Managing Your Vacation Rental

Battling Dampness and Mold in Your Vacation Rental Home

Written by Elizabeth Weedon
4.9/5 - (14 votes)

Old house or new, waterfront or inland, there aren’t many homes on Cape Cod or the Islands that are immune to the ill effects of dampness during the summer. Our brand new appliances seem to rust overnight, unprotected wood appears to rot from one season to the next, and it’s difficult to keep surfaces of any kind free from mold or mildew.  Most of us with homes here are engaged in a constant battle against dampness, required not only in order to maintain our  vacation rental properties, but also to ensure the happiness of our tenants, who may not be used to the consequences of seacoast living.

Arriving at a rental property and encountering a strong musty smell can be a real turn-off to your tenants. Many folks, including increasing numbers of children, suffer from allergies to molds, and in some cases, cannot even spend a night in a home where there’s much mold.  It’s not easy, but we strongly urge you to do whatever you can to minimize the dampness and prevent mold from growing.

Here are a few suggestions:

Air conditioning

It’s expensive to run and prone to abuse by tenants, but it’s also effective in not only cooling your home but drying it as well. Even a window air conditioner or two can be helpful during a particularly damp, hot spell.


There are often issues of how to dump or drain the water collected, but having one in your basement or a particularly damp part of your home is very effective. If you don’t feel comfortable having your tenants deal with its operation, at least try to run it for a few hours during your turnover, if possible.

Avoid wall-to-wall carpeting

Especially in your kitchen and bathrooms, floor coverings of any kind should be kept to a minimum. Rugs and carpets just aren’t that necessary in the summertime, and they really retain dampness, stains, odors, and dirt.

Avoid wallpaper

Wallpaper tends to absorb dampness, which eventually turns to mold – even if you can’t see it. We stripped our master bedroom of its old wallpaper years ago, and we were amazed at what a difference it made to the freshness of the house.

Keep trees and shrubs away from your house

The debris from them retains moisture in your home, and the shade from them prevents the house from drying out.

Keep surfaces thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis

This includes walls, window and door frames, and moldings. It’s challenging when the humidity is high, but pay particular attention to the areas around and under toilets and sinks. Cold porcelain and pipes condense the humidity and “sweat,” making it appear that you have a leak.

Buy gallons of ammonia

It’s by far the most effective and safest means of killing the toxic spores of molds and mildew. Bleach appears to remove the stain caused by mildew, but it can actually promote the growth of the spores beneath the surface. Ammonia neutralizes the deadly mycotoxins that the spores produce. (Read more about Surviving Toxic Mold.)


Whenever possible, either treat your decks, fences, thresholds, and other wood surfaces liberally with a weather proofer such as Thompson’s Waterseal. Or, if they’re painted, don’t let the paint chip and peel, allowing dampness to enter the wood. We go through gallons of paint every year!


Anything metal, from toasters and other kitchen appliances to bicycles and tools, rusts very easily in this salty, damp air. If possible, coat the surfaces of your tools and bikes with oil to protect them. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do in the kitchen besides buying stainless appliances if you can. If something rusts and causes a stain, an effective cleaning product is “CLR” (for calcium, lime and rust). For more cleaning and maintenance tips, click here.

For more advice about battling dampness and mold, read Adriana Lopez’s article from Porch: “How to Remove Humidity from Your Furniture and Textiles for Proper Moisture Control” .

About the author

Elizabeth Weedon

Elizabeth Weedon - Although I’ve worked for since 2008, I’ve been a loyal homeowner on the site since early 1998, just a few months after the website was launched by the Talmadges. I grew up summering on the Vineyard and managed my family's rental home there since the mid-1980’s. I’m passionately devoted to the Vineyard – and to WeNeedaVacation, which I credit with enabling me to hold onto the special property that has been in our family for nearly a century. An enthusiastic member of the WNAV Homeowner Support Team, I endeavor to keep my finger on the pulse of the Cape and Islands vacation rental industry so that I can provide homeowners advice about how to ensure their booking success with us. With owner Joan Talmadge, I am also responsible for editing and writing much of the text on our website, our monthly newsletters, and Homeowner Blog posts.


  • Molds are multi-cellular (consist of more than one cell) filamentous fungi usually having a fuzzy or cottony soft appearance when they grow in areas in your homes. They may be white, dark or in any color. They produce spores usually asexually and in large numbers which means they arise and inherit from a single parent. Asexual reproduction is the primary form of reproduction for single-celled organisms such as bacteria and fungi. They are light, resistant to drying and can easily spread through the air and contaminate any areas.
    More often, a moldy smell might be the only clue that there is a hidden mold growth away from your house. Never ignore mold odors if you can’t see any mold or else this might be the main reason of illnesses within your family. You should thoroughly inspect your home before any mold problems get worse. You can find out how to inspect your house for mold at certified mold inspection

  • Great Post! Mold growing in homes and buildings, whether it is black mold or other molds, indicates that there is a problem with water or moisture. This is the first problem that needs to be addressed. Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. Keep sharing.

  • We once owned a caravan back in the day which we used to use for summer holidays up near the lakes and this was a massive problem that we faced. After we spoke to a few fellow caravanner’s in the area they told us to make sure that the caravan was well ventilated and when we left it for the winter to leave all vents and indoor doors open to allow for a good air circulation. We still had a little mould in one of the bedrooms that seemed to appear every year but apart from that it seemed to work.

  • Having owned a home on MV for 16 years, and buying the rental home just over a year ago, I know about the mustiness. At first, we had a dehumidifier in the 1st home, that we had to remember to empty every day as there is no drain in the basement floor as there is in our NH home. Then I discovered that there is a pump that you can use to pump the water outside. I attach a hose to the drip bucket, then into a pail where the pump is. When the water level is high enough, ( an inch or so ) the pump is activated and out the tube up to the window and out to my flowers. At the new house, I bought a newer version of the pump that the water just goes into and pumps it out from there. Both have worked great. I keep them running from May to October.

    • Hi, Kathryn. Yes, those new dehumidifiers work great! We just had one installed last winter, and it seems like the little effluent hose spits out water every few minutes! I cannot imagine how damp and moldy my basement would have been this year without it! Oh, yes, I can… that’s what happened during previous summers, and it was awful!