Here’s a not-so-fun thing about living in Japan: dealing with mold and mildew.
To those who have lived in humid places, expecting such mold-related problems in Japan would be nothing short of normal. However, those who come from dry places can be in for a nasty surprise.
Kabi” (カビ) is the Japanese word for mold/mildew, and it’s incredibly common in Japan. Under the right conditions, it can present itself in any season, though it’s far more common during the summer months.
Kabi starts to form in areas like bathrooms, closets, rooms’ corners, kitchens, and even one tatami mats. Failing to spot the early spores could lead a bigger problem that could even require one to call an expert.
Kabi is actually caused both by temperature and humidity. During the summer months, Japan’s high temperatures can cause humidity to reach peak levels.
Colder months and rainy days can also see kabi invade walls and bathrooms since heat gets trapped inside, creating a humid atmosphere. The problem with the colder months is that most people close all windows to keep their homes warm, forgetting that without proper ventilation condensation and humidity can become a daily problem.
Luckily, there are methods on how to prevent it and also ways to get rid of it.
The first thing to do to prevent kabi is to ventilate your home. Open your windows even if the cold air gets in. You don’t have to keep your windows open all day, just make sure that you are ventilating your house or apartment from time to time.
Bathrooms are also a place where kabi can easily occur. Never forget to wipe water residue after you take a bath or shower. During summer months, turn the cold water on after you take a shower and spray it around before wiping the water residue. This will help decrease the heat and humidity inside the bathbub or shower room.
What’s more remember to keep the fan on at all times. Some people like to turn it off from time to time, which is okay. However, Japanese bathroom fans are not like the ones in the United States that are recommended to be turned off after a few minutes because they can be fire hazard, so don’t be suprise to hear of people or Airbnbs that have an “always keep the fan on” policy.
Using a disinfectant like Kabi Cleaner (カビクリーナー) is also an effective way of removing kabi by spraying it on the affected surface. You can also use vinegar as an alternative.
Just remember that all not products to get rid of mold and mildew can be used in all surfaces. For example, if your apartment has concrete walls, such products would cause a lot of damage. Instead, regular products that don’t specifically target kabi are recommended.
When you are cleaning those spores, remember to wear a mask, safety glasses or regular ones, and gloves. Once you finish cleaning, toss the clothes you used inside the washing machine and do your laundry.
Another great product is Shikketori (湿気とり). These humidity packs also help prevent kabi formation by absorbing moisture. They are very cheap, but you do have to constantly toss them once they are full of water. Ergo, they are not the best option for the environment.
Finally, constantly check your closets. These areas can get a lot of mold and mildew without our noticing. As a result, people are often left in a state of shock when they take an item that had been stored for months just to find it covered in green spores.
Additionally, you can consider fabrics and materials when buying products. Soft-sided luggage, for example, tends to be an easy kabi target; so going for hard-sided luggage while living in Japan would be preferable.
Mold and mildew can also appear inside your shoes, particularly during the rainy season. Once you get home after having walked outside on a rainy day, clean your shoes immediately so the surface is dry. This will be particularly important if you want your leather shoes to last longer.
You can also spray the inside of your shoes with a mold cleaner like the one pictured below:
This product is easily found at shoe repair shops across the country, and it’s the perfect tool to save your shoes from a mildew infestation.
Dehumidifiers are by no means cheap, and some of them can make your electricity bill skyrocket, so it’s important to do your research before buying one. Essentially, there are three types of humidifiers in Japan. Ones are meant for winter since they make rooms hotter and because they target condensation, others are meant for summer since they make temperatures stay almost the same, and others are called “hybrid” because they have both functions and can be used year-round.
A/C units also have a dehumidifying option, but depending on where you live it might not be enough. The great thing about dehumidifiers is that they also come with a clothes-drying function.
Since most Japanese homes don’t have dryers, so line-drying ones clothes is the thing most people do. The problem is that they drying completely can take a very long time in winter, and in summers they can get a damp smell afterwards. Humidifiers with a clothes-drying function solve both issues.
There are many ways to prevent and get rid of kabi, and one has to do what they must depending on their type of home. The most important thing is of course prevention. Simply remember that mold and mildew can be a big problem in Japan.