On the Job

Managing Mold in the Interior

1 October 2020 By Kylie O'Brien
mildew on culture plate

Kylie O’Brien has worked on some of the world’s most magnificent vessels with amazing people for more than 13 years. A graduate of The Australian College of Applied Psychology, she is the author of Crew Wanted, The Stewardess Bible, The Chief Stewardess Bible, The Inside Job, and has been a monthly contributor to Dockwalk magazine for more than five years.

Many may think that the idea of having to deal with a moldy situation on board a superyacht is simply unbelievable given the immaculate conditions of the yacht. However, mold and mildew do grow on superyachts surprisingly often. Here’s the difference between mold and mildew, how to eliminate it, and how prevent it from coming back.

Let us start off with the basics. Mildew can be depicted as a type of mold, which usually grows on the floor or flat surfaces and may be recognized as a gray or sometimes white fungus. In addition, mildew presents as flat and powdery to the eye and can be treated without difficulty with a commercially purchased detergent and a brush because it lives only on surfaces.

Common areas on board the yacht that you may find mildew growth would be:

  • Under the shower grates
  • Under wooden bathroom mats
  • Storage areas that are damp and poorly ventilated
  • Cupboards
  • The back of a walk-in refrigerator
  • Damp bilge areas
  • Vegetable stores
  • Crew areas that suffer from poor ventilation and condensation

Mold is also a fungus that usually appears green, black, or white. It looks fuzzier and thicker than mildew and frequently produces more intense infestation that is difficult to eliminate. This type of fungus may produce a musty smell and can be extremely toxic for anyone who comes in contact with it.

The necessary, ideal elements for mold and mildew growth are as follows: air conditioners, such as non-circulating air flow; food supply (including natural fibers, building material, and consumables); and in environments that are humid, moist, or damp. Another high-risk area for mold to thrive is in extreme temperatures. Ideally, you should keep your temperature steady, neither too hot or too cold. If you find mold or mildew on board, deal with the situation immediately.

Step 1: Protect Yourself

First, make sure that you protect yourself properly before trying to remove the mold. Wear a protective mask such as a 3M particulate respirator mask (the deck crew usually have these on board). The mask is particularly important because the mold can release spores, which can compromise your breathing. This is very problematic especially if you suffer from asthma or allergies. Next, wear long gloves and protective eyeglasses or an eye shield for the same reasons. Throw all protective items in the bin after cleaning the area.

Step 2: Gentle Solutions to Remove Mold

While the cleaning of mildew is straightforward and can be achieved by using a simple detergent, the removal of mold will take a few steps.

First, clean the area with non-bleaching cleaning soap and water. This technique eliminates the easily removable mold patches. When cleaning chairs, use a small brush to ensure that you can penetrate small openings and corners.

Next, apply a mold and mildew remover. A quality remover eliminates the stubborn spores that cannot be removed with the soapy water technique. To avoid damage to the fabric or surface, invest in a chlorine-free solution that’s gentle on those delicate surfaces. If you do not have a commercially made mold-removal solution, use a homemade solution such as vinegar and water (one-part vinegar to three-parts water) or a baking soda and tea tree oil solution.

Step 3: Heavy-Duty Solutions

However, sometimes these gentle solutions do not kill the spores. You may want to opt for a (chemical) bleach solution. Having said that, this is also not the answer to cleaning mold as bleach opens the pores of the mold and can make the situation worse. Instead, use the vinegar solution to neutralize the mold and then when you go back to port, either purchase a commercial mold-removal solution or hire a professional.

Spray the region with the mold remover and leave it for a couple of minutes. Then clean the mold with a soft cloth and then towel dry. Make sure the area is well-ventilated and that the surface is absolutely dry before closing up the section again.

Step 4: Prevention

If you think that the yacht has been detail-cleaned to a high standard, you then need to prevent this infestation from occurring again by adopting preventative measures.

To avoid mold and mildew, ensure that the yacht is adequately ventilated. Ventilation can be as simple as opening portholes and hatches to create cross ventilation. You can also improve ventilation with fans, exhaust fans, and wind scoops. Improved ventilation can also be achieved by getting rid of extra towels, bedding, and clothing, which allows unrestricted air movement within the yacht.

In addition, watch for sudden temperature drops. Moldy situations occur in crew cabins due to condensation on the portholes and damp items left in the cupboards.

Remember that mold and mildew are inclined to grow when situations aren’t favorable. Mold and mildew thrive well with stagnant air and high humidity. Therefore, make sure the yacht is well-ventilated and actively remove all moisture. Dehumidifiers can be used effectively in the crew areas and cupboards.

This column is taken from the October 2020 issue of Dockwalk.


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