Mold. Toxic Mold. Black Mold.
However you refer to it, mold is never a welcome guest in your home. But do you really know just how dangerous an intruder it is?
Let me tell you a secret. You’ve been lied to about mold. You’ve been told that it isn’t that big of a deal.
You’ve been told that you can just spray a little bleach onto mold and poof – problem solved.
You’ve been told that not all mold is dangerous. You’ve been told that it only causes health problems for a very small portion of the population.
Wrong. All of it wrong.
You work hard to make sure your children are safe, healthy, and educated about that which may bring them harm. But typically the focus is on healthy food choices, supporting the immune system, limiting screen time, and things of that nature. Parent’s usually don’t have mold on their radar.
But then your family starts to have weird health issues crop up. At first it’s nothing major…fleeting even. But over time some of you start to really struggle. Your medical practitioner isn’t sure what’s going on or may even write it off to an allergy of some sort. You wrack your brain about what might be causing all of these mystery symptoms. But nothing comes to mind.
Maybe one day you smell a funky smell. Alarm bells go off in your gut. Mold. Or maybe as you walk by the bathroom and spy the water stain on the ceiling a light bulb goes off. Mold.
But is mold REALLY the culprit here? Can it truly be causing ALL these health issues for your family?
I’ve been through mold. I almost died because of mold. My daughter has permanent neurological damage because of mold. Because of what I went through I made it my mission to bring awareness to the dangers of toxic mold as well as empower people to make correct choices about what to do when mold strikes their home.
As a certified mold inspector who survived mold, I am going to set the story straight about mold. Today I am going to share…
What Every Parent Needs To Know About Mold
Let’s start with a few basics. I’m guessing that most of you already know some of this but a light review is always good.
- Mold needs two main things to grow. Moisture and food. While it prefers the dark and ideally will settle into a warmer area, it won’t shy away from a wide temperature range or bright light.
- Mold doesn’t need much moisture to being to grow. A mold spore just needs to be in the right place at the right time. However, if that moisture is properly dried out within 24 hours, there is a strong likelihood that mold will not have enough time to grow.
- Mold doesn’t discriminate when it comes to a food source. While it prefers organic materials (wood, particle board, fabric, drywall, insulation material, ceiling tiles, paint, textiles, paper etc…), mold can also be found on glass, metal, plastic, and the like. This is because mold can flourish in the dust, oil films, dirt, skin cells, etc, deposited on the surface of these inorganic items.
- If mold can grow on anything, it can also grow anywhere. That means that no room in your home is “mold proof.” There are also tons of household items that are susceptible to mold growth.
- Black mold is a term invented by the media. True story. There are many molds that are black or black in color. So black mold isn’t really a specific type of mold. Black mold isn’t the only dangerous mold either. More on that below.
Now that we’ve covered a few basics, let’s dive deeper.
Types Of Mold
No one really knows how many species of mold exist. