Updated: February 2023
The main source of information in the first few sections of this blog is Mold Busters, but I also added in quite a few additions and other sources. Unless otherwise noted, all images have watermarks within the image, showing where they originated.
Learning about mold is something everyone should do, and it really puts priorities in perspective. Avoiding mold should be a very top priority to everyone. It’s a killer. You can do all kinds of things trying to be healthy or non- toxic, but if you get certain kinds of mold, you could lose all of it, literally everything including your heath and sanity.
Only 12% of tested indoor air quality samples didn’t have any presence of mold, so it’s important for everyone to learn about how to prevent it.
A frustrating aspect about this topic is that there aren’t clear cut rules about mold. There are so many different assertions about how to deal with mold, even by “experts” and “professionals.” This article contains a compilation of what seems to be the best info to my knowledge.
What Are Mold, Mildew and Mycotoxins?
Molds are fungi. Mold is a natural recycler of dead organic matter; the function of mold is to decompose things/ break them down… so that puts into perspective the damage they can do to people.
Mold usually comes in these colors: black, blue or green. Of all mold types, black mold (officially called Stachybotrys) is considered to be the most harmful one to the health of living beings. This particular mold produces a neurotoxin that has been used in biological warfare. Not all mold that looks black is this type though.
Basically mold is like something out of a horror movie; invisible toxins that can go through walls and permate some materials forever.
Mildew is different than mold and is not a living organism. It is often white or grey. Many times people say things like “it’s just mildew” but it’s actually mold.
Pink mold is not actually a “mold,” but a bacterial growth commonly found in damp areas of the home like the bathroom and kitchen. It acts similar to mold and will return if not remediated properly. It also poses health risks that mimic various types of molds as well. These are just a few reasons why it’s classified as a mold.
Not all molds are toxic (but all of them have the potential to cause health problems, so should all be considered hazardous). A toxic mold is one that is capable of producing MYCOTOXINS. Not all molds are able to produce mycotoxins. Some molds may be allergenic and some pathogenic.
Toxic mold doesn’t constantly create mycotoxins; it does it when it feels threatened, as a defense mechanism to protect itself. This typically happens in response to other molds that are competing for it’s food source, or bacteria or invaders. Or, if someone is trying to kill it or disturb with bleach or chemicals.
Mycotoxins are essentially a poisonous chemical designed to kill living things. Mycotoxins are NOT living things and thus can’t be “killed” themselves. Mycotoxins are a liquid that can absorb into mold spores and fragments. These spores and fragments containing mycotoxins can then spread easily like other particles (i.e. dust) from items, people and the mold source, etc. This is why proper containment and safe remediation practices are so important. It also makes removal more complicated.
Molds produce microscopic spores that germinate where moisture has accrued. You can’t see individual mold spores or mycotoxins with the naked eye. Mold spores range in size from 4-20 microns…so up 250,000 mold spores can fit on the head of a needle. Mold spores can vary in size, color, structure, etc. Mycotoxins (the dangerous chemical byproduct produced by SOME types of mold ) can float around on mold fragments which are even smaller, 1-.03 microns.
Causes of Mold Growth:
Mold spores are widespread outside, and many find their way indoors. The spores typically need only three conditions in order to grow and thrive:
1. The right temperature
2. A food source
Not much is needed for mold spores to grow out of control. Some species of mold require very little water and can actually survive in the desert.
Dangers of Mold:
Mold exposure can lead to serious health problems. Toxigenic mold produces extremely potent toxins called mycotoxins – toxic chemicals present inside or on the surface of the mold spore, which can be inhaled, ingested, or touched.
Exposure to mold growing indoors can be associated with nasal and sinus congestion, irritation of eyes/nose/ skin, cough/sore throat, asthma (or exacerbation of it), fatigue, mental confusion, neurological problems, nosebleed, headache, skin and eye irritation, etc., sensitization, neurotoxicity (scientific paper source), sinusitis, otomycosis, onychomycosis, eratitis, respiratory infections, skin infections, rage, and systemic infections. There has been scientific research that shows connections to (but not the only cause of) Autism, cancer, Lyme, and more.
Health effects associated with mycotoxins in humans include: Hepatic toxicity, cancers (liver, esophageal, lymphoma, skin, and gastric), nephrotoxicity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, immunosuppression, and nasal irritation” Government source) and mitochondrial dysfunction (scientific paper source).
