Finding mold in your home can be quite frustrating, to say the least. Mold can be particularly hazardous to some individuals; not everyone will be affected equally. Before you can get rid of the fungus, however, it’s best to identify it to make sure you’re using the most effective method.
What Is Mold?
Mold is a natural fungus that can grow indoors as well as outdoors. There are many species of mold, but the actual number is unknown.
Experts estimate that the number of species ranges between tens of thousands to over three hundred thousand (1).
Mold spreads and reproduces through spores. These can survive extreme environmental changes that the mold itself wouldn’t be able to survive, such as dry conditions. You may discover mold in dark, moist areas such as the basement, bathroom corners or behind appliances (2).
It comes in various colors ranging from black to yellow, as well as different textures such as fluffy or gooey. Not all mold is a health hazard, but some species do have toxic byproducts.
A close cousin to mold is mildew. They’re commonly found in the same conditions and are often confused with one another. However, there are some distinct differences between the two.
Mildew isn’t as colorful as mold; it’s generally grey or white in color, but will turn brown or dark overtime. Mold, on the other hand, can range in color depending on the species and area.
Another way to distinguish between the two is by the form; mold will usually grow rapidly whereas mildew remains flat. When it comes to texture, mold can be anything between dry and fuzzy to slimy and gooey. Mildew, in comparison, is dry, fluffy or powdery.
Where you can find mold or mildew also varies. The latter is generally found outdoors growing on crops and plants. Mold, on the other hand, will grow on any suitable surface where there’s moisture and darkness (3).
When either mold or mildew is found indoors, it’s crucial you take action. Both can cause severe health effects if inhaled or touched. The two can lead to respiratory problems as well as allergic reactions and asthma attacks.
Health Effects of Mold
Mold might make your basement smell rather musty, but there are also other unpleasant effects from the fungus.
It can affect your own and your loved ones’ health in various ways if inhaled or touched.
Worsening of Asthma
If you’re dealing with asthma and discover mold in your home, it will most likely be the reason why you’re feeling worse. Exposure to mold is known to worsen asthma and even trigger attacks. Children exposed to mold in early childhood are also more likely to develop asthma.
Allergic symptoms are some of the most common health effects of mold.
Some individuals have a specific mold allergy, which means they’re extra sensitive when exposed. Allergic symptoms can include things like a runny nose, sneezing or irritated throat. It can also lead to skin rashes if touched.
The reactions typically occur when mold spores are inhaled. These spores are not visible to the naked eye and will usually float around in the air. As the spores are inhaled, the immune system reacts by causing allergic symptoms to remove the foreign object.
Unfortunately, a mold allergy can be particularly challenging. One reason why is because the more you’re exposed, the more sensitive you become (4).
One of the more unpleasant effects of mold is hair loss. As your body reacts to the mold spores, the immune system releases histamine. Histamine causes inflammation and disrupts the blood flow to the vessels, capillaries, that deliver nourishment to the hair strands.
When this happens, the strands don’t get the nourishment they need to grow properly. This leads to hair breakage or loss (5).
Irritated or Itchy Skin
If you’re sensitive to mold, you might experience some skin irritation when in contact with the fungus. Severe skin reactions can lead to large bumps filled with pus. Milder reactions might include redness, itchiness and soreness (6).
Our eyes are one of the most sensitive organs in our body and therefore can quickly be affected by mold. Mold might not be the main culprit, but their spores can do significant harm when floating around in the air.
Mold spores consist of multiple substances that can irritate our eyes. The fungus can actually produce volatile organic compounds. These include alcohols, sulfur, nitrogen, carboxylic acids and ketones.
Volatile organic compounds can irritate the mucous membranes in the eyes. How much you’re affected depends on how sensitive your eyes are and the concentration of the spores (7).
Sinus Infection or Inflammation
Mold can also cause a sinus infection when spores make their way into the sinuses. The immune system then releases blood cells called eosinophils, which help to fight the spores.
However, as eosinophils fight the fungus, they create highly unpleasant side effects. One of such is fungal sinusitis, which will cause irritation until the spores are fully removed from the sinus cavity (8).
Worse still, it can be tricky to get rid of the fungus thanks to the optimal environment the sinuses provide. Mold spores thrive in dark, warm and moist areas — exactly what the sinuses are.
