February 09, 2010

Controlling household mold naturally

Maryjane Butters / United Feature Syndicate

Vinegar and baking soda are NOT friends of mold. Teamed up, they prevent re-growth.
No matter where it is we call home, our houses are all vulnerable to a nasty invader: mold. Its unsightly black and green blotches are the bane of anyone’s housekeeping efforts, but the effects of mold on our health are even more troubling. As we become increasingly aware of the importance of indoor air quality, it’s apparent that repelling mold is critical to maintaining a healthy home environment. Mold has been linked to a rise in asthma rates over the past 20 years, and it has been shown to contribute to weakening the immune system.
According to a Mayo Clinic study, mold is a leading cause of multiple respiratory problems and a contributor to nearly 100 percent of chronic sinus infections! This is an issue that we can’t afford to ignore, but if you’re eco-minded like me, it doesn’t make sense to employ toxic chemicals to fight mold. Fortunately, there are natural methods to kill and control mold that are easy to come by, inexpensive, and often more effective than commercial products.
What is Mold?
Mold is a general term for a type of fungus that includes many varieties. Generally, “mold” refers to fungal growth on moist organic matter, and “mildew” describes mold growing on fabric. Spores from any type of mold — not just the infamous “black mold” — can cause allergic reactions similar to cold or flu, including fatigue, coughing, headaches, irritated eyes and nose, congestion, and scratchy throat.
In order for mold to take root and thrive, it requires five basic ingredients: air, a food source, a surface to grow on, suitable temperatures and moisture. Excess moisture is the No. 1 contributor to mold growth, but removing any dampness can deter the spread. However, since mold can exist in dormancy for years, it can continue to grow if the right conditions return.
Mold has become more problematic in recent years due to changes in home construction. Energy efficiency has become paramount, so we value sealing our houses up tight. Great for our pocketbooks, but the ensuing lack of fresh air and sufficient ventilation increases indoor air pollution and mold growth.
Plan of Attack
There are three steps to take when tackling mold in your home:
1. Identify sources of mold.
— Look for black, gray, brown or green patches on surfaces within your home. Important places to check include ceilings and walls, under sinks, along windowsills and doorways, around sinks and showers, the drip pan under the fridge and basements.
— Check towels, bath mats, shower curtains, washcloths and dish sponges.
— Trust your nose. If an area of your home smells moldy, it probably is.
2. Alter the environment to discourage mold growth.
— Promote airflow by opening windows and doors (even occasionally during the winter).
— Keep furniture a couple of inches away from walls.
— Contact a heating/cooling specialist to inspect and clean your air conditioner, furnace and ducts.
— Clean out the refrigerator drip pan regularly.
3. Remove and kill as much mold as possible.
— Regularly launder towels, bath mats and shower curtains. Pitch the plastic shower curtains and liners. Natural-fiber curtains like hemp will repel mold and can be thrown in the wash. Shop for natural curtains at www.pristineplanet.com.
— You can kill molds and bacteria and extend the life of your dish sponges by boiling them for a few minutes once a week.
— Use a HEPA vacuum to clean floors and furniture.
Bleach will NOT remove mold. Because its chemical structure prevents it from penetrating porous materials like dry wall, grout and wood, bleach can’t reach roots of mold growing below the surface. When you spray a porous surface with bleach, the chemical sits on top, killing some visible mold, but the water in the solution soaks deeper and actually encourages further mold growth. For a safer and more effective approach, try these natural mold killers:
— Vinegar and baking soda. Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar, spray moldy surfaces and let it dry. Wipe clean, using more vinegar as needed. Repeat every few days to prevent re-growth. You can also mop with vinegar or add a couple of cups to a load of laundry. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to vinegar to further combat mold and odors.
— Peroxide. Fill a spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide and use the same way as vinegar. Since it’s a bleaching agent, it can help fade mold stains, but be sure to spot-test surfaces to make sure desired colors don’t fade.
— Borax. Borax, a natural stain and odor fighter, also works to kill mold. Mix a borax-water solution of 1 cup borax per gallon of water. Use a sponge or brush to scrub the solution into moldy surfaces, and wipe clean. Find Borax in the laundry detergent section of your supermarket.

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