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Mildew spores are everywhere. These airborne "seeds" want nothing better than a warm moist spot at which to spring into life. Most commonly the mildew takes on a blackish appearance, resembling dirt, for which it is often mistaken. Mildew will thrive on any organic substance, including paint, soap and other residues in imperfectly cleaned showers, especially in tile grout, which is difficult to clean.

Mildew is almost always the fault of an occupant who does not properly manage his rental unit. The moisture, which allows mildew to settle in, most often precipitates where cold air meets warm. This usually occurs at exterior walls, or in bathrooms after showers. Cold air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air can hold. For this reason, as humid warm air cools off, the moisture in it precipitates out on to walls, windows, shower tile, and so on. This is why, on a cold day, you can fog a window by breathing on it. The moisture in your breath precipitates out on to the window when your breath cools.

Proper ventilation will prevent such precipitation and dry up such precipitation as occurs. Moving air will absorb more moisture than dead air. It follows that the landlordís responsibility is to insure that proper ventilation is possible. Windows should be operable and properly screened so as not to deter the tenant from opening them. Bathroom fans should be operable and free of obstructions.

From this point, mildew control is a tenant responsibility. A tenant who complains about mildew should be counseled on proper ventilation, using the resources available in the rental unit. In addition, mildew can be cleaned up using a simple mixture of cleaning products:

1/2 cup non-phosphated detergent
1 pint 5% sodium hypochlorite (laundry bleach, like Clorox)
3 pints warm water

This is an highly effective mildew cleaner and killer, although a heavy infestation may require more than one application. Caution the tenant not to try to soup it up by adding other things, particularly products containing ammonia, which, when it reacts with the chlorine will give off a deadly gas. Once the cleanup is accomplished, the surface should be thoroughly rinsed. Ready made products are available in the cleaning products section of supermarkets, for the tenant who does not wish to trouble to make his own mixture.

Consider repainting problem apartments in your building with a paint containing an extra dose of fungicide. This can help keep the mildew down as well. This will only work, however, after any existing mildew has been thoroughly cleaned away.

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