All about mold
The term mold refers to any member of a group of living organisms that grow in the form of elongated threads or filaments. Mold is classified as a subgroup of fungi, which also contain yeast and mushrooms.
In most cases, mold can be seen as collections of fuzzy, black or greenish material growing on surfaces. These collections are composed of many, many mold cells.
Mold overgrowth tends to occur in damp, humid areas that are not thoroughly cleaned. Bathrooms, kitchens, poorly ventilated storage areas, and basements are ideal environments for mold to grow.
Molds can release substances and enzymes that degrade many organic materials. This is responsible for their ability to weaken wooden structures, destroy carpeting, and generally wreak havoc on homes.
The microscopic nature of mold means that it is difficult to get rid of, and in some cases that may only be possible by disposing of the mold-ridden material.
That is not all; exposure to mold may also pose significant health risks to people and animals. The diseases caused by mold range from the mildly inconvenient to the potentially life threatening.
Health effects of mold exposure
Although molds are present everywhere in the environment, they are generally unlikely to cause significant health risks in small quantities.
When mold overgrowth occurs, however, they become a potential health hazard. Due to their small size, mold cells may become aerosolized and inhaled or deposited on the skin.
In most individuals, the health effects of mold exposure are relatively mild. Skin rashes, cough, sinus blockage, and headache are the most common manifestations.
In some cases, these effects may be severely amplified. Asthmatic patients or those with allergies to mold may experience eye and throat irritation, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and severe respiratory distress
The elderly and the immune compromised may experience severe lung infections, bone infections, neurologic problems, and even death.
Some molds may also produce toxic substances (collectively called mycotoxins) that cause a variety of harmful health effects.
What mold does to your home
The enzymes secreted by mold are active against organic materials, degrading them into simpler substances that the mold can absorb. This leads to weakening, decomposition, and rotting of the material.
Organic materials that are highly susceptible to mold growth include wood, cotton, leather, and linen.
Mold often grows in areas that are exposed to moisture and not regularly cleaned. This allows mold to grow undiscovered and unchecked.
By the time it is discovered, it may have already caused extensive damage to furniture, wood floors, drywall, carpets, upholstery, and surfaces painted with organic-based paints.
Due to the porous nature of wood and furniture, mold easily seeps in between the cracks and permeates deep into the material, possibly infecting the entire thing. When the damage is this extensive, it is often required to dispose of the contaminated structure in a safe way.
How to prevent mold overgrowth
Mold overgrowth can potentially cause serious damage to your health and your home. Although mold problems can be dealt with, preventing the problem from happening in the first place is your best bet.
Following these tips will reduce the chance of your house acquiring a mold problem:
- Maintain good ventilation – poor ventilation allows whatever small quantities of mold are present to keep circulating in your problem areas, increasing with time.
- Control moisture – mold loves to grow in damp, humid areas. Basements with leaky pipes are ideal environments for mold; drying and fixing areas where moisture accumulates should be a priority. You may purchase a digital hygrometer from your hardware store to keep an eye on moisture and humidity.
- Do not use carpeting in moist areas – bathrooms and basements are best left uncarpeted since they can easily get wet in these areas.
- Use a dehumidifier – especially in problem areas such as basements.
- Use mold-resistant drywall – this is particularly important in basements. Mold-resistant drywall does not contain paper, making it less susceptible to mold overgrowth.
- Clean your gutters – this will redirect moisture away from your house.
- Insulate your crawl spaces – you may use plastic sheets to cover the dirt in your crawl space. This will make it harder for mold to reach your foundations.
- Open the window blinds – mold loves to grow in the dark. Letting sunshine into your home will prevent mold from growing.
How to get rid of mold
If a mold problem already exists, there are ways to combat it and stop it from doing any additional damage.
After cleaning up is successful, the source of the problem should be identified and fixed in order for it not to recur. This should be followed by implementation of the preventive measures mentioned above.
Caution: mold cleanup is a difficult and possibly dangerous process. Hiring a professional to fix the problem ensures that you are not exposed to possibly toxic materials.
Before attempting any cleanup, wear protective clothing that includes a facemask and protective eyewear.
Pay special notice to limiting the spread of mold spores during cleanup. Vacuum visible mold collections, spray moldy carpets with water before removal, and take moldy furniture outside the house for cleanup. Use plastic sheets on non-affected surfaces to limit spread.
- Mold growth on hard surfaces without penetration into the material can be scrubbed using a bleach solution.
- For moldy carpets, cut up the affected areas, roll them, and securely wrap them in plastic sheets for disposal.
- For moldy drywall and insulation, use a screwdriver and/or a crowbar to discover affected areas. Remove affected parts of the wall, spray them with water, and securely wrap them in plastic sheets.
- For furniture:
- Light mold on wooden surfaces can be removed by scrubbing with a household detergent and exposure to sunlight for a few hours.
- More stubborn mold growths that have penetrated into the wood may be removed with a solution of bleach and a household detergent. Scrub with a stiff brush.
- For upholstered furniture, brush, vacuum, and clean the surface with an alcohol solution, then expose it to sunlight for a few hours. If this fails, discard the item or take it to a professional for cleaning.