One of my pet peeves is when I walk into the bathroom to find my husband taking a hot, steamy shower with the closet door open and the bathroom vent fan off. I literally blow my top! We are both extremely mold sensitive, and I know too well the dangers of the aftermath: The condensation from the steam on the ceilings and walls promotes mold growth in our bathroom, and then, our closet and clothes fill with the moisture and possibly start to mildew—a double whammy. In other words, prevention is key here, and mold can only grow where there is excess moisture; thus, where moisture is controlled, so is mold.
Since my husband is an ex-builder, I have access to his experience and understanding of the whys and wherefores of proper bathroom ventilation from a tangible, here’s where the fan should go, this size room needs this sort of fan, perspective. I pair that with my knowledge of mold and protecting my family from it, in order to offer some helpful tips for cleaning and using your bathroom fan to help win the battle over mold.
First, the basics: When you are purchasing or renting a home, or updating a bathroom, make sure an exhaust fan exists in the same room as the shower. In some older homes, ceiling ventilation is only in the toilet closet, especially if it is separate. A fan is needed in the same space as the shower to keep the air circulating and dry. Without air movement, condensation can form on walls and windows. Where water sits and cools, mold can and will grow. Also, make sure that the exhaust fan vents to the outside through the ceiling or roof. My husband has told me his stories of nightmare renovations, where the bathroom fans are ventilated straight into the attic, and sometimes even directly into the attic insulation. Moisture in the attic sits and creates a HUGE and possibly dangerous mold issue. (Note: Most attics are unconditioned spaces, meaning no direct heat or cooling applies. If your attic is a finished and conditioned space, it is highly unlikely that your bathroom fans would be vented into it. It is ALWAYS worth an inspection, though. This relatively inexpensive fix can save you LOTS in mold remediation down the line.)
Quick personal story side note to help you if you do not have a bathroom ventilation fan and are in a rental housing situation, or cannot afford to vent through the roof to the outside to create one:
I once lived in a tiny apartment with no bathroom fan. I purchased a large floor fan (many folks call these box fans) that I would sit by the bathroom door and turn to high to keep the air moving. A dehumidifier is also a good idea in this sort of situation. Bottom line: If you do not have ceiling ventilation, I highly recommended that you move a fan into the bathroom, pronto. You can even turn the back part or “sucking” side of the fan into the bathroom and place the blowing side towards an open window in nice weather the really ensure the condensation is being expelled.
Here are some of my quick tips about using your bathroom fan to its full potential, in terms of mold prevention:
- Enough fresh air needs to enter the room to bring the humidity down, so always leave your bathroom fan running for at least 30 minutes after a shower.
- Some fans can even be set on a timer to turn off after a specific amount of time. Installing a timer switch or humidity-sensing fan is a good way to make sure you run the fan long enough to clear the air after a shower.
- Make sure to keep your bathroom fan free of dust and lint. Because the fan sucks the air up and out of the room, it can really become a trap for any kind of particles or material floating in the air. The exhaust fans are designed to help eliminate odors, chemicals and condensation for the bathroom–so, if they are doing their job, they can get dirty. Mold can use dust and lint as food and can grow on it too, because it is organic matter. Dust the outside of your fan once a week to prevent a build-up. I just use the hose attachment and nozzle of my vacuum to suck out any dust or dirt on ours.
- Clean your bathroom fan thoroughly every 6 months. This will keep it working well and will also prevent mold growth. Also, doing this more frequently will help your fan to work better. This is definitely a task of large returns too, because the more thoroughly you clean it initially, the less you will have to do the next time.
Now, let’s talk about how to really clean that fan. If it’s constantly sucking up moisture from my luxuriously long showers, it could get pretty gross, right? Yes. It can get gross, but we are the mold brigade, so we are going to make sure that any air circulating through our homes is clean! Also, to scare you a little into cleaning your fan, if it’s clogged with grime and unable to do its job, moist air will accumulate, and seep into the walls and cabinetry. Neglected bathroom vents are unable to expel odors from the bathroom too. Ewww, right?! Let’s keep our fans free from dust and grime to allow them to properly do their jobs.
