What is Black Mold?
It's estimated that one in five Americans have environmental allergies, and one of the leading culprits is black mold.
What is really frustrating when you have a family member with allergies is figuring out the source of the distress when testing for the usual allergens--dust, pet dander, and pollen--turns up negative. The next most likely cause of allergies is household mold--aspergillus, cladosporium, and stachybotrys atra, or black mold.
Aspergillus is the green stuff that grows on food and is fairly allergenic, but not nearly as much as the black mold. Cladosporium is greenish-black in color. It thrives on an unlikely trio of surfaces--the backs of toilets, painted areas, and fiberglass air ducts. Black mold likes to lurk in air ducts as well, but also likes other warm and humid areas, like basements and crawl spaces.
Do you have mold spores in the air? Get an air purifier to eradicate them quickly.
What does black mold do to you?
Black mold, or Stachybotrys chartarum, is indeed black in color, and it's the most toxic of common household fungi. Although cladosporium can cause allergic reactions for some people, the spores are non-toxic. Black mold, on the other hand, can be toxic if the exposure is severe or prolonged.
People with extreme sensitivity have symptoms that include:
- chronic cough
- irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and mucous membranes
With prolonged exposure to black mold, the symptoms worsen to the point of:
- chronic fatigue
- bleeding in the lungs and nose
There is some disagreement about the toxicity of black mold, because basic exposure does not necessarily mean a fatal reaction. However, excessive exposure to the mold can result in severe and deadly consequences.
Even limited exposure can trigger a, stuffy head, itchy eyes, and sinus problems for people with respiratory issues or allergies.
Why does mold grow in my house?
When people find they have mold issues, their first thought is usually that they're not keeping a clean enough house. That's not accurate, since dirt and dust have nothing to do with mold growth. What does matter is moisture and humidity.
Some members of the fungi world--like some mushrooms-produce microscopic airborne mold spores, ranging in size from 3 to 40 microns. Just for reference, a human hair is about 70 microns, so these are truly tiny particles.
Eventually these spores land on a surface, where they live or die. If the surface is dry and cool the spores die. If it's warm and damp, the spores begin the process of mitosis--they divide and grow more spores, and soon everybody in the house is hacking and wheezing.
Air vents are a breeding ground for black mold!
If you've checked everywhere and the crawl space is dry and there are no leaky pipes, it's time to check out your air vents and ductwork. Black mold spores sneak deep into the air ducts, and spreads throughout the ducts when it's humid. Any time water or condensation are pooling in the ducts, the spores can grow.
Regular duct cleaning not only prevents a black mold build up in your air vents, but also gets rid of any dirt and grime, ensuring that the air circulating in your home is fresh and dry.
The easiest way to figure out if there is black mold in your air vents is to check your air filter. If there's any mold in your system, you'll see the telltale black spots on the air filter. Replace it immediately and make arrangements to have the ducts cleaned. This is a good time to upgrade your air filters to a pleated filter with a MERV rating between 8 and 13. These filter out more allergens than fiberglass filters. Be sure to replace them every three months.
Mold spores, then, are everywhere. It's easy to manage the spores you find growing on an old loaf of bread or hunk of cheese, but the problem with black mold is that it's not so easy to spot.
How can I get rid of black mold?When you find black mold growing in your home, typically in the basement, crawl spaces, or any other area that's unusually damp--you might be able to disinfect it on your own. This works if the mold is growing on areas that are easy to reach, and hard surfaces. If you find any mold in porous materials like carpets or drywall, you'll need a professional mold remediation company to get replace the affected areas.
- A strong bleach solution, hydrogen peroxide, or vinegar will do the trick. To get started, you'll need to cover yourself entirely with long pants and sleeves, latex gloves, goggles, and a dust mask.
- Close off the area you're working in with painters tarps and masking tape. Remember, the spores float through the air. Scrub the mold from the surface as best you can with a stiff brush, soap, and water. Throw out anything with mold on it--towels, clothing, toiletries, and toys.
- Disinfect the area with the solution of your choice. All three will remove any leftover spores, but be extra careful if you use bleach since that can also cause burns to your skin and lungs, and irritate your eyes.
- Open the windows to ventilate the area and dry it out. Stay away from the area until all the fumes have dissipated.
Make sure you find the source of the mold before you start removing it, otherwise it will just regrow. If it's a leaky pipe, have it fixed. Mold growth is often the result of flooding, so vapor barriers under your house or sump pumps might be necessary. If it's just damp, a dehumidifier will pull excess water out of the air and dry things out, and air purifier will remove any mycotoxins that are still floating around.
If the damage is extensive and you have to replace flooring and drywall, a mold remediation company is your best bet to dry out. Your homeowners policy may cover the repairs--check your policy to ensure that black mold damage is covered.
Is it safe to live in a house with black mold?
You should remove any black mold in your home as soon as possible. While it's not technically unsafe to live in your house after you've found the mold, any symptoms you have will worsen until it's removed.
Most people decide that the constant sneezing, wheezing, itching, and nausea aren't worth it and move out until repairs are made. There is actually a name for illness caused by black mold, Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).
Do air purifiers work with black mold?
An air purifier is a first line of defense against black mold. Veva purifiers rely on a sophisticated filter system to remove any particulates from the air, not just mold spores. The filters trap anything as small as 0.3 microns--and remember that a human hair is 70 microns. HEPA--High Efficiency Particulate Air--filters guarantee that bacteria, virus, and other nasties do not get through the microscopic sieves inside the purifying unit.
The filter in a room air conditioner only captures particles over 10 microns, so lots of pet dander, smoke, dust, and chemicals get through with no problem, leaving the air in your home more contaminated than you'd like to think.
Will an air purifier kill the spores?
An air purifier will not kill the mold, but it will eradicate any spread by filtering them out of the air in your home. If you've had professional mold remediation, they brought in a commercial purifier to finish the job and ensure there were no errant particles in the air. You can install one in any areas of your home that are prone to excess damp--this will also get rid of that musty smell that accompanies any mold outbreak.
Veva air purifiers and filters offer provide fresh, clean air for every room in your home. To learn more about how our filters can improve your family's quality of life, contact us for a consultation on our purifiers and filters.
Contributing Writer: Elizabeth Johnston