Headaches and Migraines
Headaches and migraines are very common symptoms of mold exposure. They can be triggered by a couple of reasons, such as a mold allergy when spores are inhaled. A sinus infection caused by mold exposure can also result in a headache or migraine.
Severe inflammation can cause pressure to build, resulting in a headache. Exposure to the toxic substance molds and other fungi produce, called mycotoxins, can also cause a headache or migraine (9).
What Causes Mold to Form?
Mold can grow nearly anywhere as long as the fungus has what it needs to thrive.
Here are a few things that mold needs to grow:
- Spores: Mold spreads and reproduces through spores. The microscopic spores usually travel through the air before landing on a surface. Spores can survive harsh environmental changes that mold won’t survive.
- Moisture: Moisture is vital for mold to grow. That’s why you often find mold in damp or moist areas after a water leak or flooding.
- Warmth: The combination of moisture and warmth is what makes the perfect spot for mold to grow. Mold can’t grow in cold temperatures.
- Darkness: The fungus prefers the comfort of a dark location where it’s unseen. This is also a reason why it’s recommended to install UV light bulbs since mold can’t grow under this light.
- Food: Yes, mold needs to feed on something as well. The fungus can feed on any organic material containing carbon atoms. You’ll also find mold on your food if it’s left for too long.
- Oxygen: Similar to other living organisms, mold requires oxygen to grow. However, the fungus can live on even the smallest amount of oxygen, which is why it’s difficult to fight it by cutting off supply.
- Time: Mold won’t begin to grow straight away; it needs 24 to 48 hours in optimal conditions to begin growing.
Types of Mold
There are countless species of mold. Some are toxic and pose a risk to our health, while others aren’t harmful.
Identifying the mold in your house can give you a headstart in removing it.
Red mold is a type of yeast often found on natural materials such as wood. You can also find this mold underneath vinyl flooring and carpets. Red mold can be tricky to spot since it’s often overshadowed by other molds, usually black (10).
Red and pink molds are often confused with each other. However, pink is often found in bathroom settings, unlike red mold. This type of mold in itself isn’t as harmful as others. But because it’s often accompanied by darker molds, you might experience a few symptoms.
Because this mold prefers more organic areas, it can often be found on food, especially bread. If you were to accidentally ingest some red mold, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. However, if you have an allergy towards mold, you could have some reactions.
Black mold, also often referred to as toxic mold, is one of the most feared molds. However, there are many molds that are black — in fact, the “black mold” most people refer to is actually more greenish.
This mold is called Stachybotrys chartarum, and it can release mycotoxins. Mycotoxins have been linked to mold poisoning, also known as mycotoxicosis (11). Other symptoms of exposure to mycotoxins include:
- Mood changes.
- Memory loss.
- Pains and aches.
Despite some claims, black mold can’t cause cancer or lung diseases. A study done in 2004 was unable to link exposure to mold with cancer (12).
Similar to black mold, there are many green mold species. The most common of which are Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Cladosporium. You can find green mold in different areas of your home — which genus it is can be determined by the location (13).
Here’s a quick explanation of the three common green molds:
- Aspergillus: This species is most often found on sweet, starchy foods such as fruit and bread. Aspergillus is also commonly used to ferment alcohol and produce citric acid.
- Penicillium: As the name may suggest, this mold is actually used to produce penicillin. Nonetheless, certain forms of the mold can be harmful. This mold doesn’t require as much moisture to grow as other species.
- Cladosporium: One of the most common species, you can find it on any plant material, living or dead. Its spores can be found in the air year-round, and you might be most affected during the summer when concentrations are high. When the weather is colder, the spores’ concentration is significantly lower. Cladosporium mold is parasitic and will infest the area it’s living on. It’s known to suck the nutrients out of the plant until it dies.
White mold often resembles other molds. In fact, many homeowners don’t realize they have white mold due to the color. It can also be hard to detect, as it can be subtle in some instances. Unlike black mold, which is usually gooey, white mold is more flaky or powdery.
You can find white mold growing on fabrics, food, plants and other organic materials. It’s also commonly found on drywalls, carpets and wood.
White mold isn’t as hazardous as black mold, but it can still cause a few allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. When left for too long, white mold can cause damage to structural buildings as well.
How to Detect Mold?
Mold isn’t always visible when growing within a household. Even if you’re experiencing certain physical symptoms such as a runny nose, is mold the cause?
