Molds are neither plants nor animals. They are microscopic fungi, related to mushrooms, yeast, and mildew and they can be found everywhere. Fungi use enzymes to digest food, and reproductive cells called spores to reproduce. Molds play an important role in the decomposition of leaves, wood, and other dead plant matter. Mold puts the “blue” in bleu cheese, and mold is the original source of penicillin, one of the earliest and most widely used naturally-occurring antibiotics. Unfortunately, mold is also one of the most common allergens on the planet.
Molds can be found almost anywhere that moisture and oxygen are present and are a natural part of the environment. They live in moist places such as plants, soil, and dead or decaying matter. Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves, dead trees and other debris; however, indoors mold growth should be avoided. There are many types of molds and when excessive moisture accumulates in buildings or on building materials, mold growth often occurs, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or unaddressed. Molds become a problem when they go where they are not wanted and digest materials such as our homes.
Mold spores need moisture to colonize and grow. Molds can grow on wood, ceilings, wallpaper, paint, carpet, sheet rock, and insulation. More specifically, when conditions are right, molds only needs three things to survive: oxygen, a cellulose base food source, and moisture. They use their powerful enzymes to dissolve home materials in the same way that they dissolve decaying plant matter. An environment with high humidity (high levels of moisture in the air) sets the stage for extreme mold growth and thereby poses a risk to your health. Kitchens, bathrooms, garages, basements, and crawlspaces are notorious for mold growth. If any part of your home has experienced water damage, then you’ll certainly find mold there. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one-third to one-half of all U.S. buildings have areas damp enough for mold growth. Even though indoor humidity is generally lower in the winter, indoor mold allergy may be more prevalent during the winter in some homes due to tight, energy-efficient seals. Mold is pervasive outdoors as well, and depending on their location, many people suffer from seasonal mold allergies.
While you may find some online test kits and businesses offering inexpensive services, many of these aren’t worth the money you spend on them. The most basic of kits traditionally test for mold spores, which isn’t an accurate indicator of a mold problem unless the mold count is extremely elevated (we’ll touch on the mold count again in a subsequent Mold FAQ). Mold spores, as we mentioned in a mold FAQ above, are omnipresent. There will be few places where you find no mold spores in the air. A better assessment of a potential problem is a physical inspection, paired with testing as well as readings on the humidity level in the home. Severe mold problems are often not too difficult to miss, but it is generally best to use a license, reputable, and insured specialist who takes into account several factors. On the other side of this question, people often detect it by changes in how they feel. Symptoms of a mold allergy, covered in our All About Mold article, outlines some of the symptoms. These combined with an odor, high relative humidity in the home, recent flooding, leaking pipes, etc. are often a good first indicator.
If you smell mold, you are inhaling mold spores and mycotoxins, both of which are dangerous and can cause a wide range of medical issues. To learn more about mold odors and what they mean, see “Dealing With Mold Smells”. (//link to be updated//)
Because some molds can be hidden, a mold inspection and testing could be necessary. Every home has a certain amount of mold. Mold testing will be necessary to determine how much mold is present and what species of mold. Mold testing may also provide information regarding a possible hidden mold problem within the walls. There are currently no standards or guidelines regarding results of fungal samples. There are no levels, which are typical or permissible. There may be a problem if indoor mold tests report mold levels that are: (a) higher than the outdoor mold levels; (b) present indoors but absent from the outdoors; or (c) the indoor mold is pathogenic.
The first thing you should do is to bring in a professional to inspect your home and see how extensive the mold problem is. Often you only see the “tip of the iceberg” and there is more mold in places such as attics, inside walls, in crawlspaces, under carpets, on top of ceiling tiles, etc.
Mold enters your home as tiny spores. The spores need moisture to begin growing, digesting and destroying. Molds can grow on almost any surface, such as paints, wallpaper, carpet, wood, ceiling tiles, sheet rock, and insulation. Mold can affect your clothing and other contents in your home. When there is a leaky roof, high humidity, or a flood, mold grows best. It's impossible to get rid of all molds and mold spores in your home, but because mold spores can't grow without moisture, reducing moisture in your home is the best way to prevent or eliminate mold growth. If there is already mold growing in your home, it's important to clean up the mold and fix the problem causing dampness. If you clean up the mold but don't fix the problem, the mold will most likely return.
When molds are disturbed, they release spores into the air. You can be exposed by breathing air containing these mold spores. You can also be exposed through touching moldy items, eating moldy food or accidental hand to mouth contact.
Mold growth can not only lead to structural damage to your home (like sagging floors), but it can also adversely affect your health. You can be exposed to mold by touching moldy materials, eating moldy foods, and breathing in microscopic mold spores in the air. You can inhale over a half million spores per minute without even knowing it. Mold allergy symptoms may include skin rash, runny nose, irritated eyes, cough, congestion, and aggravation of asthma.
A 1999 Mayo Clinic study found that allergic fungal sinusitis (AFS) was diagnosed in 93% of cases of chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS), a condition that affects an estimated 37 million Americans. According to a 2005 study, exposure to mold in damp homes can double the risk of asthma development in children.
