submitted by Elisa Sparkman, Healthy Homes Program Coordinator, for Thurston County Public Health and Social Services
With all of the rain we get in Western Washington, mold is likely to show up in many of our homes. When you find mold in your home, it’s natural to worry about what that means for your health. It can be especially worrisome when you’ve heard about “toxic mold” or “black mold.” The terms “black mold,” “toxic mold,” and “toxic black mold” have no scientific meaning. These terms have been passed around by non-scientific sources and are simply not accurate. Molds themselves are not toxic or poisonous. There are molds that produce toxins, but they are not very common. Many kinds of molds are shades of black and grey and the color doesn’t tell you whether it’s toxic or not. Any kind of mold can cause symptoms like colds and flus and allergies. Some people are more vulnerable to the effects of mold exposure than others. If you’re concerned about possible health effects, talk to your doctor.
You don’t need to be completely alarmed when you find mold in your home, but you should take steps to deal with it as soon as possible. In most cases, there’s no need to test the mold growing in your home or to test for mold spores. Whatever kind of mold it is, you deal with it the same way. Mold spores are all around us, they just need a source of moisture and a surface to settle on and grow. When you have mold, the first thing to do is identify the source of moisture that’s allowing it to grow and eliminate it.
The source of mold can be a water leak, condensation, high humidity, or rainwater getting into the home. To reduce humidity, increase ventilation and airflow, especially when cooking and showering. Open a window and use a fan when cooking and bathing and leave it on for 30-40 minutes after to make sure all the moisture exits the home. Condensation happens when warm air meets a cool surface. For example, mold can grow on a wall where there is missing insulation because that part of the wall is cold. The warm air inside the home cools when it contacts the cold surface and creates condensation. Water can also slowly get inside of building materials when rain water pools up against the home or if gutters and downspouts are missing or broken causing rainwater to run along the siding. Over time, the water enters the walls and mold will grow. To stop this from happening, make sure roof, gutters, and downspouts are in good condition and diverting rainwater completely away from the home.
Once you’ve eliminated the source of moisture, clean the mold by creating a paste with powder detergent (laundry or dish) and water. Then use a scrub brush to remove the mold. There is no need for bleach or strong chemicals. Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning. Dry out the area and remove and replace any damaged materials. If the materials are too damaged to clean, they should be replaced. In that case, eliminate the source of moisture and remove and replace damaged materials. Visit our blog for more guidance on dealing with mold.
If you’re experiencing mold issues in your home and want some help, Thurston County Healthy Homes Program offers free, confidential Healthy Homes Visits. Call us at 360-867-2674 for more information or to schedule a visit.