Mold: There is no escaping it. It’s in the air outside, it’s in your bathroom, and it might even be under your carpet. Mold spores, whose special function is to break down dead organic matter in the outdoors, can float indoors through windows and doors -- or even by attaching to your clothes. This migration isn’t usually a problem, but it becomes one when mold spores find indoor moisture and start to multiply, causing potential irritations and health problems.
“Mold spores are potentially everywhere,” says Phoebe Yin, ND, a clinical supervisor at Bastyr University's Seattle teaching clinic, Bastyr Center for Natural Health. “We can’t get rid of them, but we can prevent them from growing.” So if you want to minimize the mold, keep your indoor environment nice and dry.
This ought to be an easy task, but sometimes moisture and resulting mold is hard to detect. When black patches show up on your bathroom tiles, mold spores declare their presence. But mold or mildew may also hide in less obvious places, such as behind wallpaper, on the back side of drywall, or underneath basement carpet inside the pad. “Concrete is porous, and water from the ground gets into concrete and then into carpet,” Dr. Yin explains. Mold can also grow in ventilation/HVAC systems and in air conditioning units.
Signs of potential mold growth (or mold-friendly conditions) include:
- Musty smells
- Black area or discoloration (it can also be green, red and other colors)
- Condensation on windows
- Moisture drops on the outside of hot water pipes
- Old rusty pipes
- Paint that frequently chips and falls off (there may be mold growing underneath)
- Symptoms that may include exacerbation of asthma, sneezing, itchy or runny nose, a rash, burning eyes, headaches, and other symptoms.
How to Manage It
In the workplace or in a rental unit, you often must rely on others to address nagging mold problems in the building’s materials. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both provide information about actions you can take. You can handle most minor household mold issues yourself, but if over 10 square-feet of damage has occurred, it may be best to consult with local environmental group or a professional before attempting to address the damage.
To clean moldy surfaces, use a solution of 10 percent bleach and water or a vinegar and water solution. Even better, try to identify the cause of the moisture and address that, says Dr. Yin. She suggests that when cleaning mold, it is a good idea to wear an N-95 respirator, which can be found at hardware stores, and also to ventilate the room in which you are working.
But beyond scrubbing, you can do many other things that can help minimize mold:
- Fix the source of water problems or leaks to prevent mold growth.
- Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
- Run a fan for at least 20 minutes after taking a shower.
- Ventilate when doing laundry.
- Wash the toilet and tub frequently with borax, which kills mold.
- Wash windows once a week with a 10-20 percent white-vinegar and water solution.
- Use a dehumidifier if necessary.
- Sprinkle baking soda on basement carpet, leave for a few days and vacuum up; this helps with absorbing some moisture. Or better yet, get rid of your ground-level carpeting if there is a moisture problem.
For more information about managing mold, visit the EPA’s web site. Many naturopathic physicians are also skilled at helping you identify whether indoor toxicity may be contributing to health problems. As another option, the American Lung Association can send out a master home environmentalist to assess your home’s indoor health.
To make an appointment at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, call (206) 834-4100.