A mold is a type of fungus, that, in the natural world, plays its part in the greater scheme of things by helping cause the breakdown, or decomposition, of dead organic matter, such as fallen leaves and trees. This biodegradation helps forests prepare for new growth. There are thousands of known species of molds in the world. Some molds are utilized by humans and play a positive role in biotechnology by helping in the production of certain foods, beverages, medicines and enzymes. Conversely, some molds can cause disease and death by producing toxic chemical compounds that are inimical to life.
Molds reproduce by means of tiny cells called spores which are invisible to the naked eye. These spores float through the air in search of the moisture which is necessary for their survival and growth. When mold spores land on indoor surfaces that are wet, they can grow and multiply rapidly. Molds have the potential to damage or destroy a home and all its furnishings. They can also cause health problems that can range from the merely irritating, such as coughing and wheezing, to more serious conditions, such as asthma and skin rashes. For these reasons, indoor molds should be avoided at all costs. If there is mold growth in your home, you need to clean it up and fix the water problem that allowed the mold to develop in the first place.
While it is impossible to get rid of all indoor mold spores, mold growth can be prevented by controlling indoor moisture levels. Here are some things every homeowner can do to prevent mold from causing any or all of the problems outlined above:
- Fix all plumbing leaks and any other water problems in the home such as leaky window frames, or wet and rotted wood in walls and building facades.
- When spills occur, act quickly – within 24 to 48 hours – to dry the area or the materials that were affected.
- Clean and repair roof gutters regularly. Check the roof for leaks.
- Make sure ground water cannot leak into the home by sloping the ground away from the building’s foundation.
- Keep air-conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines flowing properly.
- Keep indoor humidity as low as possible. Use a dehumidifier, if necessary.
- Vent appliances that produce moisture, such as clothes dryers, dishwashers and stoves, to the outdoors, where possible.
- Increase ventilation, which reduces moisture, by opening doors and windows, when practical.
- Insulate cold water pipes to prevent condensation.
- When showering, open the bathroom window, or run the exhaust fan if there is one.
- Clean bathrooms with mold killing products.
- Refrain from carpeting basements, bathrooms and laundry rooms.
As long as moisture and oxygen are both present, mold can grow on virtually any surface including wood, wallpaper, carpeting, ceiling tile, and insulation. If mold is already present in the home, it needs to be removed as quickly as possible. If mold is found on a hard surface, it can often be removed by scrubbing it with detergent and water.
When cleaning moldy surfaces, make sure to protect yourself from exposure. Wear long gloves and avoid touching mold or moldy items with your bare hands. Protect your eyes with goggles and wear a properly fitting respirator to prevent mold spores from entering your nose, mouth, throat and lungs.
When mold is present in absorbent materials, such as cloth, ceiling tiles, carpeting and upholstery, the items may have to be tossed and replaced. Even if they can be rescued, mold will often leave a stain that cannot be eradicated.
Hiring a Professional
In some cases, if there has been a lot of water damage to your home and you either suspect or detect that mold growth covers more than 10 square feet, you might want to hire a professional contractor or other service provider to do the cleanup. This is especially important if you suspect or know that that your HVAC or sewage system has been contaminated, or if you have any health concerns cleaning up the mold, yourself. Also, if you are unsure about how to clean a particular item, such as an expensive piece of furniture, rug, or artwork, you may wish to consult a specialist.
Another reason to contact a professional is if you suspect that mold may be present in areas of the home that cannot be seen or accessed. For instance, mold can be hidden in places such as the backside of dry wall or paneling, the top-side of ceiling tiles or the underside of carpeting. Mold can also hide inside walls and ductwork, or in roofing materials. Sometimes, even if mold cannot be seen, it can be smelled. A musty odor in the home may indicate mold growth. In some cases, normally healthy people will fall victim to various respiratory problems for no apparent reason. Often, unseen mold is the cause.
Remember: Killing or otherwise ridding your home of mold will not end the problem unless the moisture situation that allowed the mold to grow, in the first place, has been solved, as well. Since mold spores are omnipresent, as long as the environment that favors their replication continues to exist, is it is only a matter of time before a new infestation will appear.