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Home Health 101: Overcoming the Effects of Mold

You can find mold almost anywhere, and it's a natural part of life. In fact, mold growing outside is helpful to the environment. But as natural as mold is and as useful as it can be, it's equally destructive and hazardous once it's inside your home. Mold's job is to decompose organic material, so the effects of mold can damage your home and furnishings -- and even your health.

Types of Mold

"Mold" is a term for many types of fungi of various shapes, sizes, and colors. The most common household molds are Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Stachybotrys chartarum (black mold):

  • Aspergillus is a blue-green or gray mold that is typically found on dust, foods, and air-conditioning systems.
  • Cladosporium is normally an olive-green or brown mold that's often found in the air and on surfaces where moisture is present, such as on wallpaper and carpeting.
  • Black mold is the most toxic type of mold because it grows slowly and unseen in areas with excessive moisture, including inside walls, ceilings, or floors. This greenish-black mold produces mycotoxins and is dangerous to human health, according to the CDC.

Mildew vs. Mold

It's important to distinguish between mildew, a close relative to mold, and mold itself, which is potentially much more dangerous and difficult to remove. Mildew is a surface fungi that flourishes in warm, humid areas, such as your bathroom. Dark-gray or white mildew spots are often seen on surface areas of walls and floors, and even on towels. Mildew often causes mild allergic reactions in people with airborne allergies. Unlike mold, however, all mildew is easily treated with store-bought cleaners.

Health Effects of Mold

Mold is a potential danger to your health in many ways. It can cause serious health problems, including allergic reactions; asthma attacks; irritation to the eyes, nose, or throat; and even skin, eye, sinus, and brain infections. Mold illnesses are especially dangerous for people with compromised immune systems, babies, seniors, and pets.

Finding Mold

Mold can live anywhere in your home where there's the potential for moisture. Common areas include behind wallpaper, on walls, above ceiling tiles, and under carpeting in bathrooms and basements. Areas that have had water leaks in the past, along with areas prone to condensation (pipes, ductwork, and windows), are also susceptible to mold growth.

Removing Mold

Mold that you discover in your home should be removed -- not just killed -- immediately, because dead mold can continue to cause health issues. The CDC recommends deep cleaning with commercial products.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises that you hire a professional if mold covers an area of more than 10 square feet, if you believe it's growing inside your HVAC system, or if it's a product of contaminated water. Additionally, smelling mold in your home may indicate a hidden problem that a professional must find and remove.

Preventing Mold Growth

Luckily, mold spores cannot grow without moisture. To prevent reoccurring mold, fix all moisture problems in your home. Adequately ventilating with fans or investing in a quality dehumidifying system can greatly decrease moisture-prone areas.

Once you know how to attack mold and monitor susceptible areas, you'll be well on your way toward keeping up a consistent mold-prevention program that helps maintain your family's -- and home's -- good health.

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