Here is how I clean my fans:
How to Clean Your Bathroom Ventilation Fans to Prevent Mold Growth:
- Make a tub or bucket of cleaning solution. For the solution, I use warm to hot distilled water, mixed with a generous squirt of Dawn and 2-4 ounces of EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate. I find that the heat factor really matters for getting the fan clean, so don’t forget to heat up your water a bit. You will use this cleaning solution to soak the vent cover later in the process. Bring this with you into the bathroom, so you are ready to go. I also bring a bottle of the EC3 Mold Solution Spray and some paper towels with me to squirt and wipe away on parts that are difficult to soak, or that cannot be submerged.
- First, once you are in the bathroom and ready to clean, turn the power to the fan off. This part is EXTREMELY important, because you do not want to get electrocuted!
- Use a portable HEPA vacuum or a vacuum with a hose attachment to suck off any dust or debris that has collected on the outside of the vent cover. This will also get up into the fan a bit, and get out any loose particles that have come to rest on the inside of the fan cover. You will definitely not want to skip this, or all sorts of dust will drop on your head and floor during the next step.
- Follow whatever directions that are needed to pull the fan cover away—this is usually plastic and dome-shaped or flat, depending on the style. Sometimes fan styles are even different from bathroom to bathroom. There is usually a release that you press before pulling, or two sides that you press in to release it from the ceiling.
- Once you have released the cover, unplug the fan. I also like to flip the fan switch to “ON” on the wall, once the fan is unplugged, just to make sure that there isn’t any power still running to it, before I start to touch anywhere near the motor. Make sure to flip the switch back to “OFF” before proceeding, though.
- Use your vacuum to clean the inner fan and all around it, while it is still attached in the ceiling. The better job you do here, the less cleaning once you get it down, and the less dust and debris that could fall out when you remove it.
- Disengage the fan from the ceiling. This part may require unscrewing, and unplugging the wires that are connected to the motor unit. Each fan is different, so make certain you carefully observe the way it is assembled. You want to be able to put it back together. (Tip: Take a picture of the assembled fan with your camera on your phone, so that you have an actual picture to refer to when it is time to put it back together.) Here is a helpful video about replacing a bathroom fan, that shows how to remove it, if you have never done this before:
- Once disengaged, place the plastic fan cover into your bucket of cleaning solution to soak. It will need a little time to sit in the water, so that the dirt and grime is easy to rinse or wipe off.
- While the fan cover soaks, take a good look at the fan housing. If there is grime in the housing, use a vacuum attachment to suck most of it out and wipe the inside thoroughly with a cloth soaked in your cleaning solution, or squirt the cloth down with the EC3 Mold Solution Spray, and wipe the housing down, until your cloth comes back clean. I also spray my housing with the EC3 Mold Solution Spray, once clean and allow it to air dry. It’s awesome, because you can just let it do the work of killing all of the mold and spores. If you are using the cleaning solution to clean the housing, wipe it with a dry cloth to remove excess moisture.
- Do the same step with the actual fan and motor. These pieces should not be submerged, so you need to clean them thoroughly by hand. You need to clean-off the sticky grime and mildew that can form on the blades and fan openings. Make certain, if you are not using the EC3 products, that you include some anti-mold/anti-fungal component—like, citrus-seed extract, etc. You have to kill the mold, and prevent it from coming back to really make this worthwhile.
- Remove the fan cover from the solution, wipe off any remaining grime and dry it thoroughly with a towel.
- Once all parts are thoroughly dry, reassemble your fan and fan cover back into the ceiling.
- Turn the power on to make sure everything is running properly.
Congratulations! Now, your bathroom fan is clean, mold free, probably much quieter, because the motor isn’t clogged, and can better prevent mold growth in your bathroom. Now you can enjoy that hot shower for as long as you want!
Anyone have any of their own tips on cleaning bathroom ventilation fans? If so, I would love to hear from you.