Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Mold & Health

mold health - clean bathroom

It’s important to understand the relationship between exposure to mold and health.

Mold is a category of plant life that includes mushrooms and other wonderful organisms that are used to make many types of food, including bread, cheeses, sausages, and some types of medicine, including penicillin. Molds and fungi are an extraordinarily important component of the soil and for the outdoors.

Mold usually only becomes a health concern when it colonizes indoors, creating a musty, unpleasant odor by secreting microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs). Depending on the extent of the colonization, removal may be as simple as wiping down the area colonized and removing any source of moisture, such as a leaky pipe, and by opening windows or using fans to increase ventilation. If you have a significant amount of mold growing in your home, cleanup can be tricky and may require the help of a professional. Ceiling tiles, upholstered furniture, and carpets that have become moldy may need to be thrown out and replaced, as mold can lie dormant for long periods of time if the environment becomes dry. The mold will then awaken when humidity levels again increase.

Some molds may at times produce harmful toxins, called mycotoxins. One type of mold, referred to as toxic black mold, can grow in moist, dark places in your home, usually in an area where there has been a hidden water leak, such as inside a wall or under a floor. This mold has a greenish- black gelatinous appearance when wet, and dries to a black powder. If disturbed, this mold can release huge numbers of spores and mycotoxins throughout your home. Toxic black mold is thought to be very dangerous and has been associated with mental impairment, breathing problems, and damage to internal organs. If you find it in your home, you need to hire a professional black mold removal service to eradicate it. The longer you are around mold, and in particular, toxic black mold, the greater the chance it can damage your health.

Molds grow locally in areas where there is excessive moisture caused by a leak, but a much larger area of mold growth can occur in your home if the air is too humid. There are packets and buckets containing anhydrous materials that will absorb moisture from the air and can help decrease local humidity in a small area of excessive dampness. If you live in an environment where the outdoor humidity is high or if you have underground living spaces that are damp, a dehumidifier is the easiest way to remedy excessive moisture from the air. Indoor air humidity should ideally be between 30% and 50%. If humidity is too high, molds will grow on many, if not all, surfaces in the room, producing millions of tiny spores that will be released and will float through the air. If the spores land on damp areas, they will stick, grow, spread, and reproduce, creating yet more spores. Molds may produce allergens, irritants, and sometimes toxins that, when inhaled, can cause allergies. Reducing the number of mold spores in your home requires both removing the existing colonies of mold and eliminating sources of moisture. An exhaust fan or an open window will help reduce moisture in the bathroom during and after your shower. An open window in the kitchen will also help water vapor escape if you are boiling liquids or washing dishes. Another potential area of mold accumulation is the laundry room. Front-loading washing machines sometimes hold on to moisture and can become breeding grounds for mold that can then attach to your clothing. Keeping the washing machine door open after each wash will allow the interior to completely dry out in between washes.

It is impossible to completely remove mold from your home, as mold spores are ubiquitous. But eliminating excessive moisture in the home will significantly reduce the quantity of mold spores and toxins, improving your health and eliminating odors.

See all the posts in this series on airborne toxins in your home:
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Basics of Indoor Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding How We Breathe
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Dangers of Candles
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Reducing Indoor Black Soot
Indoor Air Toxins 101: VOCs, Asbestos and Lead
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Mold & Health