Is Mold in Your Home Putting Your Health at Risk?

Is Mold in Your Home

It smells, it's unsightly, it can cause health problems, and it's just plain creepy. Mold—a general term that includes a variety of fungi—is one of the most common fears of homeowners. But is it really as terrifying as it seems? Learn more about mold and when you should really be concerned.

Why is it here?

Like mushrooms, mold reproduces through spores. Mold spores are infinitesimally small—roughly one-tenth the width of a human hair—and are pretty much everywhere. Mold thrives particularly in damp, warm environments such as your bathroom or basement.

If I find mold in my home, how worried should I be?

It depends. Those tiny mold spores, when inhaled, can induce allergic reactions in some people. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these reactions include sneezing, red eyes, a runny nose, and skin rash. Mold can also provoke asthma attacks in asthmatic people. Those with underlying health conditions such as hypersensitive pneumonitis can also be at risk. Severe allergic reactions, including fever and shortness of breath, usually occur in people who have been exposed to lots of mold.

What about black mold?

You have probably heard of the dangers of black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum), but studies linking it to life-threatening health conditions in children and serious health problems in adults have been called into question for flawed methodology. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s best to treat all molds equally regarding their health risks and cleanup.

Can mold damage my home?

In most cases, no. Mold is simply a growth that can be removed with the proper procedures and equipment. However, if your house has suffered extensive water damage, mold can grow in your walls; it will require a complete renovation.

The presence of mold usually signals another problem. For example, a mold spot on the ceiling usually indicates a leak.

How about my property?

Mold will not necessarily destroy your items, but it can be a real hassle cleaning up. For example, if you have moldy books, you will need to carefully clean both the covers and the pages with a fine brush or cloth and with denatured alcohol. Rugs and mattresses need to be cleaned with as little water as possible and dried thoroughly in the sun.

Also, don’t just paint over mold spots. It won’t get rid of the mold, and the paint can peel.

I think I have mold. Now what?

Don’t worry—mold is common. Unless it’s a severe case of mold, like after a flood, you can usually clean up the mold yourself. If there is a lot of mold, or if you are highly allergic to it or have an underlying health condition, hire a professional.

To clean mold, the Center for Disease Control suggests using these items:

  • An N95 mask
  • Rubber boots and gloves
  • Goggles
  • Bleach mixture (1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water)
  • A stiff brush or mop

While cleaning, be sure to ventilate the area. Scrub down the affected areas with the bleach mixture, rub down with clean water, and then air-dry using fans or sunlight.

Preventing mold

  • Mold likes humid environments, so eliminating moisture is the first step. Use ventilation fans or crack open windows in the bathroom when taking a shower, and be sure to draw the shower curtain when done.
  • In other humid areas, such as the basement, use a dehumidifier. According to the EPA, humidity levels should be below 60%.
  • If you spot a leak or spill, clean it up quickly. Mold won't typically grow if the liquid is cleaned up and dried within 24 to 48 hours.
  • Ventilation prevents moisture buildup. If you have mold in the kitchen, open windows or run ventilation fans when doing activities that increase temperatures, like cooking and running the dishwasher.