Here are a few signs to look for:
Before you see mold, you’re likely to smell it. People often describe a “moldy” smell present in a house with mold. This can be musty or even sour, depending on where the mold is growing and the species.
If you get a whiff of a musty odor, try to use your nose and trace the odor. When it’s at its strongest, you might be close to the moldy area. Search the area behind furniture or underneath carpeting.
If you feel like your allergies are extra agitated, it could be caused by mold. Individuals with allergies or mold allergies will be extra affected in a house with mold. The spores will be present in the air, being inhaled as you breathe.
Even if you’re not allergic, you might still have a runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion or sore eyes. If you do notice any allergic reactions when you’re inside your house, but which go away when you leave, mold is likely the cause.
Seeing mold is an obvious sign that you have a problem in your home. In some instances, seeing mold might indicate that the growth is at a high level since mold usually grows where it’s dark.
If you suspect mold in your home, look behind appliances such as the refrigerator and dishwasher. You can also look underneath carpets, sinks, cabinets and the basement.
Seeing any signs of mold, you must take immediate action. If you feel like the task is too grand, you can call a professional for further testing to see how it’s best removed.
If you spot a darkened area and wonder if it might be mold, there’s an easy way to find out. Simply dab a few drops of bleach onto the area and wait a few minutes. If it lightens within the first few minutes, you’re dealing with mold or mildew. But if it remains dark, it’s likely dirt.
How to Remove Mold
When removing mold, you can use different approaches.
This typically depends on the area and surface the mold is growing on.
You can buy commercial products, but certain products already in your home can also be useful. Bleach, ammonia, baking soda, borax and vinegar are highly effective when used correctly.
Because mold can cause allergic reactions or skin rashes, we highly recommend that you protect yourself before getting started. Wear a mask, goggles and gloves to avoid any contact with the mold.
To remove mold from a wall, all you need is chlorine bleach, water and a stiff brush. Make a solution of three parts water and one part bleach. Dip the stiff brush in the solution and begin to scrub the moldy area.
Keep going until it lightens and the mold begins to disappear. Once you’re done, dry the wall thoroughly to prevent any new mold from forming.
There are a few ways to remove mold from wood, depending on whether the wood is natural or painted.
Painted wood might only have mold growing on the surface and this can be cleaned using soap and water. Use a soft brush to scrub the area until it’s clean. You can also use distilled white vinegar instead.
Natural wood, though, is more absorbent and will likely have mold growing deeper. For this, make a solution of detergent, bleach and water. Combine one part detergent, 10 parts bleach and 20 parts water in a bucket.
Use a scrub sponge or stiff brush to apply the solution and scrub thoroughly. Allow it to air dry. This enables the bleach solution to penetrate the wood, killing any mold within.
How you remove mold from a drywall depends on whether it’s painted or unpainted. An unpainted drywall may need to be replaced if the mold is severe.
1. Mix Your Solution
If the mold is only mild, you can start by trying a mild solution of one part baking soda to five parts water. Mix it in a spray bottle and give it a thorough shake to combine well. If the mold is severe, you can use more potent solutions such as vinegar, detergent or bleach.
Vinegar can be used concentrated or diluted. Bleach should be mixed one part bleach with three parts water. Add your chosen solution to a spray bottle as this will be easier to apply when cleaning a drywall.
2. Apply and Scrub
Spray the solution onto the entire area of mold growth. Avoid drenching the area, so use only a small amount.
Scrub the area using a sponge or soft brush. Be gentle if the wall is painted so as not to damage it. Keep going until there’s no more visible mold.
Be sure you dry the wall to avoid any damage. You can start by wiping it down with an old cloth or towel. Place a fan in front of the area you cleaned to speed up the drying process.
In the Shower
Mold in the shower is likely to occur due to the moisture. The easiest way to remove mold from the shower is by using chlorine bleach.
Mix one part bleach with three parts water. If the mold is more significant, reduce the water to two parts. Spray the area with the bleach solution and allow it 10 to 15 minutes to kill the mold.
Use a stiff brush to scrub the mold away and you should see the area lightening quickly. You might need to use a smaller brush (old toothbrush) to get into tighter areas. Once you’re done, rinse the entire area and wipe it dry with a cloth or towel.
Keep in Mind
Unless you have a white or light-colored carpet, using bleach to remove mold is a no go since it can discolor the fibers. Instead, we like to use distilled white vinegar — this method is also quite simple and doesn’t require a lot of scrubbing.