Most health problems caused by molds are related to allergic reactions; however, molds can also invade the body as agents of infection. Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis is a serious lung disease similar to pneumonia in which mold colonizes and grows in asthmatic mucus within the lungs. People with chronic lung diseases and compromised immune systems are more prone to fungal pulmonary infections.
The common symptoms of mold exposure include a runny nose, itchy eyes, cough, headaches, congestion, and asthma like symptoms. Longer exposure can result in pneumonia, skin rashes, depression, joint pain, chronic fatigue and other life-threatening complications. Follow this link for more on the symptoms of mold exposure.
We do not recommend staying in a home that has mold. The real question you need to ask is whether it is safe to stay in the home while the mold is being removed. This is something you need to determine after discussing it with the remediation company and your family doctor.
People who have allergies or asthma may be more sensitive to molds.
Sensitive people may experience skin rash, running nose, eye irritation, cough, nasal congestion, aggravation of asthma or difficulty breathing. In addition, others who may be more sensitive to the effects of mold include the elderly, infants and children, people with immune systems are compromised due to HIV infection, cancer, liver disease, or chemotherapy and people with chronic lung disease. Molds produce toxins called mycotoxins. When people are exposed to high levels of mold mycotoxins they may suffer toxic effects, including fatigue, nausea, headaches, and irritation to the lungs and eyes. If you or your family members have health problems that you suspect are caused by exposure to mold, you should consult with your physician.
One very serious byproduct of mold colonization and growth are mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are powerful agents that many link to “sick building syndrome”. More to the point, mycotoxins can cause a range of symptoms in even health adults and children. This array of toxic byproducts has even been known to cause death in some of the most severe cases. We’ll touch on this mold FAQ again.
Not all molds are allergenic. As with pollen, certain mold spores are allergenic because they are small enough to float in the air and evade the protective mechanisms of the respiratory system. The most common allergenic, indoor molds include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Chaetomium, Cladosporium, Fusarium, Mucor, Penicillium, and Stachybotrys.
First of all, “toxic mold” is a bit of a misnomer. Mold itself is not toxic; however, some toxigenic molds (“toxic molds”) produce poisons called mycotoxins, which can cause fatigue, nausea, headaches, eye irritation, and respiratory problems. Stachybotrys mold, also known as black mold, has been known to cause fatal lung bleeding in infants when combined with environmental cigarette smoke.
Toxigenic molds present the all same health problems as other molds, including allergy symptoms in sensitive individuals. Additionally, in some cases, highly toxigenic molds like Stachybotrys and Chaetomium have been blamed for fatigue, nausea, headaches, pulmonary hemorrhage, chronic bronchitis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, cancer, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, learning disabilities, memory loss, and death.
Since they can cause neurological damage, mycotoxins are also neurotoxins, and they have allegedly been used as biological weapons. Some people believe that biological warfare involving mycotoxins contributed to the Gulf War Syndrome, the unexplained illness that affected many soldiers who fought in the Gulf War. Severe mycotoxicosis (mycotoxin poisoning) results in total exhaustion, weakness, loss of muscular coordination, shock, and death.
Like any mold, toxigenic molds thrive in warm, damp conditions. Houses that have been flooded represent the perfect environment for toxic mold growth
If you see small, white, thread-like growths or clusters of small, black dots on the walls of your bathroom or living space, or if you smell a musty odor, then you most likely have a mold problem. In some cases, mold will actually grow within the walls of a house or building, making it more difficult to detect. Some mold, however, is hidden and cannot be easily detected by our senses.
Symptoms of mold allergy include runny nose, itchy nose, sneezing, fatigue, headache, congestion, sniffling, sore throat, itch eyes, and watery eyes. In children, mold allergy typically leads to recurrent respiratory infections.
When you smell the “musty” odor or see small white specs or black you know you have a mold problem. Molds also can be orange, green and purple. Some molds are hidden and could be growing behind walls or ceiling tiles. Even dry, dead mold can cause health problems, so always take precautions when you suspect mold. Mold is often found in areas where water has damaged building materials and furniture from flooding or plumbing leaks. Mold can also be found growing along walls where warm moist air condenses on cooler wall surfaces, such as inside cold exterior walls, behind dressers, headboards, and in closets where articles are stored against walls. Mold often grows in rooms with both high water usage and humidity, such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements. If you notice mold or know of water damaged areas in your home, it is time to take action to control its growth.
Home test kits are not as reliable as professional testing. Most homeowners will use test kits inaccurately, which will cause the results to be unreliable. Although professional testing is more expensive, when your family’s health is at stake it is important to get accurate results.
Mold problems in buildings are a result of water and moisture problems. Excess moisture comes from leaks or condensation. Tenants and landlords both have responsibilities for addressing water and moisture problems that can cause mold. Generally, fixing leaks is the landlord's responsibility and reducing condensation is the renter's responsibility.
