Is a Mold Problem in Your Home Making You Sick?

Annie Sisk
Written by Annie Sisk
Updated May 17, 2022
A large mirror over the sink in a modern bathroom
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Mold is a fungus that spreads through invisible spores

  • Household mold flourishes in moisture-rich environments, such as laundry rooms, bathrooms, and basements

  • Exposure to mold spores can cause allergy-like symptoms in many people

  • Individuals with certain health conditions might be more susceptible to mold-induced symptoms

  • Removal and prevention are highly effective in mitigating the risks posed by household mold

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Mold is one science project that you definitely don’t want in your home, but it’s a common problem because it can quickly grow on moist surfaces. Sometimes mold may even pose a health risk to you and your family. Here’s how to identify household mold and the best approach for removal so that your home is mold- and worry-free.

What Is Mold?

What we think of as mold is actually a fungus. Different kinds of fungi grow best in mold-friendly environments that include some degree of moisture. Mold grows through the spread of its invisible spores that can travel some distance via air currents. In the right kind of environment that isn’t well-ventilated and contains a high degree of humidity or moisture, mold can visibly increase in less than a single day. 

There are hundreds of thousands of different types of mold, and it comes in a variety of colors, including white, black, blue, yellow, and green. A few different types of mold grow in homes, and though it can appear almost anywhere, the common factor in mold growth is moisture.

Mold becomes a health risk to people when they inhale its invisible spores. These spores produce a substance called mycotoxin that provokes a strong immune system response in some folks, leading to some serious health risks. While many people naturally rid themselves of accumulated mycotoxins through bodily waste and sweat, other bodies can’t handle the total load. When that happens, the individual can become sick.

How Do You Know If You Have Mold?

Checking for mold could be as easy as looking around your home. Household mold can grow anywhere that moisture accumulates. Common locations include bathrooms, basements, kitchens, and any room or area where there’s been accumulated water—for example, after a flood or water pipe failure. 

If you see slimy, fuzzy, discolored, and growing patches, chances are you’ve got a mold problem brewing. Mold also has a very distinct, musty smell.

Materials and Structure

Mold eats organic materials like wood, fabric, and paper. Certain materials in your home are particularly susceptible to mold deterioration, including:

  • Wallpaper

  • Drywall

  • Carpet

  • Wooden studs

  • Ceiling tiles

  • Floorboards

If you don’t catch it in time, mold can cause your ceilings, walls, and floors to collapse as it eats away at the materials. 

HVAC System

It’s fairly uncommon for a home’s air ducts to be the site of a mold colony. However, if anyone is experiencing an uptick in any allergic response, asthma symptoms, or other breathing difficulties, it might be a good idea to check your air duct system for mold.

When mold gets into your ductwork, it can be difficult to remove, and it can spread more quickly into other areas of your home when the system runs. If you suspect mold in your ducts, you should stop running your system and schedule an air duct cleaning immediately.

Symptoms of Mold-Induced Sickness

If your house is experiencing mold growth, don’t panic. The mere presence of mold doesn’t necessarily mean you and your family will experience health problems. However, it’s also true that touching or inhaling those invisible mold spores can cause a range of unpleasant physical symptoms. Those symptoms tend to mimic allergic reactions and include:

  • Congestion and increased sinus drainage

  • Coughing and sneezing

  • Irritation of eye and nasal tissues

  • Visible skin rashes

  • Headaches

  • Lung irritation and wheezing

  • Sore throat

Individuals with certain pre-existing conditions and compromised immune systems might be at a higher risk for mold-induced symptoms such as the above. 

Finally, the health risks that mold exposure causes can be cumulative. The more mold you inhale or are exposed to, and the longer you’re exposed to it, the more severe your body’s response can be. Massive exposure generally takes place in a workplace setting, not in your home. However, even small amounts of household mold should be addressed promptly.

How Can You Prevent Household Mold?

One of the best home improvement projects you can undertake if mold is a concern is to insulate your bathroom walls and other places where moisture frequently accumulates. Proper insulation can reduce or even eliminate the moisture-rich environment where mold can thrive. 

In addition, address the following conditions as soon as possible:

  • Use dehumidifiers and air conditioners to lower your home’s humidity. Replace filters at least as often as the manufacturer recommends.

  • Periodically check around the base of refrigerators, washing machines, and dishwashers for potential leaks. Also, make a habit of visually inspecting your basement for signs of mold.

  • Repair any water leaks quickly. Dry out any areas that have seen excess water with strong fans and open windows for additional ventilation.

  • Improve the ventilation throughout your home, especially in areas prone to moisture like bathrooms and laundry rooms.

  • Fix or replace windows that don’t provide a strong seal against outside moisture.

  • Take carpeting and non-washable rugs out of moisture-prone rooms, including kitchens, basements, laundry rooms, and bathrooms. In the same vein, make sure damp towels and washcloths are removed from these areas and laundered promptly.

  • Maintain your gutters and drains, and schedule a gutter cleaning at least annually.

  • Clean your home regularly, keeping an eye out for water leaks and signs of mold.

  • Dry all fabric thoroughly before storing it, especially towels.

  • Open your windows to allow air circulation.

  • Use an extractor fan while cooking.

DIY Mold Removal

In some circumstances, you can eliminate household mold yourself. Wear protective gloves and an N-95 respirator or face mask, as well as safety goggles or glasses to protect yourself from any fumes and mold spores. Open a window in the room, if possible, to increase the room’s ventilation. Use a stiff cleaning brush to scrub the affected surface thoroughly.

You can use either commercially-available products or soap and hot water. Alternatively, you can make your own bleach solution, adding 8 ounces of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Mix the bleach solution well and use it within a day. Any excess bleach solution should be disposed of by flushing it down a toilet or pouring it down a kitchen sink drain. However, if you dispose of it through a sink drain, run clean water for a few minutes afterward. This will ensure that no bleach remains in the U-bend of your sink pipes. 

If the mold-impacted surface is porous (e.g., carpet or upholstery), you may be better off simply getting rid of that material altogether. Clean the surrounding surface thoroughly using the above process before you replace the porous material.

When to Get Professional Help for Mold Removal

In many cases, a DIY approach isn’t advisable. If you’re dealing with a Stachybotrys (or black mold), you’ll definitely want to leave removal and clean-up to a professional. Other reasons you may want to consider professional removal include: 

  • You simply don’t feel comfortable exposing yourself to the mold for the time it’d take to clean it up thoroughly.

  • You have a higher degree of risk for mold-induced illness.

  • You discovered a previously hidden mold infestation that’s hard to reach, possibly after experiencing some serious water damage following a leak or flood.

Whatever the reason, if you don’t feel like tackling a DIY mold removal project, it pays to hire an experienced mold removal specialist near you.

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