Understanding the Causes & Solutions for Mold Growth in RVs
Is your RV making you sick? Mold is a serious issue that, if left untreated, can cause major damage to your RV and your health. This guide to preventing and removing mold from your RV will keep you and your RV safe.
Anyone who has had to deal with mold understands the time-consuming process and potential costs involved in removing it. Mold spreads quickly and quietly, so it is not uncommon to be caught with a large mold problem unexpectedly.
RVs can be the perfect place for mold to start and spread. That’s why it’s important to know the signs of mold as well as how to remove it. Of course, prevention is key, and here we will explore both preventing and removing mold from your RV.
What is Mold and How Does It Start?
As defined by the Center For Disease Control, Mold is a fungal growth that forms and spreads on various kinds of damp or decaying organic matter.
Mold actually plays an important role in the environment but can be very destructive and harmful in certain situations. Mold is present in the air at all times in the form of spores. These mold spores are the equivalent of plant seeds and are microscopic airborne particles present at all times.
These tiny spores go unnoticed and cannot grow unless they come in contact with moisture. This is when mold forms and can become a problem. When moisture is added, mold can begin to feed and digest whatever it is growing on. Mold can grow on any organic substance. This is an issue as RVs are full of organic materials that mold can use as food, including:
- Plant material
Mold and Your RV
When it comes to your RV, the damp organic matter mold loves is often wood that has become wet either from a leak or condensation. Unfortunately, this wood is often contained within walls, floors, and ceilings where it can’t be seen. This is the perfect area for mold to continue to grow and release potentially harmful spores into your RV.
Mold can develop anywhere there is moisture, so no area of your RV is off-limits to mold. There are, however, a few areas more inviting for mold, and you should monitor these areas closely.
RV windows and doors are common areas for leaks, resulting in mold. Keep a close eye on the seal around these areas for determination which can allow water to enter the RV. All other exterior seals around roof-mounted accessories, the seams between the sides and front and back of the RV, along with any place things like vents and lights are installed, are areas of particular concern.
RVs are notorious for having condensation issues, and this is a main source of moisture that attracts mold. Condensation along with leaks are the two ways mold can grow in your RV. This is why mold in RVs is often found around doors and windows.
Plumbing leaks are another common source of moisture and can be also easily missed if inside walls or under cabinets. It is vital at the beginning and end of the season to check for signs of moisture and mold. If left unnoticed while in storage, mold can quickly become a big problem.
Health and Damage
The health risks associated with mold can be very serious, and symptoms shouldn’t be ignored. Spending time in an RV with mold growth may cause the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin irritation
- Allergic reactions
- Aggravated asthma symptoms
As far as your RV goes, left untreated mold growth presents the following issues to your RV:
- Damage furnishings
- Rot wood
- Cause structural damage
- Cause cosmetic damage, such as stains, to furnishings
Removing Mold From Your RV
Once you notice mold in your RV, it’s vital to deal with it immediately. Catching it early can be the difference between some elbow grease and a major renovation to your RV.
For surface mold that is just beginning, mold and mildew removers may be able to fix the problem. If no material damage is noticed, and structurally, everything looks fine, chemical cleaners can work. These cleaners are not the fix for all mold issues, however. They are for light surface mold and mildew. A common area they are used is on the underside of the RV awnings, where moisture can sit when they are rolled up.
For more extensive mold issues and situations where damage has started, there will be much more involved. The first thing to know is that once you begin to uncover mold, you must continue until it’s all gone. Often mold that has been growing inside of walls won’t show signs until it has become extensive. Some dark discoloration on a wall or ceiling panel may reveal a real mess underneath.
Removing Mold in Your RV Wall Paneling
Removing RV wall paneling may seem like a daunting task. However, it’s not as scary as it seems. One plus to RV wall panels is they cover a large area, so once removed, you get a good look at what’s underneath.
Unlike drywall in your home, RV wall panels are generally easy to uninstall and then reinstall. No screws are used to hold them in place, but rather small staples in most cases. Each panel runs from floor to ceiling and covers multiple wall studs. When removed, you will have uncovered approximately a four-foot wide section of wall.
The first step in removal is to remove anything mounted to the wall panel. This will include things like window coverings, electrical outlet covers, and window trim. Since the wall paneling is installed before the cabinets, it will have to be cut around the cabinets, or you will have to remove the cabinets. If cutting, a sharp Exacto knife will score the panels as they are very thin.
Where two panels meet on the wall, there will generally be a plastic trim piece or tape over the joint. The plastic trim pieces are pressed into a track and can be gently pried off. Taped joints will have to be cut, and new tape applied when you are done.
With the joint free, the panel can be pried by the edge pulling the staples loose. A small flat pry bar works well for removing these panels. The panel will also be fastened along the top and bottom as well. Take care when removing staples and prying the panel not to break it.
Structural Mold Damage
With the panel removed from the suspect area, you will now know the extent of the damage. If the mold is limited to the paneling itself, cleaning and sanding the back of the panel may remove light mold that has just started. With more extensive mold that has started to eat away at the paneling, replacing the complete panel will be both the easiest and best option.
