Breaking the Mold

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

By Cynthia Knowles, Pollution Prevention Specialist, San Mateo County Environmental Health

Mold spores can grow and encase more than just walls. Clothes, shoes, photo albums, books, and paper can all be lost to spreading spores. Molds can be found almost anywhere and when the spores land on a wet or damp spot, they can easily multiply.

When living in the Presidio of San Francisco, my clothes, shoes, photographs, books, and suitcases became discolored and acquired a musty odor. Washing the items provided no relief. Every morning I used to wipe down windows dripping with condensation. My cousin suggested a dehumidifier that includes a moisture meter and my home registered more than 80% moisture levels, well above the recommended 60% or less. The dehumidifier pulled from the air an impressive amount of moisture that was converted to water once inside the internal bucket. My recurring sinus infections may have been caused by excessive moisture.

Leaky window where mold is beginning to rot the wooden frame and windowsill. Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Leaky window where mold is beginning to rot the wooden frame and windowsill. Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Mold can cause immediate or delayed health problems, including upper respiratory symptoms. Molds produce allergens and irritants that when inhaled or touched can irritate eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs and can even cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. And if you are allergic to mold, exposure can cause an asthma attack. (Source: http://www2.epa.gov/mold/mold-and-health)

Moisture can be created at home, but we have the capacity to control it. The key to mold control is moisture control. We cannot eliminate all mold spores indoors, but we can make easy efforts to control mold-loving moisture.

Tips for Moisture Control and Mold Prevention:

  • Keep it dry!
  • Reduce clutter. Replace cardboard boxes with plastic containers.
  • Fix leaky plumbing, roofs and pipes.
  • Assure windows close completely and the frame does not allow water entry.
  • Pull furniture away from the wall.
  • Reduce indoor humidity:
    • Vent bathrooms, dryers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside;
    • If your bathroom doesn’t have a window, you should have a fan;
    • Ventilate or use exhaust fans when cooking, dishwashing and cleaning;
    • Wipe dry condensation on windows, walls and piping; look behind drapes and window coverings;
    • Consider a dehumidifier: compact ones hang inside closets and small appliances absorb moisture over an entire room.
  • Reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces (i.e., windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors) by adding insulation.
  • If you find mold on hard surfaces, wash with warm soapy water and dry completely. Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles & carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced.
  • Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24-48 hours.
  • If you have excessive or consistent mold on walls, there may be a structural problem associated with poor roof, wall, window or foundation drainage, as well as construction moisture from concrete and damp earth in crawl spaces.
    (Source: http://www2.epa.gov/mold)

Mold Control Resources:

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