Damp doesn't discriminate. It can occur in any home, from a studio flat to a sprawling mansion. Often caused by failing to keep up with house maintenance, it can prove a real headache. Clothes and furniture can be damaged and it can also trigger health problems like asthma. That's why, if you do see signs of damp, it's best to get to the bottom of the problem as soon as possible.
So how do you get rid of damp? We have pooled together all the tips and tricks you will need to work out how to tackle the problem, and make sure it doesn't bother you this winter.
How to get rid of damp
Signs you have damp in your home
- Musty smell - A damp room has a musty, distinctive scent. As soon as you open a door you won't be able to mistake it.
- Wall marks - Dark marks on the wall are all signs that you could have damp. Damp can also manifest as discoloured plaster, caused by moisture in the wall.
- Lifting or peeling wallpaper - If you find your wallpaper is curling away from the wall, this is likely to be caused by internal moisture, a sign of damp.
- Cold walls - If your internal walls are cold to touch this could be a sign of damp forming. Internal walls should be warm and dry to touch if there is no moisture trapped in them.
- Excessive condensation on windows - Condensation around windows is common in winter. However, an excessive amount that never seems to clear is a sign that you could have damp.
What causes damp?
In its simplest form, damp is caused by condensation. As the temperature falls, condensation rises, creating moisture on windows each morning which will eventually cause mould and damp.
But that's not the only cause of damp. Leaking pipes, wastes or overflows might be the culprits. Rising damp that comes up from the ground is commonly caused by having a damaged damp-proof course, or no damp-proof course at all. Or there could be water penetrating from outside because of a missing roof tile, leaking window frame or blocked gutter.
'Anything involving heat will help kill off any bacteria,' advises cleaning expert, Matthew Harrison from PriceYourJob.co.uk. 'Therefore using a steam cleaner is an effective way to kill mould that is present, as it will penetrate the surface and kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria and germs.'
'However, using steam on mould will not kill an ongoing mould issue, as it does not get to the root of the issue. To prevent future mould problems, you should consider draught-proofing and other jobs which will prevent moisture from entering your home.'
What kind of damp do I have?
Luckily damp is easy to identify. You will need to start by sourcing the cause in order to accurately remedy it. For example, a damp patch on the wall at the top of a chimney breast suggests a leak from the chimney stack, a wet patch at the top of a wall may indicate a leaking gutter and damp near windows might mean a damaged drip groove beneath the window sill.
It is important to deduce which type damp it is in order to prevent any further damage. There are three types:
1. Condensation caused damp
The most common form of damp is often caused by poor heating and ventilation. It occurs when activities such as cooking raise the level of humidity in a building. This air condenses on cold surfaces, such as windows and walls.
Running water on windows is the most obvious signal of condensation and can lead to stained curtains, decaying window frames or moulding on paint and wallpaper.
2. Rising damp
This is where water enters a structure from the ground. Symptoms include decayed skirting boards and floors, stained plaster, and peeling paint and wallpaper.
3. Penetrating damp
This is when water enters a building from outside and moves through the walls, often creating stains or mould growth at some distance from the leak. Caused are defects in guttering and pipes, faulty flashings, poor pointing and cracked rendering.
How to get rid of condensation
As with everything prevention is easier than working out how to get rid of damp. 'Once damp starts, it can sometimes be difficult to remedy the issues it causes, such as mould growth and structural damage,' says Ian Henderson, Managing Director at Boiler Plan (opens in new tab). 'Prevention is always easier than the cure - which is pretty literal when it comes to mould, considering the health risks that can come along with it!'
Here are a few quick and simple remedies for preventing and banishing damp.
1. Wipe down windows and sills every morning
Remove the condensation as soon as you see it as this will stop any mould from building up. Use kitchen towel, a squeegee or a window vac – we like Vileda's Windomatic, which costs around £59.99. It might help to occasionally wipe down walls and window frames with a fungicidal wash.