Long-term exposure to indoor mold can lead to health issues that develop faster for certain groups – infants, children and elderly people. Some individuals may have genetic or other factors that make them more susceptible.
“Researchers also note there is strong evidence that early life exposure to damp environments, molds and mycotoxins during infancy and childhood can cause developmental delays, reduced cognitive function and immune dysfunction. Children who live in damp houses during infancy or early childhood have double the risk of a condition developing adenoid hypertrophy, an enlargement of tissue that often leads to ear, nose and throat issues. And the health battles can last long after someone leaves a moldy environment.” (Source)
Mold /mycotoxins can also weaken / damage the defenses your body has, leaving you susceptible to other issues, such as Candida.
I personally have experienced insomnia, extreme fatigue, histamine sensitivity, Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) and have seen in children Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS)
PANDAS – Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated (PANDA).
Here is an article (hyperlink) about what mold toxicity can feel like.
Mold growth can damage walls, tiles, carpets and other surfaces, and threatens the structural integrity of buildings.
Most Common Places for Mold Growth:
Generally speaking, mold often grows on bathroom grout, water-damaged walls, and wet or damp carpets and as well as around tubs, sinks and windows.
But sometimes mold can hide in places like behind walls, attics, crawl spaces, basements, drains, underneath floorboards and in air conditioners and HVAC ductwork, so make sure to check all of these areas thoroughly. Tools that professionals use to look include infrared cameras, moisture meters, and air sampling pumps.
How To Prevent Mold:
-It’s always better to prevent mold rather than deal with its effects. If you want to prevent the mold from growing in the first place, ensure that you dry any wet materials within 24 hours, as it can begin growing quickly.
-Keep moisture levels low. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can help (but mold can grow in dehumidifier tanks).
-Remove dust and vacuum often.
-Have adequate ventilation.
-Keep washing machine and dishwasher door cracked open when not running, empty out any water in the detergent cups, wipe out the rubber gasket door seals on front loaders. If your washer has a musty smell, there may be mold growing behind the washer drum. Call the manufacturer (if your machine is under warranty) or a qualified repair person. It may need to be replaced if the mold can’t be removed properly and completely.
-Repair any leaks and thoroughly dry the area promptly.
-Ideally, don’t have carpet; as they are like sponges for particles, and you may be breathing in a number of particles that would not exist if the carpets were removed.
⁃Keep your furniture slightly removed from the walls. This creates enough space for fresh air to circulate between the walls and furniture, which will dry up any moisture and prevent mold from developing. Since mold loves dust, you should clean your furniture regularly to reduce dirt and grime.
⁃Check your plants for signs of mold each time you water them. Take a closer look at the plant soil, and if you see a grayish cover, be warned – mold is already there. Mold loves moisture and organic matter, and that is exactly what plants can provide. Mold can also be found in plant soil, and sometimes even on the leaves.
-Each piece in your wardrobe needs to be well dried before it’s folded and stored in the closet or storage containers.
-Keep the closet clean and avoid overfilling it at all costs. Wipe away any dust, and vacuum regularly.
-Feathers and quilts are particularly prone to harboring mold spores.
-Hidden areas that are susceptible to mold are: Garbage disposals, garbage cans, refrigerator ice dispensers, sink drains/ plumbing.
-Avoid leaving wooden items (like cutting boards) wet.
-Open windows when cooking to let the steam escape.
-Prevent food from rotting.
-Keep dishwasher doors open at least a little when not running, and clean out the bottom/ filter trap.
-If possible, shower with a bathroom door and/or window open, and leave open afterwards.
-Squeegee the shower door and walls, and encourage as much water as possible to go down the drain. If you really need to eliminate moisture, you could wipe with a towel.
-After showering, allow airflow by leaving shower doors or curtain open at least a little on each side.
-If mold keeps coming back you may have a hidden mold problem such as behind the tiles or bathtub.
-If you have an older Jacuzzi bathtub with jets, it is nearly impossible to prevent mold growth in the hidden tubing.
-Clean/ wash everything frequently (shower curtain, bath mats, toilet, etc).
-Upkeep shower grout and caulk.
-Buy a dehumidifier, empty the water container regularly and wash it. A bit of vinegar or drop of tea tree oil can help prevent mold growth in the water tank. Here is an Amazon associates link to one I have: https://amzn.to/3GZqv2D
-Information about toilet tank mold is available in this article (hyperlink) and this one as well.