Repair any leaks or problems leading to water build-up in your home immediately, and remove all materials that have been damaged by water (this includes wood, wall paper, carpet, etc.). Keep exterior surfaces of your home properly sealed, and avoid piling wood or leaves near your home, as they collect moisture. Scour sinks and tubs at least once a month, and wash out garbage receptacles frequently. Pay particular attention to cracks, seams, and grout in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry areas. Getting rid of indoor plants can also reduce the number of mold spores in the air.
Make sure your home is adequately ventilated. Hidden mold can often grow inside HVAC systems. An allergy relief vent filter will trap the mold before it reaches you.
A HEPA air purifier will remove a minimum of 99.97% of all mold spores in your home, and a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner will suck up microscopic mold spores deep in your carpet so that you can dispose of them.
Monitor the humidity in your home with a hygrometer, or humidity gauge. Keep your home’s humidity between 40 and 50 percent. Most importantly, use a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air and control humidity.
Polyurethane and rubber foams, commonly used in bedding materials, are especially prone to fungus invasion. If you have polyurethane or rubber foam bedding, consider purchasing allergy relief bedding, which is specifically designed to block out allergens.
If you’re allergic to mold, the best method of treatment is to avoid contact with mold spores. Wear an allergy relief mask when working outdoors, and take measures to control mold growth inside your home. You can also talk to your allergist about pharmaceutical and immunotherapy treatment options.
Clean up mold and take care of the problem by following the advice above to keep your home dry and keep mold out. It is important to act fast as mold damages your home as it grows. Clean it up as soon as possible. Decide if you have a large or small area of mold. A small area is less than about ten square feet, or a patch three feet by three feet square. If you have a lot of mold damage (more than ten square feet) consider hiring a professional. If the moldy area has been contaminated by sewage or is in hidden places, hire a professional. The source of moisture must be found and eliminated; otherwise fungal growth will continue to occur.
Protection should always be used; Goggles, gloves, Tyvek suites and breathing protection while working in the area should always be worn. For large consolidated areas of mold growth, an
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) approved particle mask should be worn.
Working Area should always be sealed off
from the rest of your home and heat registers or ventilation ducts/grills should be covered. Contents – will either have to be discarded or cleaned. All affected areas should be scrubbed with an approved EPA bio wash and encapsulated with an approved EPA product. All areas including ceilings, walls and flooring should always be Hepa vacuumed.
Clearance testing should always be performed after remediation is complete.
It is always better to hire a qualified professional. In some cases your homeowners insurance may cover the cost. Check with your insurance carrier. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, you should call a professional if:
· The moldy area is more than 10 square feet.
· You suspect mold is in your HVAC system.
· The mold/water damage was caused by contaminated water such as sewage.
· You have any health concerns. Speak to your physician before starting any mold cleanup.
Removing mold is more difficult than most people think. You need to isolate the mold, set up negative pressure so mold spores don’t get into other parts of your home, wear proper personal protection, and replace porous items that have mold. Here is more about the mold remediation process.
The act of cleaning mold can increase the airborne spore level by ten-thousand times, which can result in severe illness and actually spread mold growth if done improperly. Such high levels of airborne mold spores warrant protective clothing, including gloves, goggles, and a HEPA respirator. If you suspect you have toxic mold in your home, then you should consider hiring a professional mold remediation expert to clean up the mold and safely dispose of it.
In practical terms, just as you cannot kill every single dust mite in your home, you cannot get rid of every single mold spore, but with environmental control, you can get rid of enough of them to see improvement in your allergy symptoms.
If you don’t get to the source of the problem, most importantly the mold will grow back. It can grow under the paint and the paint will only peel.
Yes by keeping your house dry and by fixing any moisture or leaks in your home.
· To reduce moisture in the air, it is beneficial to use dehumidifiers and air conditioners, especially in hot and humid climates.
· It is important to fix any water leaks, repair leaky roofs and plumbing. Keep water away from concrete slabs and basement walls.
· Opening your windows and doors will help to increase air flow in your home, especially along the inside of exterior walls. If there are no windows available using a fan will help.
· Make sure that warm air flows into all areas of the home. Move large objects a few inches away from the inside of exterior walls to increase air circulation.
· Install and use exhaust fans in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.
· Ventilate and insulate attic and crawl spaces. Use heavy plastic or a vapor barrier to cover earth floors in crawl spaces.
· Clean and dry water damaged carpets, clothing, bedding, and upholstered furniture within 24 to 48 hours, or consider removing and replacing damaged furnishings.
· Vacuum and clean your home regularly to remove mold spores.
· Check around your windows for signs of condensation and water droplets. Wipe them up right away so mold can’t start to grow.
The key to prevention is moisture control. Mold can’t grow without excessive moisture. Check under sinks for leaks. Look in your attic from time to time and check to see if the roof is leaking. Run an exhaust fan in the bathrooms when you are showering and leave the door or window open a crack. If you have a humidifier built into your heating system, buy a hygrometer to monitor the humidity levels in your home.