If you're removing mould caused by condensation, the NHS recommends that you wipe it away with a cloth dipped in soapy water. When you're done, use a dry cloth to remove any moisture, and throw both cloths away. It advises to 'Be careful not to brush the mould, as this can release mould spores'.
2. Deal with steam from cooking
Always cover pans and pots when cooking. This won't just prevent steam escaping, but also saves energy. You could also close the kitchen door when cooking to stop steam escaping to other parts of the house.
Improving your heating and ventilation systems will do a long way to solving condensation issues. Install extractor fans in kitchen designs to reduce moisture. You can pick up powerful cooker hoods for less than £200, so this can be an extremely cost-effective long-term solution.
3. Get rid of bathroom moisture
Showering or bathing can produce lots of steam and moisture. To prevent this from causing condensation in the rest of the house be sure to keep the door of the bathroom closed and open your bathroom window when showering.
In the bathroom itself be sure to have an extractor fan fitted to help clear the excess moisture in the room. This is even more important if you don't have a window in the bathroom.
4. Ensure ventilation
Ventilating your home can be as easy as opening a window for at least 15 minutes each morning. If you have windows that can be locked in a slightly open position, all the better.
If you have bad condensation issues in a particular room, consider fitting air bricks. These are bricks with lots of tiny holes in them and can be added to exterior walls, allowing air to pass under a suspended timber floor. Traditionally made from clay, they are now more commonly made of plastic. Plastic bricks allow for better airflow and are less easily broken. Long term, they will prevent damp and moisture from damaging the floorboards.
5. Keep your house warm
To keep the damp at bay during the colder months, try to keep your home at a steady warm temperature. Damp happens when warm air hits cold walls, so by keeping your house warm the surfaces don't get cold enough to create condensation. Try setting timers for your heating to turn on at intervals throughout the day.
6. Install insulation
Good insulation is just as important, especially if you have cold spots on walls where condensation builds up. Cavity wall, loft and other specialist insulation can combat damp – though in rare cases it can also cause it, so always consult with an expert before you start your project.
You should also consider replacing draughty old doors and windows with double or triple glazing.
7. Buy a dehumidifier
Contents in a home left empty for long periods can easily be damaged if they absorb and hold excess moisture from the air. The same applies to properties that feel permanently damp, due to their location, (perhaps built against the side of a hill) or age.
This is where buying one of our tried and tested best dehhumidifiers comes in. It will reduce the level of humidity in the air, by sucking in air from the room at one end, removing the moisture, and then blowing it back out into the room again, adding warmth in the process.
8. Don't hang clothes to dry inside
If possible, try hanging clothes outside to dry - even in winter. This will help to avoid condensation from the wet clothes building up in the house. If you have space see about investing in a tumble dryer which will help contain the steam and moisture when drying clothes.
If you do have to leave clothes to dry inside, position a dehumidifier nearby to suck up the excess moisture.
How to get rid of penetrating damp
You may need to repair or replace your gutters. It might be your window sill dip grooves – designed to shed rainwater so it doesn't run down the house wall – are blocked and need to be reformed.
How to get rid of rising damp
Serious damp problems may require that you consult a qualified surveyor. They will take a moisture reading at your home, identify the cause of the problem and advise you on the right course of action.
Find a professional in your area at The Property Care Association scheme (opens in new tab).
It may be that the problem is easily remedied, but your surveyor could recommend installing a new damp-proof course, which can cost £1,000s. This involves injecting the walls with chemicals that will form a water-repellant barrier. This can be done from the outside of the building, or your specialist may need to strip the interior wall back to the brick to inject the course. They will then recover them with a specialist plaster.
Amy Cutmore is Editor-in-Chief, Homes Audience, working across the Future Homes portfolio. She works on titles including Ideal Home, Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, Real Homes, Gardeningetc, Top Ten Reviews and Country Life. And she's a winner of the PPA's Digital Content Leader of the Year. A homes journalist for two decades, she has a strong background in technology and appliances, and has a small portfolio of rental properties, so can offer advice to renters and rentees, alike.
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