Start by filling a spray bottle with pure vinegar. Then spray it onto the affected area and allow it to sit for at least an hour. The vinegar smell will be rather strong, but it will dissipate as it dries. After the hour is up, use a soft brush to scrub the area and blot it dry with a cloth.
If you have an old couch or chair that has been in storage for a while, there might be a bit of mold growing on it. This is easily removed so you can restore your furniture.
1. Cover the Area
Lay out some old newspaper or plastic bags on the floor around the furniture being cleaned. This will catch any mold spores that might fall down as you’re cleaning.
2. Brush off Excess Mold
Use a brush to remove any loose mold and spores from the furniture. This makes it easier to clean the furniture.
3. Make a Solution
Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Alternatively, you can mix two tablespoons of ammonia in a quart of water.
Dip a sponge in the solution and wring out the excess. Scrub the furniture using circular motions — avoid using too much water as to not drench the surface. Rinse and wring the sponge when needed.
You can use a cloth or towel to blot up excess water and solution. If possible, place the furniture outside in the sun or in a well-ventilated area to dry completely.
On the Ceiling
When removing mold from the ceiling, you’ll need a stable ladder and protective gear. Wear goggles and a mask in case any mold were to fall on you while cleaning.
For ceilings, we like to use hydrogen peroxide. It’s an excellent alternative to bleach since it’s safe to use and won’t harm you or the environment. You can add a spray nozzle to the hydrogen peroxide bottle and spray it directly onto the area.
Allow it up to 10 minutes to sit before scrubbing with a brush or sponge. Use back and forward motions to loosen the mold. If the area is large or persistent, take a few breaks in between.
Dry the area once you’re done to avoid any damage. Keep the room well-ventilated to further help the drying process.
In the Basement
When you find mold in your basement, you must check areas such as HVAC vents and any other air intakes. Spores can get caught here and form mold when moisture is introduced. Consider taking the vents out and cleaning them as recommended.
1. Clear the Basement
Open up doors and windows to create a good ventilation through the basement. Next, remove all contaminated objects, such as old cardboard boxes, books or newspapers.
To remove any loose mold, start by vacuuming the entire floor using a strong vacuum with a HEPA filter. The HEPA filter will prevent any spores from making their way back into the air.
3. Make a Solution
If you have hard floors and walls in your basement, mix one gallon of water with two cups of bleach. For porous surfaces, you can use one part mild dish detergent mixed with 10 parts bleach and 20 parts water.
4. Apply and Scrub
Use a spray bottle to make the application easy. You can also dip a sponge or cloth in the solution and then apply it to the affected area.
Allow the mold-busting solution to sit for up to 15 minutes before scrubbing with a stiff brush. Keep scrubbing until the mold begins to disappear. Rinse the brush often to avoid spreading the mold.
Fill a bucket with clean water and use a clean sponge to rinse the entire area. Keep re-wetting the sponge as you’re going to get all the solution and mold off of the surfaces.
In the Air
Getting rid of visible mold is one thing, but trying to remove what you can’t see can be a challenge. Luckily, there are a few ways to successfully remove mold spores from the air:
1. Kill Visible Mold
The first step you have to take is to remove any visible mold. Check all areas where mold could grow and use either bleach and water or a commercial mold-killing product. Follow with a mold-preventing product to help keep future mold at bay.
2. Use Air Purifiers
Air purifiers are often underrated, but installing one or more in your home can help to reduce mold spores. Choose a good purifier that’s fitted with a HEPA filter, such as the Hathaspace which can capture up to 99.97 percent of airborne particles.
3. Install a Dehumidifier
A dehumidifier will help to reduce the moisture in your home by up to 50 percent. This can make the indoor environment unconducive for mold growth.
4. Install Disposable Filters in Central Air System
Mold spores will eventually find their way into the central air system, where they can quickly spread to other rooms. So by installing a disposable filter in your central air system, you can catch mold spores before they make their way into your home.
Mold can easily grow on clothing and fabric. You might have an old t-shirt in the back of the closet or a pair of undies at the bottom of the laundry basket — if so, you get it. With just a small amount of moisture, mold is likely to grow.
1. Brush Off Mold
Start by brushing off mold using a small brush, such as an old toothbrush. Try to remove as much of the mold as you can. Then, the toothbrush should be discarded immediately.
