a disinfectant after each wear, and then by stuffing tissue tightly into the toes of all closed-toe shoes; try not to store shoes in plastic boxes.

If you’re building or renovating a home, avoid positioning closets in or adjacent to the bathroom, which is inordinately humid.

If your closet is already built and is in or next to the bathroom, opt for paint in lieu of wallpaper, which can, and will, absorb moisture more readily.

Finally, if you’re leaving town for an extended period of time, do not turn the A/C off or put it on a warmer setting, and never depend on a humidistat to dehumidify your home. By the time the humidistat kicks in, it’s too late! When leaving town, close the blinds, leaving 1-inch clearance between the window sill and the bottom of the blind; open all interior and closet doors; program timers on the closet lights to come on once a day for at least one hour (in some cases, light detracts mold) and adjust the thermostat to a cool, energy efficient temperature.

Remember, not all molds are “bad.” While “good” molds such as Penicillin can save lives, leave the harvesting to the scientists and strive to create as dry an environment as possible in your home and workplace to avoid the possibility of mold infiltration.

We invite you to send us questions about how to get and stay organized, which will be addressed in future columns.

Hint of the Day: If you’re going up north for longer than a month, the smartest thing you can do is to hire a reputable home-watch service (licensed, insured and bonded) to inspect the premises a minimum of twice a month. If your hot water heater bursts or a power surge blows the circuits on your HVAC, he or she will be able to take action before it’s too late. Make sure to instruct your home-watch service to empty, and refill, as needed, all DampRid containers throughout your home.

“Get Organized” appears on the first and third Fridays of each month. Naples-based professional organizer Marla Ottenstein is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. For information: or email:

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