Mold is bad news. Study after study points to the health damage it can do when allowed to remain in our living spaces. Some of the problems linked to mold exposure include sinus and eye irritation, chronic cough, skin rash, sore throat, depression, and asthma.
Still, getting rid of it is no picnic either. In 2010, a study published in Environmental Health linked the use of household cleaners¬—particularly those used to control mold and mildew—to an increased risk of breast cancer. In fact, the study showed that the use of air fresheners and mold removers doubled the risk of breast cancer in women who used them most often.
Is there a way to get rid of mold without subjecting yourself to harsh cleaners that may further put your health at risk?
What is Mold?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mold is a fungal growth that forms and spreads on various kinds of damp or decaying organic matter. There are many different species that come in different colors, and they’re found indoors and outdoors, during all seasons and in all climates.
The culprit in mold that you find indoors, such as that in the bathroom or the basement, is typically excess moisture. Mold reproduces by releasing tiny spores that float through the air to land in other locations. If they land on something wet, they can thrive and form new mold colonies.
If you see mold in your house, however, don’t feel bad. According to the CDC, mold is everywhere. “It is important to understand that no indoor space is completely free from mold spores—not even a surgical operating room. Molds are everywhere, making our exposure to molds unavoidable, whether indoors or outdoors, at home or at work.”
How Do You Know If It’s Dangerous?
If mold is everywhere, how do we know when it may increase risk of health problems?
Some molds can release toxins—called “mycotoxins”—even when the molds themselves are not toxic or poisonous. These mycotoxins are particularly dangerous, and can cause breathing problems for both people and pets. “Black mold” is commonly used as a name for some of the most harmful mold species, which happen to be black, but molds of a different color can be toxic as well.
Though research on mold and its potential effects on health are ongoing, scientists have identified some of the species that seem to cause problems in humans. These include:
- Stachbotrys chartarum
These species have been linked with respiratory issues, nasal and sinus congestion, eye irritation, sore throat, cough, chronic fatigue, central nervous system issues, aches and pains, asthma, infections, and edema.
The problem is that you can’t tell by looking at them whether the mold you have may be releasing toxins. That’s why it’s important to clean up mold wherever you find it, particularly in your home. Since mold is even more dangerous for young children—studies have found them to be at risk for asthma symptoms—making sure kids bedrooms and bathrooms are free of mold is important for protecting their health.
Natural Ways to Get Rid of Mold
The first thing to do in any case of mold is to look for the source. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) suggests fixing water problems, such as roof leaks, wet basements, and leaking pipes or faucets, then making sure your home is well ventilated. Always use bathroom and kitchen fans, and keep the humidity in your house at 50 percent or less. (Use a dehumidifier if needed in your climate.)
It also helps to avoid using carpets in areas that may become wet, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and basements.
Next, try these tips to get rid of the nasty stuff without creating more health risks for yourself or your family.
- Open a window: If you have a window near the area, open it first and allow fresh air and light to hit the moldy spots. You can also place a fan inside the window to encourage ventilation.
- White vinegar: This product is an all-star when it comes to natural cleaning around the home. A study by a microbiologist at Good Housekeeping found that vinegar is 90 percent effective against mold. Soak a sponge in it full-strength, or fill a spray bottle with it and spray the affected areas, let sit for a few hours, then scrub with a brush or coarse sponge. If the smell bothers you, add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil to the mix. You can also help prevent future mold from forming by leaving a vinegar spray in the bathroom, and spraying down shower, bathtub and tile surfaces after each use.
- Tea tree oil: One of the strongest antibacterial substances you can find, tea tree oil is also a major anti-fungal, which means it works great on mold and mildew. Add a couple teaspoons to water and spray, then let soak. (Usual mixture is 1 teaspoon per cup of water.) The mixture should work on its own, but if not, try again and use a scrub brush to get rid of the mold. You don’t have to rinse as the oil will help prevent future growth.
- Grapefruit seed extract: Another essential oil, this one has powers against mold. Simply add twenty drops to two cups water, spray, and allow to dry.
- Baking soda: Another common household cleaner, baking soda can help clean up your mold problems. The abrasive texture gives you extra scrubbing power, as well. This is especially useful in bathroom shower stalls. Add a quarter of a tablespoon to a spray bottle of water, shake, and spray the moldy area. Use a brush to remove all the mold from the surface, then spray again and allow to dry. You don’t have to rinse—the remaining baking soda will work as a future preventative.
- Hydrogen peroxide: This is a good alternative to bleach, as it helps to get rid of stains. Mix ½ cup with 1 cup of warm water and apply. You can use it after scrubbing with baking soda, then rinse with white vinegar.
- Borax: Combine one teaspoon of borax with an environmentally friendly dishwashing liquid and a quart or warm water, then soak the moldy areas, rinse, and allow to dry. If that doesn’t work, you may apply again and try a little extra scrubbing.
- Safe cleaners: The Environmental Working Group has a handy list of commercially available mold cleaners and rates each one according to safety. Check out their page for guidance on which products you may want to try—and which are best avoided.
- Replace: If all else fails and you have a severe case of mold, the best tactic may be to replace the affected materials. This may seem extreme, but remember that mold and mildew spread quickly. Replacing the carpet or tile or other surface will immediately stop the problem, then you can work from a preventative standpoint from then on.
Do you have other safe ways to remove mold? Please share your tips.
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“Study Links Household Cleaning Products to Breast Cancer,” Fox News, July 20, 2010, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,597142,00.html.
“Heloise Hears a Hint,” CBS News, February 11, 2009, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2000/12/26/48hours/main259812.shtml.