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Mold–It’s Serious Stuff

by Jan Christensen

People are getting sick because of something that can be fixed with a 98-cent bottle of bleach and a little old-fashioned elbow grease. “There is good evidence that people who live in moldy environments have increased health problems including asthma, nasal congestion, and possible fatigue, headaches and other problems that are not well understood,” said Jay Portnoy, MD, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “Mold avoidance may improve these symptoms.” Mold grows fast, and spores are everywhere. It can start and spread within 24 to 48 hours wherever water collects. Within four to nine days a single mold can germinate and produce hundreds of thousands of airborne spores. The only way to control it is to clean and disinfect surfaces that are damp, such as shower curtains and basement walls, and to get rid of standing water wherever it collects. The secret is old-fashioned cleaning. The rest of this page is made up of lists of facts about molds and the best ways to prevent them. Why not cut out the section on cleaning techniques and tape it to the inside of the cupboard door where you store your cleaning supplies? A couple of hours spent on “Mold Patrol” every week can boost your family’s health and well-being, cut down on doctor bills, and make your home a healthier, happier place. HOW TO GET RID OF MOLD How to treat mold: • Chlorine bleach is the only product that kills molds on contact. Remember that bleach is a strong chemical that should be handled carefully. • For surface mold, bathe the stain in chlorine bleach, full strength. • Keep the affected area soaked in bleach for 15 minutes. • After you have killed off mold patches, carefully wash down the entire area with the recommended bleach cleanser (see recipe). Rinse thoroughly and dry quickly. • After you have killed off all the mold patches, conduct an old-fashioned, top-to-bottom “spring cleaning” — whatever the season. • Cleaning a very mold-troubled house will involve exposure to clouds of spores, so be sure to wear gloves, protective clothing and a face mask with a HEPA filter. • Anything that has been wet for days or damp for weeks must be thrown out. This may seem drastic but it is often the least expensive and quickest way to get rid of dangerous molds. • Discard any moldy items with which you come into close daily contact, especially mattresses, pillows, bedding, upholstery or children’s plush toys. Each time you use or clean a moldy item it re-injects mold material into the air. • Wash bleachable clothing with a solution of detergent and one cup bleach per washer load and rinse well. Repeat if necessary. Slightly musty clothing that cannot be bleached may sometimes be cleaned with baking soda, washing soda or borax. Dry cleaning is an alternative for non-bleachable fabrics. • Moldy carpets should be tossed. If they are rare or expensive, they can be dry-cleaned, but the cost is high. If carpets smell only slightly musty, vacuum them, brush in a large amount of baking soda and leave for three or four days, then vacuum thoroughly again. Or you can steam clean them lightly and dry them rapidly. Do not soak! • Very moldy furniture should be discarded. If it is valuable, strip down to the frame, decontaminate and reupholster. • If furniture is only slightly musty, vacuum, dust with dry baking soda and scrub it in with a brush, leave it for three or four days, then re-vacuum. Finally, air it out in the sun. • Wash and bleach drapes, or discard. Dry-cleaning should be done by a professional who knows how to remove molds. • All non-moldy surfaces — walls, ceilings and floors — can be scrubbed with bleach-detergent cleanser, rinsed and dried thoroughly and quickly. • Duct work for forced-air heating can be especially problematic. It’s best to have all ductwork professionally cleaned, since it helps eliminate hidden areas of dust and dirt where mold can grow. • Light fixtures, wiring boxes and appliances should be vacuumed after turning off breakers or removing fuses. • Discard moldy books and papers unless they are valuable. To treat, dust between each page with baking soda, put the materials in a plastic bag and place them in the sun for several hours. When the items are odor-free, vacuum or wipe them, using gloves to protect your skin. Special precautions when cleaning mold: • Use gloves and a face mask. For small localized areas, a disposable face mask is adequate. For larger areas, use a full-face respirator with an approved, disposable HEPA filter. We’re not kidding. • Never mix an ammonia detergent with bleach – it releases dangerous chlorine gas. • Always ventilate your work area when using bleach. Open two outside doors or windows, one into the wind and the second facing away. If necessary, use a fan to increase the airflow. • Vigorous vacuuming may increase your exposure to mold spores, which can pass through ordinary vacuum filters and remain suspended in the air for hours or days. Central vacuums that vent outside, or vacuums fitted with HEPA filters, will help minimize this exposure. Preventing mold is best • Keep all materials in your home as clean and dry as possible. Keep your home well ventilated and the relative humidity between 30 and 50 per cent. • Use a dehumidifier in damp basements. Remember to clean and bleach the collection pan or drainage hose regularly! • Find and correct obvious sources of moisture, such as leaky faucets, dripping pipes and cold surfaces where moisture condenses. • Regularly clean off, then dry, all surfaces where moisture frequently collects in your house. Clean with a baking soda solution one day, and vinegar the next to keep molds at bay. (Baking soda and vinegar each kill different types of mold.) • Seldom-used floor drains in the basement and unused toilets often hidden away in old Riverwest Polish flats can be a problem. Disinfect them regularly with bleach, then flush with water. If old toilets don’t work, have them removed and the drains capped. • Do not lay carpet directly onto concrete basement floors. Either paint the concrete, use tiles or build a continuously ventilated subfloor, but never allow that wood to touch the concrete; separate the two with foam gasket or polyethylene strips (but not large sheets which will themselves trap moisture). Concrete basement walls should be similarly finished. • Most furnace filters are useless at removing tiny spores. Use a pleated filter one-inch or thicker, and remember to change filters ONCE A MONTH during the heating season. • Periodically flush out the showerhead by running hot water only. • If you use a humidifier, use a warm steam model, and clean thoroughly each time you fill it. • Clean the air conditioner drip pan regularly, as well as the drip pans in refrigerators. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 11 – December 2002
by Jan Christensen