Fungi have been around longer than humans, and our immune systems have adapted to tolerate them over millennia. But mold can still cause health problems and unsightly blooms in your home.
Mold season in the U.S. runs from spring to mid-fall, and if you live in a region where the ambient humidity is over 80%, you've got a year-long hassle on your hands. We cover all the basics below, so you can take action at the first sign of mold.
Mold releases spores in moist, warm conditions, which is why you often see it on bathroom ceiling tiles and in the corners of your shower. It feeds and grows on dust, paint, rubber, wood, and other materials. You might see it on your walls, window frames, rugs, and houseplant soil, for example.
Clothing, pets, open windows, and HVAC systems can all welcome the problematic spores into your home.
Before mold comes mildew, and this precursor is easier to get rid of than its mature counterpart. Mildew grows on the top of accommodating objects, while mold can penetrate and spread below the surface. Mildew looks powdery, and mold looks fuzzy or slimy.
You'll be able to smell mold, too, if there's enough of it. Here's a gross fact for you: that dusty smell is the gasses mold emits so, basically, fungus farts!
It's rare for black mold to colonize a home. If the tendrils you see are black, it's not likely to be the lethal species you've heard about from cases like that of the late Hollywood actress Brittany Murphy.
Be wary of scare tactics because unless remediators do genome sequencing on mold, they can't confirm the presence of toxic black mold.
If your house or apartment has high quantities of fungi, that means you're breathing in spores daily. This environment can sensitize you to a point where your immune system goes into overdrive at the merest suggestion of mold, resulting in constant sniffles and sneeze.
Exposing infants to such conditions can increase the risk of pneumonia or asthma. And health factors aside, mold can also permanently damage your interiors, which is costly.
Mold filaments that land on your mucous membranes lead to sneezing, itching, teary eyes, running noses, and coughing. They can also worsen asthma. To the mold, your lungs are no different from your wallpaper or carpets.
About 5% of the population is overly sensitive to mold, and this sensitivity can lead to respiratory issues. Immunocompromised individuals need to take special precautions.
You don't need special products to eliminate mold from the surfaces in your home. Mix a cup of laundry detergent with a gallon of water and scrub the area with a brush, then rinse and leave it to dry. Try tackling mold with a vinegar spray for a more natural approach, or use baking soda for some added scrubby power.
Unfortunately, you may have to dispose of contaminated fabrics like blankets, rugs, or curtains if you cannot fit them into your washing machine or if they require expert care to clean.
It's tempting to paint over moldy walls to make the problem instantly disappear. But this quick fix is superficial, and the paint will end up peeling. Before applying a new lick of paint, scrub your walls until the mold is gone, and let them dry completely. Don't caulk over mold, either, because the fungus will just keep spreading.
The E.P.A. advises against using bleach because the fumes may be dangerous, and this product doesn't always work, anyway. It can only treat hard surfaces—not those that are porous, like drywall.
If you opt for bleach, never mix it with ammonia or household cleaners, as the combo is poisonous. Ventilate the room, and use protective goggles and rubber gloves.
A professional mold-removal service may have a long warranty, but you still have to take basic measures, depending on your climate, such as changing the filters in your air conditioner, buying a dehumidifier for summer, and installing an exhaust fan in your bathroom. Drain the water in your dehumidifier frequently.
You need to get to the root of the matter to eradicate significant mold issues permanently. Check for leaks in your roof or cracks in your foundation. Mold-resistant paint won't kill existing mold but will keep outbreaks at bay. Change old bedding if you struggle with mold allergies. It's gross but true: mite poo in your bed provides food for mold, and when you add your sweat to the mix, it's happy days for the fungus.
The E.P.A. has a simple gauge for whether you can D.I.Y. to fix the situation or need to hire a pro. If your home has over 10 square feet of mold, you've got to outsource help. The industry is under-regulated, and remediators may exaggerate the situation in your home to lock in the job or charge high rates. However, home tests are unreliable, so don't fork out the cash.
There are also questions about the usefulness of the mold fog some remediators use to treat homes. The I.I.C.R.C. is a good resource if you're looking for reliable mold remediators, but still always check references, especially if you're looking to clean up valuable items.