I Have Mold in My Home – What Do I Do About It?

Although it’s not as “hot” a “scare story” in the press as it was a few years ago, the problem of toxic mold in our homes is still as relevant as it ever was. And the mold itself is still as dangerous – it’s been proven to be the cause of a number of health problems, ranging from sneezing and coughing to allergic reactions to asthma attacks, and even permanent lung damage.

What is mold?

Mold is a fungus that reproduces via spores. And the spores are pretty much everywhere; they blow on the wind and are tiny enough to blow through window screens. Once in our homes, they flourish and grow in areas that are constantly damp or that have been flooded or exposed to moisture, such as basements, bathrooms, and storage sheds. Mold can even flourish inside walls, if moisture has seeped into them.

Even though it is so prevalent, mold can be difficult to detect. Visual patches of mold tend to appear as blotches or discolorations on walls, furniture, or items stored in basements. But if you see no visual signs of mold but can still detect a musty odor, especially in damp areas, you probably have mold. And you should look into getting rid of it, because it can affect your family’s health.

Why is mold a bad thing, and why should I get rid of it?

When mold spores are blown into our homes and begin to grow, they produce more spores. These spores may in many cases be microscopic, but again they become airborne, in an attempt to spread. Once in the air, they pose a health risk to anyone who breathes them in. Exposure to mold spores can cause symptoms that resemble colds, coughing, sore throats, and congestion in the sinuses. They are particularly dangerous for anyone who has a history of asthma, and exposure to them can cause asthma attacks. Consequently, if you can reduce or eliminate mold from your home, it is in your interest and your family’s interest to do so.

Can I safely remove mold from my home myself, or do I need to call a professional?

The answer to this question depends on how large the infestations of mold are. In general, they can be small (less than one square yard in size), moderate (one area of mold one to three square yards in size, or multiple small patches of mold), or large (when any one patch of mold is larger than three square yards). If your home contains large areas of mold, you should seek professional help to remove it, because trying to do it yourself would be ineffective, and possibly dangerous. But if you adhere to the following guidelines, offered by air quality experts and health authorities, it is safe to remove smaller areas of mold yourself.

Safely removing mold from walls and floors

If the moldy areas appear on walls, cabinets, or floors, the best way to remove them is by cleaning the area with a detergent solution. Before doing this, however, you should go to the hardware store and buy goggles, a face mask, and rubber or vinyl gloves, and wear them at all times during the cleanup effort. Wear protective clothing that covers all exposed areas of your skin while cleaning, and then wash the clothing afterwards.

If you are working in a stuffy basement or confined area, open a window to make sure it is ventilated properly while you are working. Then scrub the moldy areas with the detergent solution, trying to remove all visible signs of discoloration. When you have finished, rinse the area with clean water and wipe it dry with a rag or sponge. Some experts in mold removal recommend adding 1 part bleach to 10 parts water in your final rinse, but others recommend just the opposite. In any case, do not use full-strength bleach to remove the mold or rinse the area afterwards, because fumes from the bleach are probably worse for your health than the mold is.

After the areas are clean and have been allowed to dry completely (using fans or space heaters if necessary, especially in damp basements), clean up the area using a vacuum cleaner equipped with HEPA filters. After the cleanup, continue to monitor the area to make sure that the mold does not return. If it does, that is an indication that you have a water leak or a seepage problem or some other issue that will require professional help to resolve.

What about belongings or other things that have gotten moldy?

In most cases, throw them away. Definitely throw away carpets or mattresses; if mold has infected these materials, no amount of cleaning the outside of them will remove the spores that have seeped into the interiors of them.

If you have areas of drywall that have been soaked and internally infected with mold, you may have to remove or replace them, because again it is almost impossible to get rid of the mold in their interiors. If mold has affected wood walls or struts, you should first clean them with a vacuum cleaner equipped with HEPA filters, and if stains are still visible, you may have to sand the wood down to remove all traces of the spores, and then vacuuming again. Accumulations of mold on concrete or other porous surfaces should be handled the same way.

All in all, it’s a messy job, but it’s one that is important for your family’s health.

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Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Juliette's resume, facebook: juliette.siegfriedmph, linkedin: juliettes, (+31) 683 673 767

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