If the mold has spread to the framing in the RV, you have more work on your hands. In most RVs, the structure of the walls, ceiling, and floor is wooden. The mold that has attacked these components can cause serious structural integrity issues. Any framing that has the mold must be replaced.
Repairing Wall Studs
RV framing is small, lightweight, and pretty easy to work with. The wall studs will be connected at the top and bottom in a single piece, so the entire stud will be removed and replaced if necessary. When installing a new stud, it will be easier to use L brackets as top and bottom frame sections won’t be accessible in a completed RV like they are on the assembly line.
Repairing Window Framing
A common place for moisture to enter an RV is around the windows, so this is a common place to have mold issues as well. Repairing window framing, in most cases, will involve the removal of the window.
RV windows are held in place by the metal frame, which is easy to remove. Having an extra set of hands will be helpful to support the window. The window is removed by unfastening the screws around the frame on the interior of the RV. Once they are removed, the window is free but will be likely stuck in place with the seal. Gently push and pry the window frame until the window comes free.
The most important step in RV window replacement is to ensure the seal is properly installed. Don’t reuse your old seal, and make sure the frame surface and exterior surface of the RV are clean and dry where the seal makes contact.
Removing Mold in Your RV Floors
Removing mold from your RV can become a really serious job if it has made its way into flooring. When assembled, your RV has the flooring installed in one of the first steps, and all other components are installed on top. This means if there is an issue with the floor, it can result in a major disassembly of things.
A common floor location for water to enter is in corners where floor coverings end. This can be a more manageable location for repairs as the corner of the flooring can often be pulled back and a small area of plywood underneath replaced.
For mold closer to the center of the floor or widespread mold, the repair process becomes more complicated. Removal of cabinets, dinettes, and toilets is a big job that, in many situations, will require the services of professionals. In the case of older RVs, the cost to correctly repair major floor damage is often not worth it.
Although flooring runs underneath cabinets, it is possible to cut floor coverings along cabinets eliminating the need for removal. If you tackle this job yourself, know that RV flooring is constructed using sheets of plywood. Each piece will cover a large area and span across multiple studs, similar to wall paneling.
When replacing flooring, it is important to use the same thickness flooring as the original and to make sure any seams are supported by floor joists.
Mold Prevention in an RV
Once started, mold can be tough to catch, and removing mold from your RV can be a big job. That being said, preventing mold from growing in your RV in the first place is very important.
As mentioned, mold requires moisture, so moisture control is the number one prevention tool. Preventing and quickly repairing leaks is the second biggest concern when it comes to mold prevention.
In RVs, we often find ourselves cooling inside when it’s hot outside and heating inside when it’s cool outside. This process causes condensation and can be seen on RV windows that become wet.
Another big source of condensation in RVs is propane use. Many appliances in RVs, such as the stove, furnace, and hot water heater, use propane as a fuel source. Burning propane causes byproducts of water and carbon dioxide. The result is moisture in the air that becomes noticeable when it comes in contact with cool windows.
We need to heat and cool our RVs as well as use propane appliances, so how do you do so without causing excessive moisture? Controlling airflow in your RV is the best way you can reduce condensation. Having fresh air circulating through a space reduces moisture greatly.
Upgrade Your vent Fans
RVs come equipped with roof vents, generally in the bathrooms and kitchens. This is because those two areas are exposed to the most moisture.
In many RVs, these roof vents come with a cheap single-speed 3-blade fan. Not much more than the small fan cooling your computer, these fans don’t move much air. In many cases, some of the roof vents don’t even have a fan installed. While the vent itself serves a purpose with airflow, combining it with a quality fan increases the benefits significantly.
Fan upgrades are easy to install and worth the money. When you consider the time and money involved in dealing with a serious mold problem, a fan upgrade is a no-brainer. The best fans will be multi-speed reversible models capable of pulling or pushing air.
Use a Dehumidifier
Dehumidifiers are an excellent way to remove damp, moist air from your RV. More commonly used in houses, a dehumidifier used throughout the year in your RV can make a huge difference.
Before and after periods of storage, along with during wet seasons, are the best times to take advantage of them. If you live in a humid area, running a dehumidifier in your RV more often throughout the year can be the difference between you removing mold from your RV or not.
Air It Out
Opening windows when suitable weather allows will circulate air and keep things fresh in your RV. The addition of fans to help move air is a great idea as well. Areas that become wet for any reason, such as a leak under a sink, should be cleaned up and have a fan placed nearby to fully dry out.
RVs that have been closed up for long periods can be susceptible to problems. Taking the time to open up your RV windows and roof vents to air it out during these periods of non-use can dry it out and help eliminate that stale smell that develops.
Finding mold in your RV can be a stressful situation and rightfully so. Mold is a serious problem if it has had time to grow. If you catch it quickly, however, removing mold from your RV can be quick and easy. Taking the steps to prevent mold from starting will keep you and your RV healthy.
Kendall lives with his wife and their two cocker spaniels full-time in their RV currently in Mexico. He is one half of DashboardDrifters.com and the co-founder of RVSpotDrop, a web service for full-time RVers.