2. Apply a Stain Remover
After scraping off loose mold, apply a commercial mold stain remover to help get rid of the stains left by the mold. These should also be able to kill some of the mold. Most stain removers should be left on the area for a certain amount of time — follow the directions provided.
3. Wash Alone
Moldy clothes should be washed alone to avoid contaminating other clothing items. Use hot water and your regular detergent. Add three-quarters of a cup to the washer once it’s filled with water. Vinegar will help to kill the mold while also deodorizing your clothes.
4. Air Dry
Once the clothes have been washed, hang them out in the sun to dry.
From Paper or Books
With delicate paper or old books, you must be very gentle when removing mold. Always start by carefully brushing off the mold using a soft brush. You can also try using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, fitted with a dryer sheet over the nozzle.
If you’re cleaning a paperback book, use a soft cloth lightly saturated in denatured alcohol to gently wipe the surface. Make sure you dab away excess moisture.
For leather or hardbacks, you can also use denatured alcohol, but make sure you test it in an inconspicuous area first (15).
Because leather is not washable, it’s difficult to clean it properly. If your old jacket or other leather item is stored in a dark, damp closet, mold is very likely to grow. Here’s how to remove it:
1. Make a Solution
Combine equal amounts of rubbing alcohol and water in a large bowl or container.
Dip a sponge in the solution and wring out the excess. Wipe the surface where the mold is present, rinsing the sponge in between to avoid spreading the mold.
3. Add Saddle Soap
Fill a large bucket with warm water and add about two capfuls of saddle soap. Use your hands to mix it to create a soapy solution.
Dip a cloth in the solution and wring out the excess. Then use it to wipe the leather surface where any mold is still present.
Fill a container with clean water. Dip a clean cloth in the water and wring out the excess. Use the cloth to rinse all soap and solution off of the leather. Finally, finish off by drying the surface with a towel.
From Tile and Grout
When cleaning mold from tile or grout, there are two approaches you can try. If the mold is severe, make a solution of one part bleach to 16 parts of water. Apply the solution to the tiles and grout and leave it for up to 10 minutes.
Scrub the area with a hard-bristled brush — try a grout brush or old toothbrush to get into the lines. Rinse with clean water once the mold is gone.
If you have colored grout and don’t want to use bleach, you can make a paste of equal parts water and baking soda. Smear it onto the grout and tiles, leave it for 20 minutes before scrubbing with a stiff brush. Then rinse the area with cold water and repeat if necessary.
Mold can quickly begin to grow within household appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines.
To clean a moldy refrigerator, fill a spray bottle with distilled white vinegar. Spray the vinegar directly onto the moldy areas and allow it to sit for up to 10 minutes.
Scrub the area with a stiff brush or sponge. Rinse with a clean cloth or sponge dipped in clean water.
To clean a dishwasher or washing machine, you can add bleach to the appliance and run it on a hot cycle. Make sure no objects, such as clothes or dishes, are in the appliance. This should be repeated once a month to eliminate any signs of mold.
When to Call a Professional
Sometimes, we have to surrender to the mold colony growing in our house.
It’s important to know when to throw in the towel and call a professional.
As a rule of thumb, if the mold covers an area larger than 10 square feet, you should leave it to the professionals. A large area of mold can be tricky to handle since it will require different chemicals.
If you have certain medical conditions, you should also consider hiring a professional. These include:
- Mold allergies.
- Respiratory issues.
How to Prevent Mold?
The best way to avoid a huge mold problem is by preventing the fungus in the first place (16).
Here are a few tips:
- Prevent moisture: By keeping your home environment low in humidity, you can keep the moisture to a minimum. Mold needs moisture to grow, so reducing this can help to keep the fungus at bay.
- Prevent leaks: Water leaks are common causes for mold. Prevent this by checking your pipes regularly and fix any leaks as quickly as possible.
- Wet clothes: Try to prevent leaving wet clothes lying around. Do laundry regularly and remove clothes from the washer as soon as possible.
- Keep your home clean: By cleaning regularly, you can help to keep mold and spores at bay. Use a strong vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove even the tiniest spores.
Mold can be a serious cause for concern, especially when it’s growing inside your home.
However, not all molds are dangerous; some even serve important purposes, such as producing penicillin.
Knowing what causes mold can help to prevent it. Mold thrives in dark, humid, warm areas where it has access to a food source like cardboard or wood. So, to get rid of mold, make conditions uninhabitable for it.