-And a link about mold growth in pipes.
BASEMENT, GARAGE AND STORAGE AREA
-If you have a basement (which is very prone to mold), check out the tips in this link.
-Don’t forget about the garage, attic and any storage areas or sheds! I run a dehumidifier in the garage. Here is an Amazon associates link to the one I have: https://amzn.to/3tiOCE5
HVAC DUCT CLEANING
-Make sure the filters on the HVAC unit are good, because if there’s no dust then mold can’t grow. UV lights in the unit are another controversial issue.
-Duct cleaning is controversial. If you decide to do it, I understand that the best method is using negative pressure from the outside of the house to avoid contaminating the inside of the house. But some people claim that it isn’t necessary to clean ducts at all.
-Ducts should be cleaned by a NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association) certified professional following their most recent standards. Spraying and fogging a disinfectant into ducts is not permitted by EPA rules. EPA does not have a single registered product for sanitizing or disinfecting ductwork. To use a product for off label use in this manner is actually illegal (links to this information is below, and quotes are at the very bottom of this blog).
Here is a link about how to avoid being scammed by duct cleaning companies.
Another link from NADCA about Using Chemical Products in HVAC Systems.
This link to checklist designed to help residential consumers understand NADCA’s recommendations regarding the process of HVAC cleaning.
Can Mold be Killed or Sanitized?
Without a constant supply of water, mold will “go to sleep.” However, the spores never actually “die” considering that they can come back to life once more moisture becomes available. Depending on the type of mold, some spores can remain dormant for hundreds of years under the right circumstances. That is why it is not enough to simply eliminate humidity if you have an active mold problem.
“Killing“ mold is a common misconception. Mold isn’t a bacteria or virus. You don’t aim to kill mold, you need to remove it (removing walls /surfaces as necessary) and the spores (wiping/cleaning, depending on the item).
When mold is killed breaks down into smaller particles that can be breathed deeper and more easily into the lungs, and why we shouldn’t use mold killing solutions or antimicrobials because it causes the molds to react in defense by releasing more mycotoxins.
“A common misperception is that killing mold, which is a relatively easy task, eliminates risk from contaminated environments or items. Unfortunately, this does little to decrease the risk as nonviable fungal spores, fragments, and mycotoxins remain present and, due to their structure, such as with an epoxide ring,  they can be extremely difficult to destroy.” https://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2013/767482/
Mold cannot be sanitized. Sanitizing refers to killing BACTERIA or viruses (but not necessarily removing them). Attempting to kill/ sanitize it can be extremely harmful and ineffective. Also, dead mold is still hazardous. It must still be removed.
Spraying, fogging, gassing, killing, deodorizing, sanitizing – NONE of these can stop the moisture and none can remove mold. What that can do is just add more substances to already contaminated air.
What To Do If You Have Mold:
I don’t claim to have all the answers you might need, but this section has some good tips, resources, and things to look into.
NEVER use any kind of bleach product on mold. It can cause the mold to release mycotoxins, and does not “kill” or remove mold. The mold must be physically removed instead. Spread the word! This is one of the most widespread hazardous practices. Bleach is toxic even on it’s own.
Another incorrect way to deal with mold is painting over it.
Mold spores (as well as any contaminated materials) need to be completely and carefully removed if you don’t want the mold to grow back. This should ideally be done under containment by professionals, with extreme care not to contaminate other parts of the house.
Mold spores are very light and can become airborne quite easily. This can quickly lead to spreading and the contamination of other areas of your home. Simply letting mold spores dry out without cleaning or wiping them away is not a good solution to mold problems.
Ozone is often recommended but can actually make mold worse. It can be better to use AFTER you’ve done all the work to remove mold, and have cleaned your house top to bottom. It cannot do anything for mycotoxins.
Another controversial treatment strategy is hydroxyl or PCO air technology. Some people swear by it, but others say it can make things worse, similar to ozone.
Hydrogen peroxide is often used in remediations, in higher concentrations such as 12 percent peroxide applied several times. However, I have seen it stated that this could cause mycotoxin release. It is thought to be a better option compared to bleach.
Fogging is another controversial thing and there is lots of misinformation about it’s uses. Here is one link that advocates against it. Fogging will not kill or remove mold on it’s own; it merely makes the particles in the air heavy so they fall to the ground and then you can clean them up using a HEPA vacuum and/ or wipes.
