It’s happened to all of us: The blueberries you picked up a few days ago are now blanketed in an unappetizing fuzz. The white grout in the shower has mysteriously turned pink. A suspicious musty smell is wafting up from under the kitchen sink.
The culprit? Mold.
No matter how or where it is found, discovering mold is annoying at best. At its worst, mold can damage both your home and health.
If you’re here on The Nashville Mold Guy’s site, you likely suspect mold is growing in your home or business.
What is mold?
Like mushrooms and yeasts, mold belongs to the fungi kingdom. Fungi are all around us, traveling through the air in microscopic particles, or spores. Given the right conditions, an opportunistic mold spore can spring up within 24 to 72 hours, forming threadlike filaments called hyphae.
Like plants, mold and other fungi are picky about light, temperature, pH, oxygen, and — most importantly — moisture and food.
Unlike plants, fungi don’t put down roots or photosynthesize. Instead, mold feeds on moisture and organic materials — like wood, plant material, paper, dust, leather, and cloth — for energy. As primary decomposers, mold and other fungi play an important role in keeping our planet clean.
Fungi serves as nature’s garbage disposal in even the harshest climates, including frigid arctic tundras. Mold has made its way into space via the International Space Station, and has been known to survive ionizing radiation. (Luckily, the stuff in your home isn’t as hardy.)
Depending upon the strain, mold can present itself in a variety of textures and colors. As it fruits, molds can appear flat, dense and furry, delicate and cobweb-like, or can have many sprouting stalks. Mold can be any shade of the rainbow, from lavender to burnt orange, though most common indoor mold is black, white, blue, green, or pink.
Here’s where mold tends to get its bad reputation: There are more than 100,000 known types of mold, all of which can harm your health if touched, inhaled, or otherwise consumed. Allergenic molds tend to affect only those who suffer from mold allergies or who have breathing conditions, like COPD or asthma (about 20% to 30% of the population). Pathogenic molds may cause fungal infections or respiratory disease in those with compromised or weakened immune systems, like the very young or very old, but don’t tend to affect otherwise healthy people. Toxigenic molds produce mycotoxins, or poisonous chemicals that may cause severe damage to otherwise healthy humans, animals, and plants.
Identifying mold strains outside of a lab setting is next to impossible. Visual cues like color, texture, and growth pattern tend to be unreliable indicators of strain, much less toxicity. Case in point: “Black mold.” Not all black molds are toxic. The term “black mold” typically refers to a particular strain of toxic black-colored mold, Stachybotrys. In the media, Stachybotrys is often at the center of lawsuits and health studies. Adding to the confusion, the term “black mold” is commonly used as a catchall for all toxigenic mold, including strains that are not black in color.
Therefore, a good rule of thumb is to assume that all mold may be harmful. There’s no need to identify the strain of mold growing in your home; any mold taking up residence in your home or business should be removed.
Yes, mold can make you feel unwell and damage your home or business. However, in a controlled setting, mold does provide practical applications — some of them are even tasty.
A common indoor mold, Penicillium, revolutionized medicine in the early 20th century. In 1928, Dr. Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered Penicillium‘s antibacterial properties. Fleming’s discovery led to the creation of the first “true” antibiotic, penicillin. The lifesaving drug is credited with extending average life expectancy, and played a crucial role in reducing deaths and amputations in World War II.
Proving again that not all molds are created equally, Aspergillus oryzae has been safely used in Asian cuisine for centuries. This mold lends flavor and nutrition to sake, soy sauce, and any koji-infused dish.
Even if you’re not a fan of Stilton or sake, you likely encounter mold byproducts every day. Mold derivatives are used to produce:
- Vitamins and supplements
- Alcoholic beverages
- Laundry detergents
- Stain removers
The bottom line: While mold is a more interesting and valuable substance than it’s typically given credit, it does deserve its bad reputation. Mold of any kind growing indoors needs to be removed promptly and carefully.
Here are some of The Mold Guy’s tips to keep in mind before cleaning up:
- Look for leaks. Identify leaks and wet spots. Fix the leak and ventilate the area until completely dry.
- Assess your health risk. If you have a condition that may be aggravated by breathing in mold or a known mold allergy, avoid doing the cleanup yourself.
- Assess the Area. Leave large and potentially dangerous areas to the pros. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends seeking a specialist for affected areas exceeding 10 square feet.
- Wear proper protection. A rated mask or respirator, goggles, rubber boots, and gloves are a must when removing mold. Opt for long sleeves and pants. Scrubbing aggravates mold particles, which can irritate the skin, eyes, lungs, nose, and mouth.
- Don’t reach for bleach! On hard inorganic surfaces, like tile or porcelain, a simple swipe with a product like Clorox should do the trick. We recommend removing mold with either a 1:1 vinegar solution or hydrogen peroxide solution on natural surfaces or in areas where kids and pets frequent. Prepackaged hydrogen peroxide cleaners can be found online and at most hardware stores. Be sure to follow manufacturers’ guidelines.
- Get humidity and moisture under control. Prevent mold recurrence by keeping humidity levels between 30% and 60%. Circulate airflow and keep the area dry.
When in doubt, seek out a certified mold remediation specialist! We’re here to keep you and your home safe. For more information on mold safety, visit epa.gov/mold.
Written by Erika DeVerter