- What is mold?
- What are the health effects?
- What are ideal conditions for mold to grow?
- Where is mold most likely to grow?
- Should I test my home for mold?
- How can I reduce the chance of mold growth in my home?
- What about carpets?
- Any special precautions to take after a flood or water leak?
- How do I remove mold from hard surfaces?
- Additional information
What is mold?
Mold is a general term used to describe a type of fungus. There are many different types of molds and they are common throughout nature. Molds may vary in color and appearance. Some molds may be seen on foods, damp surfaces, cloth and other porous materials, and may be referred to as mildew. Molds are spread through spores, which are very small in size.
What are the health effects?
Most people do not appear to be affected by everyday exposure to mold. However, according to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (AAAAI), when people allergic to mold inhale the spores, they can have a reaction that often includes runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing. AAAAI reports that there is not much written in scientific literature about the relationship between indoor levels of mold spores and health problems. Most studies have been done in work settings. It is likely that the level of airborne mold spores that can cause health problems varies for different molds and for different people.
About one in five or six people in the United States have allergies; a smaller number are allergic to mold. How a sensitive person may react to mold depends on several factors including the type of mold, the amount of mold present, the frequency and duration of exposure, family history, and overall health status. People should consult their doctor with individual health concerns or questions.
What are ideal conditions for mold to grow?
Mold grows under a fairly wide range of conditions. However, it is often seen growing in cool, damp places. Generally, mold spores take hold and grow at temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and require about 70 percent or higher relative humidity (amount of dampness), although some molds grow at lower humidity.
Where is mold most likely to grow?
Mold can be found wherever the right mix of conditions exist. Mold can grow on rotting logs and fallen leaves, especially in moist, shady areas. In gardens, mold can be found in compost piles and on certain grasses and weeds.
Indoors, mold may grow in the following locations:
- basements, especially basements with dirt floors.
- bathroom areas (shower stalls, walls, ceilings or toilets), especially in unvented bathrooms.
- porous damp surfaces like sheetrock, ceiling tiles, carpets, panelling and other wood or paper products.
- places where food is stored.
- refrigerator drip pans, air conditioners, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, garbage pails.
- mattresses, upholstered furniture and foam rubber pillows.
- the inside surfaces of outside walls that have little or no insulation.
- window sashes and windowsills.
- old filters on heating or other air-moving equipment.
- carpeting, especially on cement floors or in high traffic areas.
- areas that have been flooded or are generally damp.
- porcelain surfaces on or near toilets.
- caulk around bathtubs.
- metal ductwork that contains dust and debris.
- attics, closets or other rooms into which kitchen and bathroom fans or clothes driers are vented.
- bird cages with built-up bird droppings.
- unscreened air-handling systems that bring in outside air from areas where bird droppings are present.
Mold may be present in many work environments including barns, dairies, bakeries, greenhouses, breweries, upholstery shops, mills, and furniture or woodworking plants.
Should I test my home for mold?
Usually, testing for mold is not necessary or recommended. Mold spores are commonly found in indoor and outdoor work, school, and home settings. Rather than testing, it is recommended that you look for areas where mold could be present and take steps to prevent its growth.
If you and your doctor feel that you have a condition related to mold exposure and you want to test for mold or to have your house inspected, look in the local Yellow Pages under “Environmental & Ecological Products & Services,” “Home & Building Inspection Services” or “Insulation Contractors - Cold and Heat.” Your local community action agency might have a “weatherization crew” that could help provide you with information or other assistance. Contact the Vermont Department of Health for a list of resources or further information.
If you are a tenant or employee, speak with your landlord or employer about mold problems. If the problem is serious and conditions persist, a tenant may want to call the town health officer. An employee may want to contact the Vermont Department of Health for further information and help. If it appears that an employee has a lot of exposure to mold at work, the issue may be referred to VOSHA.
How can I reduce the chance of mold growth in my home?
The first and most important step to take is to stop any water from entering the home where it should not be. For example, fix leaking roofs, broken or leaky pipes, and situations that allow water to enter the basement from outside the house. To accomplish this, you may want to consult with a builder, plumber or roofer.
Actions you can take to reduce mold growth:
- Keep water from leaking or seeping into the building.
- Repair roofs, use gutters, and keep gutter clear.
- Make sure the clothes drier vents directly to the outdoors.
- Use the bathroom fan when showering. Make sure the fan vents to the outdoors.
- Use the kitchen stove fan when cooking. Make sure the fan vents to the outdoors.
- Use a dehumidifier in damp areas. Empty and clean the catch bucket frequently.
- Follow directions for using, cleaning and maintaining indoor equipment like humidifiers, dehumidifiers, refrigerators and air conditioners.
- Insulate areas above the ceiling and in exterior walls with the right type and amount of insulation.
- Make sure that a vapor barrier exists on the inside surface of ceilings and exterior walls.
- Remove footwear before entering your home or apartment to decrease the amount of dirt and moisture that is tracked inside.
- If you have pet birds, keep cages clean. Mist debris before cleaning out droppings.
If you use “mold killing” bathroom cleaning products or interior paints that include “mold inhibitor” additives, read and follow directions carefully. It may be important to provide fresh air while applying or using such products. Airing out afterwards may also be needed.
What about carpets?
- If you have carpeting, regularly use a vacuum cleaner that does a good job filtering. A HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter vacuum can help remove mold spores and dirt on which mold can grow.
- If you “wet clean” your carpet, do not saturate it. Use water that is at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit and remove as much water as possible before drying. Some carpet cleaning equipment has a “water extractor.” Completely dry the carpet within 24 hours. Floor fans or a dehumidifier might help dry the carpet.
- Do not install carpeting on cement floors.
- Consider installing linoleum, vinyl tile or wood flooring rather than carpets in areas of high humidity, especially if there is a family history of allergies.
- For more information, see our Air Quality Fact Sheet on Carpets.
Any special precautions to take after a flood or water leak?
If porous items such as sheetrock, ceiling tiles, upholstered furniture or carpets become saturated by flooding, consider having such material safely removed. This is recommended if the material has remained wet for more than 24 hours or if the material has been repeatedly wet or dampened.
If you see large amounts of mold growth on porous surfaces, you may want to consider hiring a professional to remove the material. If you decide to do the work yourself, it is important to use a good respirator and keep children and pets out of the area while work is underway.
Using a weak bleach solution on such surfaces, or painting or sealing over sheetrock and ceiling tiles after water or moisture damage, is only a short-term solution. While the very top layer of mold may have been removed, the mold beneath the surface is unlikely to have been affected and will continue to grow. Good cleanup is important. Using a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter vacuum can help.
If there is a water leak, be sure to stop the leak before you replace or repair. Limit the use of humidifiers, especially in tightly enclosed areas.
How do I remove mold from hard surfaces?
Mold on hard, nonporous surfaces like bathroom tile, sealed cement floors, intact painted window sills or some kitchen countertops can be removed with a weak bleach solution (about 1 1/2 cups of bleach in one gallon of water or one part bleach to nine parts water).
If you decide to use a weak bleach solution or other special cleaning product, carefully read and follow label instructions. Also, provide enough fresh air. If you are sensitive to chemicals found in cleaning products, either have someone else do the work in a safe way or look for other cleaning products. Do not mix household products together unless the directions allow it. Use protective gloves or equipment when necessary.
Following cleanup, vacuum area with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter vacuum.