This photomicrograph shows a close-up of Mucor, a common indoor mold that can cause infections of the lungs, nose/facial area, gastrointestinal tract, skin and, less commonly, other organ systems. (Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
As someone committed to organic living, you appreciate nature's bounty. But ever since biblical times, humans have waged war against mold and mildew-not only cleaning nuisances, but nasty "natural" fungi that are hazardous to your health.
If you think mankind is culturally and racially diverse, consider this: There are more than 10,000 species of mold, which can be found in soil, foods and plant matter, according to award-winning reporter Vicki Lankarge, author of What Every Home Owner Needs to Know About Mold. Every home has mold, and once it invades, you may inhale spores that can lead to respiratory, eye and skin infections. Children, the elderly, people with preexisting respiratory problems like asthma (PDF file) and those with weakened immune systems (such as HIV+ individuals) are most susceptible to mold-related illnesses.
So, how do you eliminate mold from your home without resorting to environmentally unfriendly cleansers and detergents? Part IV of our series on sustainable home makeovers offers several solutions for organic living:
- Focus on prevention. Mold requires moisture and humidity to grow, says Laura Dellutri, author of Speed Cleaning 101. "A small leak can cause mold to form within 24 hours," she tells OrganicAuthority.com. "Keep things clean and dry. That is the best preventative tip-and keep your humidity level low. The most affordable and safest solution is hydrogen peroxide. It kills the mold fungi with no harsh odors. You can buy it at the grocery store." Hydrogen peroxide is a natural substance that is chemically composed of water plus an extra oxygen molecule.
- Mold feasts on cellulose, an organic substance found in many modern building materials, Lankarge notes. It's also commonly found anywhere there's leaking water, condensation or high humidity, so perform routine checks of the following areas: underneath kitchen and bathroom sinks, underneath and behind refrigerators, behind walls that contain plumbing, stacks of damp newspapers, around air-conditioning units and around wet carpet. Recognize that mold may be black, brown, gray or green. It may also contain splashes of white, pink or purple, Lankarge warns.
- If you detect a musty smell, mold is a likely culprit, according to Jeffrey May, president of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based May Indoor Air Investigations, LLC, a company that specializes in identifying the causes of mold, odor and moisture problems in homes, schools and offices. He's also the author of The Mold Survival Guide and My House Is Killing Me! "Although not all molds produce odors, often the first sign of a mold problem is the presence of a musty smell," he tells OrganicAuthority.com. "If the odor appears after a leak, flood or period of damp weather, mold is the most likely source. However, just because there is a musty smell does not automatically mean that an occupant is exposed to mold spores because odors are vapors [gases] that can travel through materials, such as drywall. Mold spores are particles that can only travel with air flows-through wall openings, such as electric outlets. The worst exposures to spores occur when people walk over moldy carpets-usually on concrete, most often in below-grade spaces-or when there is mold growing in the components of a hot-air heating system or an air-conditioning system. Unfortunately, some carpets can be very infested with mold, have no odor at all and lead to substantial exposures to spores."
- If you have any leaks, have them fixed before mold has a chance to grow. "Use a dehumidifier to keep the relative humidity in below-grade spaces at no more than 50%," May says. "To prevent nutrients from accumulating in furnaces and air conditioners, only use filters with a MERV rating of 6 or more. MERV 12 is ideal."
- "In bathrooms, after showering, keep the door open, and operate an oscillating fan on the vanity," May recommends. "This mixes the air and hastens drying-the key to minimizing mildew."
- Create a "Shower Curtain Vinaigrette," says Annie Berthold-Bond, author of Clean & Green: The Complete Guide to Nontoxic and Environmentally Safe Housekeeping. "Rub a sponge saturated with vinegar on your shower curtain to remove soap buildup and kill mold and mildew," she says.
- Mold often forms in the grout between shower tiles (that yucky black stuff). For showers, try Seventh Generation's Shower Cleaner-Natural Citrus, which is formulated to remove and prevent soap scum buildup, as well as stains caused by mold and mildew. It's nontoxic and biodegradable, and it contains no chlorine, petroleum-based solvents (environmental pollutants), glycol ethers (unhealthful synthetic solvents), phosphates (which can harm marine ecosystems), acids, caustics or dyes. Seventh Generation's Bathroom Cleaner is ideal for bathroom surfaces. The active stain-removal agent in both products is hydrogen peroxide.
- Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator from Bi-O-Kleen is a blend of natural living enzyme cultures and botanical extracts. It can eliminate mildew stains and odor, and it contains no chlorine, phosphates, petrochemical solvents, glycol ethers, known carcinogens, harsh fumes, detergents, artificial colors or artificial fragrances.
- Always wear a face mask during mold cleanup, May cautions.
Mold growing under wallpaper. (Photo courtesy of Environmental Protection Agency)