Like many others I suffered from allergies as a child. The allergy screening my pediatrician conducted revealed my greatest allergies were to dust and mold. Mold was especially problematic because our house was built around 1910 and the brick basement walls routinely allowed water to seep through. Consequently we often dealt with moisture in the air – a common factor in the production of molds.
Mold is a fungus that can be found anywhere in nature. It can survive indoors and outdoors at any time of the year. However, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it grows best in locations that are warm, damp and humid.
Mold spreads by producing tiny spores that are released into the air. Coming in contact with these mold spores can produce allergic reactions including sneezing, runny nose, red eyes and even skin rashes. They can even produce asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.
You may have heard that some molds are toxic and pose an even greater danger. While certain types of molds can produce toxins the mold itself is not toxic or poisonous. The CDC has reported a few cases where mold toxins created a further health risk. However, under normal circumstances the mold types and levels we experience on a daily basis are not harmful beyond fever-like allergy or asthma symptoms.
Regardless all molds should be taken with the same amount of care whether it is a kind that produces toxins or not.
How to Recognize You Have a Mold Problem
Mold can be detected in several ways.
Obviously the first way is with your eyes. It most often appears as a gray, white, brown, yellow, green or black discoloration on a surface. This gallery from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is worth looking at to see the various types of mold as they appear in different locations around the home.
Sight isn’t the only method to detect molds as it also gives off a distinct smell. No doubt you have walked into a basement where you could detect a bad odor such as a musty or earthy smell. It could even be described as a foul stench. This is another significant clue that mold may be present even if you can’t see it.
However you come across mold it’s best to take care of it right away. You don’t want the problem growing worse that it is. That will only lead to a higher cost of cleanup and more potential health problems.
Common Places to Find Mold in the Home
Mold grows in areas where moisture is routinely found so look for it in these common areas around the home:
- around windows where moisture condenses
- near leaky sinks or pipes
- on basement walls or in a crawlspace
- on bathroom tile
- in or near shower and tub areas
- on exposed insulation facing in attics
- in washing machines
- on the refrigerator’s gasket or water dispenser drip pan
However, not all molds grow out in the open for you to see. Some molds hide in your home in places you might never suspect. According to the EPA, the top places for mold to hide include:
- the backside of drywall
- behind wallpaper or paneling
- on the top side of ceiling tiles
- underneath carpets and pads
- inside walls around pipes or on wood framing (due to leaking or condensing pipes)
- the surface of walls behind furniture
- inside ductwork
- in roof materials above the ceiling (due to roof leaks or insufficient insulation)
How to Get Rid of Mold
If you are wondering how to get rid of mold, here is one thing you should realize: don’t delay in cleaning it up. The quicker it can be removed the less chance it has to spread and cause further damage.
Your first step should be to identify the problem. Fix any plumbing, roof or basement leaks or any other water problems and dry the affected areas completely.
After the moisture is brought under control scrub mold off hard surfaces with a simple detergent and water.
You can use a commercial product or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. DO NOT mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaning products as this may produce toxic fumes. Be sure to use non-porous gloves and protective eye wear and ventilate the area by opening doors and windows. You should also purchase a N95 respirator mask from a local hardware store to limit exposure to airborne mold spores.
If the water damage has caused the mold growth to exceed more than 10 square feet, the EPA suggests you consult Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings for recommendations that apply to all building types.
If you have doubts in your capability to clean the mold hire a contractor or a mold removal specialist. Find out if they have experience cleaning up mold and ask for references. You should insist they follow the recommendations of the EPA or other professional organization to which they belong.
Tips to Prevent and Control Mold
The best remedy for the growth of mold is to be proactive. To prevent and control it in your home follow these suggestions from the EPA and CDC:
- Clean up water leaks, spills and condensation promptly. Mold will generally not grow if the wet or damp area is cleaned within 24-48 hours.
- Routinely clean gutters.
- Grade exterior dirt so it slopes away from the home’s foundation.
- Regularly clean air conditioning drip pans and drain lines.
- Measure the indoor humidity with a humidity meter. Keep indoor humidity levels between 30 – 50 percent by running a dehumidifier.
- Ensure you have adequate ventilation in problem areas like kitchens or bathrooms.
- Use mold-killing cleaning products in the bathroom.
- Do not carpet areas with high moisture probability such as bathrooms or basements.
- Use mold inhibiting paint when painting in areas susceptible to mold.
The indoor environment cannot be entirely cleansed of molds and mold spores. The biggest key to controlling their growth is to control the moisture levels in the home. If that’s done properly then mold spores will be reduced and those that are allergic to mold will be able to breath easier.
Questions: Have you ever dealt with a mold problem? Did you know right away how to get rid of mold? Or did you have to figure it out? What did the cleanup cost you?