Mold and mildew are everywhere. They are the organisms that take dead matter and break it down. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” But mold and mildew don’t necessarily have to be in your universe. In fact, it’s better if they’re not. I’ve had patients who were sick from mold and they didn’t even realize it. The first clue to look for is when you feel wretched at home, but better at work. Or you feel healthier when you travel away from your home. The second clue is to look for water damage anywhere in your home.

The Difference Between Mold & Mildew

Mold and mildew are both fungi. They both grow in the same environments and can be hard to tell apart. Both form spores that float invisibility through the air to find warm, damp places to grow. And because they are invisible, you can inhale these spores and not even know it. Mildew contaminates showers and grows on paper, fabrics and living plants – but not so much on food.

Note: It’s easy to take care of showers by periodically washing your shower curtain using a few ounces of bleach in the washing machine. But it’s harder with paper and fabrics, which often have to be thrown out.

Mildew is usually downy or powdery and grey or white in color. Mold grows on food and can also be found on any building surface. It comes in a variety of colors: black, green, red, or blue. Mold can have a fuzzy or slimy appearance and grow into any shape, but often starts off as a circle. You don’t really need to tell them apart because what kills one, kills the other. That’s all you really have to know.

Manifestations of Mold & Mildew

A reaction to mold and mildew can differ from individual to individual and can manifest as:

1. Infection – often in the lungs.

2. Toxic symptoms from the chemical by-products of mold.

3. An allergic reaction to mold with antibodies being produced that can affect any organ system in the body.

4. An irritant to the lungs or skin.

Symptoms of Mold & Mildew Exposure

Symptoms of mold and mildew exposure depend on how long you’ve been exposed.

Short Term Exposure:

1. Mild cough

2. Itching eyes

3. Watery eyes

4. Headache

5. Runny nose

6. Post-nasal drip

7. Itching skin

8. Redness and skin irritation

9. Sneezing

Extended Exposure:

1. Appetite loss

2. Asthma

3. Breathing problems

4. Bronchitis

5. Coughing up blood or black material

6. Depression

7. Diarrhea

8. Earache or ear infections

9. Fatigue — overwhelming

10. Swollen glands in neck and armpits

11. Hair loss

12. Headaches — chronic

13. Joint and muscle pain

14. Memory Loss

15. Neurological symptoms

16. Nausea

17. Nose bleeds

18. Sexual Dysfunction

19. Sinus Infections

20. Skin Rashes

21. Skin sores

22. Vomiting

23. Weight Loss

Friendly Molds

Not all molds are bad. Think of Penicillin. It was the first antibiotic, and it was derived from mold. A penicillium mold is used to produce cheeses like Roquefort, Stilton and Gorgonzola. Mold helps grow a soybean product called tempeh. Quorn, a European meat-alternative is made from the soil mold Fusarium venenatum.

Lessons from Katrina and Sandy!

After all those homes were flooded by Katrina and Sandy the big worry was mold infestation. These disasters taught us that when water damage occurs, mold sets in. Just look closely at the grouting between the tiles around your bathtub or shower stall. See that black or orange coloration that can be scrubbed off with a brush? Mold. That black growth along the bottom of your shower curtain? Mold. The black scum in your kitchen drain or on your drain stopper? Mold. The slimy bits in the rubber seal in around the door of your washing machine? Mold. You have to be vigilant and keep all those areas clean.

With its zero humidity and subzero temperatures, Antarctica is probably one of the few land masses on the planet that doesn’t harbor mold.

Where Mold Hides

Mold and mildew like dampness and warmth. Here’s where you will find these frightening fungi.

1. Fungus can still colonize food in your fridge at 39 °F (4 °C). As long as there is moisture, there will be mold.

2. Carbon filters may be susceptible to mold attacks if left unused for extended periods. There just has to be enough water in the appliance to feed mold.

a. Drinking water filters

b. Shower filters

3. Vaporizers, humidifiers and dehumidifiers with cloth parts.

4. Any building material that has sustained water damage from:

a. Flooding

b. Roof leaks

c. Plumbing leaks or drainage problems

d. Damp basements and crawl spaces

5. Areas affected by steam in the bathroom or kitchen.

6. Condensation on surfaces resulting from poor or improper insulation or ventilation.

7. Closing your washing machine before it dries out.

8. Wet clothes drying inside the home or a clothes dryer venting indoors.

9. Improper ventilation of furnaces, stoves, space heaters, ranges, ovens, fireplaces, water heaters and clothes dryers.

10. Around any appliance that has a water drain or hose that can leak.

11. Along any pipe or tubing in your home that can spring a leak.

Should I Test for Mold?

