Then & Now: Vinegar: A mold-busting miracle!

By RANDY FLETCHER — There are certain smells that take me back to my childhood and make me think of my grandparents. Coffee is one of them. My grandmother had three percolators going all the time: one in the kitchen, one next to the davenport in the TV room, and another one in the master bath. The smell of percolating coffee would waft through the house and wake everyone up at 4:30 a.m., which is when their day got going.

Another smell that triggers memories of my grandparents is vinegar. My grandmother never used bleach, ammonia or Pine-Sol when she cleaned the house. She used vinegar — distilled white vinegar. I love that smell (which may have something to do with my love of pickles).

This past summer, we went through almost 15 gallons of vinegar. I used it full strength to spray the weeds in our driveway. We also used it to clean out our coffee maker by running a cycle with vinegar and then another with tap water. It helps kill germs and remove mineral buildup.

But we used most of those 15 gallons on our antique wooden furniture. Don’t cringe; let me explain.

Last year was one of the wettest years on record. It was really wet and humid. Great for trees, flowers and shrubs, but not so great for those of us who live in older homes with no central air. Our dehumidifier was on overdrive the entire summer. We only use window units to cool off a few essential rooms: kitchen, bedroom, office. One morning we woke up to find that all the windows and mirrors in the rest of the house were fogged up. The walls were literally dripping with condensation. The treads and handrail on the stairs felt saturated and sticky.

But even worse than the dripping walls was the most fantastic mold bloom. All the antiques in our living room were covered with it. I panicked. I’d read that mold exposure can cause health problems for some people.

I did a little research and discovered that vinegar kills around 80 percent of mold species, and I decided to give it a try. Removing mold from furniture is easy. Be sure to wear safety goggles and protective clothing, and test a small area, first, to ensure that the piece will not be damaged. Then spray affected areas with full-strength vinegar. Let it sit for half an hour, and then wipe the area. Repeat this process, and let the piece dry completely. Next, treat the furniture with a good-quality paste wax. This penetrates deep into the wood and forms a moisture barrier which prevents a mold rebloom.

We treated 16 pieces of antique furniture with vinegar; it took us a few days. For all that work, we gained a wonderful silver lining: Our furniture has never been so clean and gleaming. At least not all at the same time. Wherever you are, Grandma, thank you! Oh, and the coffee — it gave us the energy to make it through the entire cleaning process.

Other practical uses for vinegar (and there are many more, too many to list):

  • To clean your dishwasher and its contents, add 1½ to 2 cups white distilled vinegar to the bottom of it. Run a regular cycle using the usual amount of detergent. You’ll get sparkling results.
  • Remove bathtub film by wiping the tub first with white distilled vinegar and next with baking soda, then rinsing.
  • Prevent soap scum build-up on shower doors by wiping them with a sponge soaked in white distilled vinegar. (No need to rinse.)
  • To clean your microwave, heat ¼ cup white distilled vinegar and 1 cup water until steam forms on the window, then wipe away any residue.
  • Fresh flowers last longer if you add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and 2 tablespoons of sugar to a quart of water; heat the water until the sugar dissolves, and let it cool before adding your flowers. Trim stems and change water every few days or when water starts to get cloudy.
  • Your windows will sparkle if you clean them with equal parts distilled white vinegar and water. Apply to windows with a sponge, and wipe clean with a squeegee. (Remember to wet the squeegee blade first so it won’t skip.)

Please note: If you have a severe case of mold, such as large areas of black mold or any mold behind sheetrock, you should hire professionals to remove it.

The Hyattsville Preservation Association (HPA) seeks to engage residents in the preservation and promotion of the many historic homes and buildings in our city. www.preservehyattsville.org

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