What You Don't Know About Mold Can Ruin Your Life

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Man looking shocked and mold growing on his kitchen wall
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THE FUNGUS AMONG US

Molds take many forms. Sometimes they're desirable, even tasty, like those in blue cheese. Other times molds show up as fuzzy green dots on old bread, or worse, black blotches that creep up in damp areas of your house. These pose a threat to your health and can end up costing you a fortune in cleaning and removal costs. To avoid a nightmare mold scenario, we compiled some of the most important facts and tips that will help you keep your home mold-free.

Scientist holding up a petri dish with mold
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WHAT IS MOLD?

A mold is a type of fungus that aids in the biodegradation of organic matter. Molds thrive in warm, damp, and humid conditions, and they spread by one of two ways: growing larger where they are or by releasing spores that travel to new locations through the air or water. These spores are especially resilient, able to survive in the kinds of dry, cold conditions that mold cannot. There are more than 100,000 different types of mold, and some pose serious health hazards.
Woman reacting to allergies with coughing and sneezing
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MOLD AND HEALTH HAZARDS

There are five categories of toxic mold -- Cladosporium, Penicillium, Fusarium, Aspergillus, and Stachybotrys -- and people can respond differently to each. For those who are allergic, molds can cause nasal stuffiness, coughing, eye irritation, and a sore throat. Reactions can be far more serious for people with compromised immune systems. They may develop infections in their lungs when exposed to molds. There's also some evidence to suggest that mold exposure can lead to asthma in otherwise healthy children. In general, avoid damp and moldy areas when possible, and avoid handling molds directly.
Dog lying on the couch
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MOLD AND PETS

Pets pose a twofold risk when it comes to mold: They can bring molds indoors, and pets are liable to play around or ingest things that contain mold. Some ways to prevent pets from ingesting molds include: restricting access to damp areas of the home; storing food in an airtight container; making sure pets don't eat trash; cleaning pet beds and food bowls regularly; and removing trash and dirty items from the yard.
Mold in the corner of a home near the door
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HOW MOLD GETS INTO YOUR HOME

Molds can enter your home in many ways: open windows, air ducts, pets, leaks, shoes, and, in some cases, molds can actually be a part of your building by living inside the very materials used to build it. Molds also travel well on paper products, wood, and ceiling tiles, many of which are materials frequently brought in and out of buildings.
Fixing a leaking pipe in the bathroom to prevent mold
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HOW TO PROTECT YOUR HOME AGAINST MOLD

It's virtually impossible to prevent all molds from entering your home. Still, you can minimize the amount of mold in your home by taking some protective measures, like using paint with mold inhibitors, removing carpets from bathrooms or other wet areas, cleaning roof gutters regularly, fixing leaks, shutting windows when the AC is on, ensuring proper ventilation (especially in areas where condensation is likely to occur), and using a dehumidifier.
A dehumidifier in a living room
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DEHUMIDIFIERS

Since molds require moisture to thrive, one of the best things you can do to protect your home is to control indoor humidity levels with a dehumidifier. There are two main types: whole-house dehumidifiers, which can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000, and portable units, which start at about $60. People who have consistent mold problems should consider the whole-house option.
Man putting plastic sheeting over area to treat for mold
Photo credit: Jodi Jacobson/istockphoto

HOW TO PREPARE TO REMOVE MOLD

Before removing mold, take a few steps to prepare the area you're about to clean. First, you'll want to seal off the affected area with plastic sheeting so spores don't spread to other parts of the house. Meanwhile, make sure you have good ventilation in the room by turning on any exhaust fans or opening a window. And, perhaps most importantly, remember to never mix cleaning solutions.
Man wearing gas mask, protective goggles, and jumpsuit to prevent contamination
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WHAT TO WEAR FOR REMOVING MOLD

Before you remove the mold, you'll want to equip yourself with some basic protective outerwear: The CDC recommends an N-95 respirator mask, goggles or other eye protection, protective gloves, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and waterproof boots.
Cleaning solution bottle in front of small mold formation on a wall
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HOW TO REMOVE MOLD FROM YOUR HOME

You can remove most small mold problems with household cleaning products. For molds on non-porous surfaces, a mixture of 1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water will do the trick, as will detergent and hot water. However, molds growing on porous surfaces can be harder to remove. These situations often call for a product like Foster First Defense 40-80, which is an EPA-registered disinfectant, fungicide, virucide, and germicide that costs about $50 for a 5-gallon pail. Remember to thoroughly dry the affected area after cleaning. For more serious mold problems, consider hiring professionals.
Someone inspecting mold inside of a house
Photo credit: AndreyPopov/istockphoto

MOLD INSPECTORS

If mold covers more than 10 square feet, or if you think there's a serious mold problem lurking somewhere undiscovered in your home, it's time to hire a mold inspector. This can be tricky because the field is mostly unregulated, and there's no official designation between professionals who inspect and those who remove mold. When browsing inspectors, look for those who have completed courses approved by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene or the American Council for Accredited Certification, who work independently from a mold remediation company, and who can provide reports outlining the lab results of air and surface samples. Prices vary, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $500 for an inspection.
Professional removing mold from a house
Photo credit: Heiko Küverling/istockphoto

MOLD REMEDIATION PROFESSIONALS

Serious mold problems will require hiring a mold remediation company. Generally, these professionals will spend a day or two at your house performing a variety of duties, like cleaning and disinfecting walls and carpets, removing drywall and other mold-infested materials, vacuuming with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration, and removing any stains left from mold or the removal process. Prices for professional mold remediation can reach into the thousands, but for small jobs, such as removing mold from crawl spaces, you can expect to pay about $500.

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