Q Can you just paint over black mold? That's what my landlord wants to do.

A No. Just painting over mold is not a solution. It will continue to grow and come through the paint.

Mold grows when there is too much moisture. Finding and removing the moisture source is the first step to solving the problem. Check for a leak in the plumbing, roof or basement. Mold can also result when excess humidity generated from bathing or cooking is not removed by opening a window or operating a fan that exhausts to the outdoors.

Once the moisture source is eliminated, the moldy area needs to be thoroughly cleaned and scrubbed with a detergent and water solution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not recommend using chlorine bleach to remove mold. If you are concerned that the detergent and water solution wasn't effective, you can treat the area with a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.

Be sure to quickly and thoroughly dry the area before painting.

Mold is more of a problem for some people than others. If you are concerned for your health, consult your doctor.

According to the EPA, molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants and in some cases potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins). Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes and skin rash (dermatitis). Allergic reactions to mold are common. They can be immediate or delayed. Molds can also affect people with asthma who are allergic to mold. In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs whether you're allergic to mold or not. Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold.

Bear in mind that mold is everywhere. You aren't going to be able to remove all mold or old spores from a dwelling. What you must do, however, is limit its growth. Clean up what you can see and be sure to live in and maintain a dwelling so that mold isn't encouraged.

Coffee stains on countertop

Q Is there a way to clean coffee stains off white Formica countertop? The countertop is old and the stains have been there a week or two.

A Most stains on laminate countertop (Formica is just one brand name) can be removed with Barkeeper's Friend, available at hardware stores and supermarkets. Make a paste by mixing Barkeeper's Friend with water. Apply with paper towel and rub the area. Rinse with water.

Try renewing the shine on countertops with a rubbing or polishing compound available at automotive stores. (If the countertop has a matte finish, there is nothing you can do to make it shiny.)

To reduce staining, lightly polish the plastic laminate with a polish containing silicone. Such polishes often are available at stores that sell plastic laminate countertops. Some stores that sell laminate countertops also sell cleaning and renewal products.

Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av., Minneapolis, MN 55488, or call 612-673-7032, or e-mail fixit@startribune.com. Past columns are available at www.startribune.com/fixit. Sorry, Fixit cannot supply individual replies. Fixit appears everyday except Friday.