Mold and Mildew: Unsafe Spores
by Linda Mason Hunter
No one likes mold and mildew. Even if you aren't allergic to it (and 29 percent of us are), mold is dirty, slimy, smelly, and just plain unhealthy. It's not good for the house, either. Mold grows because of excess humidity, which can get into the wood substructure and eventually cause rot and decay.
Mold thrives in damp, warm, dark, poorly ventilated places. An exceptionally rainy summer is likely to promote a bumper crop. Look for it behind wallpaper, on rotting vegetables, and in sweaty running shoes. During hot, muggy weather mold may form on books, on stacked magazines, in the clothes hamper, and on bathroom towels. Mold dies with frost, so it's usually not a problem in winter unless your basement is damp.
Once the bloom of mold and mildew appears, it quickly matures and sends spores floating throughout the house to be inhaled by every member of the family. For people who are sensitive to the fungus, exposure to even a tiny amount causes discomfort, headache, irritation of the eyes and nose, sneezing and wheezing, skin rash, and nausea. The more of the stuff you breathe, the more allergic you become.
Anyone with a stuffy nose or other nasal trouble (allergic or not) is at a higher risk of developing respiratory problems if exposed to mold. Once these people develop a respiratory problem caused by mold, they are sensitive to molds forever. Even if you're perfectly healthy, you aren't safe from the fusty fungi. Anyone who consistently breathes mold spores can develop a sensitivity.
Getting rid of the fungus requires a combination of repair and preventive maintenance. First, check the house for leaks and damp spots that could harbor mold. Seal all walls and patch all cracks. The sooner they are dried out, the better. If an area is dry, you will not have mold.
Then increase air circulation to get rid of excess humidity. Remove as much moisture as possible at the point of production. Install ventilation fans in baths, kitchens, and laundry areas - anywhere you use lots of water. The rule of thumb is one square foot of vent per 30 square feet of floor area.
If mold is a bad problem and you're willing to pay higher electric bills to get rid of it, install an air conditioner. If you don't want to go to that expense, purchase the largest capacity dehumidifier you can afford, preferably one that automatically turns off when humidity reaches a certain level.
Empty the dehumidifier regularly, as well as any other appliance that harbors water, such as a vaporizer, humidifier, air conditioner, or refrigerator. Standing water can quickly become a breeding place for mold and bacteria.
Installing a whole-house fan is also an effective way to increase ventilation.
Once mold and mildew form, the best way to get rid of them is with a nontoxic cleaner. Mix a combination of vinegar and borax in a spray bottle and spray it on moldy surfaces. Once dampened, the mold usually wipes right off. For more stubborn stains, apply the vinegar-borax solution and scrub heartily with a vegetable brush. If that doesn't work, try using bleach - but only as a last resort. (Always wear rubber gloves when using these solutions.)