Most of us touch and inhale microscopic amounts of mold every day, without issue. Mold is a necessary part of the cycle of life with its role of decomposing organic matter. It is abundant in nature and flourishes in damp areas such as soil and basements. Mold produces mycotoxins which are the chemical bi-products released during the decomposition process.
Outdoors, mycotoxins are most abundant in the beginning of Spring and Fall, and in rainy weather. It is common for allergy sufferers to feel the effects of outdoor mold during these times. Indoors, mycotoxins accumulate when the home is damp or insufficiently ventilated. The spores settle into vents and contaminate the air when you turn on the AC or heat, making you most susceptible to indoor allergies at the beginning of a season.
When enough mycotoxins enter the air, mold exposure can become harmful to humans and pets. Even brief exposure to high concentrations can trigger mold allergies, respiratory distress, skin irritation, chronic respiratory illness, and death (as with black mold).
Here are 4 steps to prevent and safely clean indoor mold:
Use bleach or vinegar
Bleach or vinegar are the most reliable solutions to completely kill and remove microscopic mold spores. While other solutions remove the mold coloring, they do not remove the spores, and the mold regrows.
Clean and disinfect all surfaces with bleach or vinegar, and allow to dry completely. Use fans if necessary. Wear a mask to protect your nose and mouth. Do not touch your eyes or let the mold touch your skin.
Store food and clean spills
Do not leave food, such as fruit or dairy products, out for long. Keep counters free of crumbs or food splatter. Frequently clean and disinfect kitchen counters with bleach or vinegar, especially after preparing meats.
Keep your home well-ventilated
Keep your home ventilated using a dehumidifier, air purifier, fan, and/or air conditioner. In nice, non-humid weather, open windows for a minimum of one-hour each day. Increase ventilation and decrease humidity by turning on ceiling fans when the windows are open. Check your local forecast to be sure outdoor mold counts are low. It also helps to expose indoor spaces to ample, natural sunlight by keeping curtains drawn.
Clean floods and leaks immediately
Clean and thoroughly dry any areas affected by floods, leaks, and medium to large spills. Use bleach or vinegar when cleaning to kill off all traces of mold spores. Allow these areas to dry completely by opening doors and windows, and using a fan or dehumidifier. Fix all sources of floods or leaks such as plumbing or foundation cracks, using a professional-grade sealant if necessary.
If you encounter mold that does not show signs of high toxicity, such as on bathroom tiles or on fruit, you may safely clean the mold. Wear a protective mask and gloves, and wipe the mold with a saturated cloth to prevent mold spores from entering the air.
Remember, mold is not always visible. If you exhibit symptoms of mold-induced respiratory illness or allergy, seek immediate medical attention. Immediately remove yourself, other people, and pets from the home if you suspect mold allergy or illness. Structures recently exposed to flooding, leaks, and structures located in damp regions are at the highest risk for mold exposure.
For more information on mold and treatment tips, visit the EPA website.
Environmental Protection Agency, “Mold Cleanup in Your Home"
A Better View Cleaning, "Is indoor mold harmful?"