I’ve had clients use mold test kits to see if they can grow mold on a petri dish. These test kits are available in hardware stores and online. But if you can see or smell mold, you don’t need a mold kit to prove it. According to the CDC, it may not even be necessary to identify the species of mold growing in your home.

But beware. Back in 2006 when Consumer Reports tested mold kits, they found significant shortcomings in all of them – flaws that were serious enough to earn each a Not Recommended rating. Maybe they have improved but check online for the reliability of mold test kits before purchasing. Consumer Reports says that if mold in your home covers an area less than 10 square feet, you may be able to eliminate the problem yourself. But they caution that larger areas do require professional mold remediation.

Preventing Mold

1. Dry out anything that is wet or damp: basements (use a dehumidifier) and carpets (even a hair dryer will help).

2. Fix leaks in plumbing and roofs.

3. Wipe up spills.

4. Make sure water doesn’t escape from shower curtains.

Cleaning Up Mold

Small areas of mold in and around your shower or bathtub are pretty common, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. Especially if you have asthma or allergies, you don’t want to be inhaling any mold spores being stirred up by water spray and steam. And you don’t want to expose your private parts to mold! Most people don’t see mold in the shower, especially men! So, put on your reading glasses and take a good look at the corners of your shower and around the grouting in the tiles around your bathtub and start scrubbing.

Mold Killers

I’m not even going to bother you with the store-bought mold-killing products. Most of them have strong chemicals that can kill anything and everything in sight – including small animals and, in high enough doses, humans. For example, if it says disinfectant, that product has a high kill rate. There are some mold products that are made from enzymes or some other so-called natural source, but they tend to be very expensive and not environmentally tested. The great thing about the following natural mold killers is that they are not toxic, and you can store them for months and they won’t go moldy!

Vinegar (white distilled)

Undiluted vinegar, straight from the bottle kills 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold, and 80 percent of viruses. Fill up a spray bottle and spray straight vinegar onto moldy areas. Go back after an hour or so and wash off. Wear gloves while using it because it can become irritating to the skin. And try not to inhale the vinegar fumes. They can also be irritating. You can wear a cloth mask to protect you from mold spores and vinegar fumes. Prevention is always the best medicine. To prevent mold and mildew in the shower, keep a spray bottle of vinegar alongside your shampoo. Spray and wipe down the shower walls or tiles after you shower.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is even more powerful than vinegar. Use 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil in 1 cup of water. Mix in a spray bottle, shake, and spray on problem areas to prevent or treat mold. Wash off if you are removing visible mold. Otherwise just leave on and don’t rinse off. It does have a strong odor which may take a day or two to dissipate. However, inhaling this substance will actually be healthy for you!

Grapefruit Seed Extract

This antifungal is nearly as powerful as Tea tree oil, but it’s got the benefit of being odorless. Just mix 10 drops of grapefruit seed extract in 1 cup of water. Put in a spray bottle, shake and spray on problem areas. You don’t have to rinse this off either.

Home Wrecking Mold

I’ve had clients with such extensive mold infestation that floors, ceilings and walls had to be removed. This monster can eat through just about anything. Water leaks can happen anywhere in the house and most of those leaks occur between walls or under floorboards. Pay attention to your water usage. If you seem to be using more water but there is no obvious reason – look for a leak. Sewage leaks are obviously the worst. Be mindful if your toilets don’t flush with the exact same force and look for the reason. Make sure your home insurance covers mold remediation. Some insurance companies try to leave mold out of policies because the cost for cleanup can be high.

Treating with Ozone

Before you hire a Mold Remediator, there is one more thing that you can do. Purchase an Ozone Machine. I use and recommend an Alpine Air Commercial Ozone Generator. Surface cleaning of a mold problem is important, but also you can kill the mold spores in the air with an ozone machine. You don’t want to be in a room breathing in ozone. Just turn it on in a room, close the door, and leave on for 15-30 minutes. Open the door after another hour. You can rotate the small machine into any room in your house.


Questions and Answers

What about carpets and upholstery, can they be cleaned of mold?

If the mold has only been growing for a few days, you might be able to scrub it off. But more than a few days and it’s probably permeated the cloth and is usually impossible to remove. Mold and mildew are what you smell in old damp basements and on old couches and chairs.