For more wiping techniques, there is an ebook by John Banta, who understands the chemistry of mold and how mold gets trapped in the oily residues on surfaces of our homes. He says to wipe down surfaces with something that removes oily residues. I have more notes about this if you’re interested.
Here are four links regarding whether to get rid of possessions or not. It can depend on individual sensitivity to mold. For some molds, they claim that anything porous, including plastics, cannot be cleaned adequately and must be thrown away, or else they can re-contaminate spaces. Other strategies involve storing things in hopes that basically the mold will degrade enough that they can be cleaned later. Check out writings by Carl Grimes about how particles/ mycotoxins will gradually fall with dust that can be removed through regular cleaning.
Ec3 (amazon associates link: https://amzn.to/3GZ0oc8) is one product that people often use for fogging, or for use when laundering clothes (I use it as a preventative) or wiping items.
The Mold Avoider’s Dilemma: What Should I Do About My Stuff?
Mold Testing Options:
The type of mold will determine the type of remediation. That said, it is very important to test it first. There are many testing options and pretty much all of them are controversial.
The most inexpensive option is tape tests. Moldcontrolonabudget.com will test for just $15. May Dooley at Create your Healthy Home charges under $20 per tape I hear.
Mycometrics and Envirobiomics do ERMI & HERTSMI Tests. Mycometrics is a little more expensive and takes longer, but it includes a 30 minute phone call with an expert after you get your results, which can be helpful especially if it’s your first time. Envirobiomics is faster and cheaper, but no phone consultation.
Assured Bio Lab offers several different dust tests that use the same DNA sequencing technology as the ERMI, but some are much less expensive.
I was told there is only one lab that does legitimate mycotoxin testing: Romer Labs. They need about 25 grams of dust to do a decent screen. If you are really worried about having mycotoxins in the house, you can send them a large amount of dust from a vacuum.
Air testing can be inadequate to determine mold issues, but might be useful to determine if remediation was successful. The air samples should always be clean post remediation if they were running air scrubbers. Be aware that used air scrubbers can be contaminated with mold.
What to Look for in a Remediation Company:
Know that remediating mold is complicated and can be difficult to do correctly. It helps to learn as much as you can about what constitutes good and bad remediation practices. It is recommend the company you hire follow the standards laid out by IICRC S520. Here is a good resource link.
Unfortunately many “professionals” don’t fully understand mold. If they refer to “killing” or “sanitizing” the mold, encapsulate, or downplay the dangers, that is a huge red flag in my opinion. Ask, “What mold remediation standards do you follow?” Don’t ask “do you follow the IICRC s 520” because they could could just nod because they know you want them to say yes.
You will probably want to hire an IEP (Indoor Environmental Professional) or IH who will surface sample testing for you. If using cotton swabs, there is a special technique so as not to destroy the integrity of the spores.
Here is a database of Building Biology Environmental Consultants.
Mold Detox Tips:
Mold binders information in this post.
More Tips for Avoiding Mold:
Please read my blog post about air filter options for mold. I recommend everyone have an air filter/purifier especially if you know you have or have had mold.
I recommend joining at least one mold group on Facebook. Here is one example: Mold Avoidance Community
Strategies for assessing homes for mold, and the search for mold free real estate are available in this link.
Watch out for ingredients and enzymes extracted from mold, like Aspergillopepsin, protease and other ingredients that end in “ase” because they cause allergies and skin irritation. These are sometimes added to things like laundry detergent or supplements. Also look out for other mold derivatives; I have warned about citric acid for the same reason. I personally feel behavior effects from using skin cream that contains citric acid.
Foods that are thought to be often contaminated (invisibly) with mold include: Tea, coffee, cashews, pistachios, peanuts, corn, fresh okra, fresh basil.
Lots of resources are available from NADCA including the NADCA Standard ACR Manual.
More information from the S520, mentioned earlier:
“Using antimicrobials, fungicidal coatings, mold-resistant coatings, or sealants… during mold remediation as a substitute for proper source removal is discouraged. If [they are used], remediators should apply them after completion of remediation, and after completion of post-remediation verification, when necessary.” [Section 12.2.9 – Clean-Up; page 50]
“Physically removing mold contamination is the primary means of remediation. Mold contamination should be physically removed from the structure, systems and contents…. Attempts to kill, encapsulate or inhibit mold instead of proper source removal generally are not adequate.” [Section 4.4 – Principles Of Mold Remediation; page 18]
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