Mother Earth Living

Break the Mold: Natural Solutions for Toxic Household Mold

Armed with a little knowledge and a few common-sense tips, you can beat dangerous household mold.
By Annie B. Bond
November/December 2010
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Keep your house and family healthy—prevent toxic mold from growing in your home.


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Though it’s often green and certainly “all-natural,” easy-growing mold can negatively affect your and your family’s well-being, especially if you are chronically exposed to it in your home. Mold comes in a rainbow of colors, and you can recognize it by its earthy, musty smell. Symptoms of mold exposure range from mild stuffiness to asthma and depression. Fortunately, you can take a few simple steps to eliminate mold and keep it from growing in your home.

Why and where mold grows 

Mold requires food, water and habitat. Eliminate these necessities to prevent mold.

Food. Mold needs nutrients to grow. Nutrients are natural materials, not inert materials such as metal. For example, it is unlikely mold would grow on condensation on a porcelain toilet, but once condensation drips to the wooden floor, mold growth is likely.
Fix-it list: Sources of mold nutrition include damp wood, paper, carpet, textiles, plastics, skin oils, carpentry materials such as wallboard, and food such as vegetables and grains.

Water. Mold thrives in water. Fix leaks, use dehumidifiers and eliminate condensation sources. For damp basements, consider a floor seal such as B-Dry.
Fix-it list: Sources of moisture include leaky pipes, damp basements, floods, houseplants, humidity, condensation, leaks, poor ventilation, damp clothes, refrigerators and spills.

Habitat. Mold spores reproduce and thrive in high humidity from 40 to 130 degrees.
Fix-it list: Consider buying a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels. Maintain 30 to 55 percent humidity to deter mold growth.

The interface between cold and warm parts of the house produces high relative humidity, creating perfect spots for mold to grow. Mold-growing condensation can build in floor joists between an unheated basement and a heated first floor, in the cavity between a warm wall and a cold wall, around uninsulated cold water plumbing lines or between carpet and a cool basement floor. The EPA offers tips to reduce mold risk: Reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces by adding insulation; reduce indoor humidity by venting bathrooms, dryers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; and do not install carpet in areas with a perpetual moisture problem.

Eliminate mold safely 

■  Eliminate sources of food; reduce habitat humidity.
■  Fix leaks and condensation sources, and place dehumidifiers in damp areas.
■  Address moisture problems in roofs or basements. Fresh air and sunlight help kill mold.
■  For small mold problems, mix 2 teaspoons white distilled vinegar or tea tree oil with 2 cups water in a spray bottle, spray on mold and don’t rinse. Vinegar kills most mold spores, and tea tree oil is a fungicide.
■  Cleaning up mold can be dangerous. If you have more than 10 square feet of mold, or encounter black or greenish-black mold, hire a contractor.

Natural Tip: Condensation near a nutrient source such as wallboard leads to mold. Stop condensation from forming, stop mold from growing!

Types of Mold 

The thousands of mold types are classified into three groups according to their effect on people: allergenic, pathogenic and toxigenic. Your concern about exposure is best evaluated according to these factors and your personal mold sensitivity.

Allergenic molds: Allergenic molds affect mainly those with mold allergies or asthma. Anyone with mold allergies must be vigilant about keeping mold growth out of the home. People regularly exposed to mold can develop allergies, so eliminate as much mold growth as possible. 

Pathogenic molds: Pathogenic molds tend to target the lungs. While most people with healthy immune systems don’t develop infections from pathogenic molds, they are a big concern for those with compromised systems.

Toxigenic molds: Toxigenic molds can cause health problems such as allergic responses and infections in anybody. Toxigenic molds inside homes cause serious health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss.

Resources 

Information 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
mold information site

Environmental Protection Agency
“Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home”

National Association of Homebuilders
mold resource center

Products 

Air Mechanical, Inc.
dehumidifiers

B-Dry
floor waterproofing system

Broan
ventilation fans

Calutech
germicidal UV lights

Damp Free Homes
solar dehumidifiers

Honeywell
hygrometers

Nature’s Odor and Germ Control 
Mold and Mildew Kit

Annie B. Bond, editor-in-chief of www.greenchicafe.com, is the best-selling author of five books: Better Basics for the Home, True Food, Clean & Green, The Green Kitchen Handbook, and Home Enlightenment. 


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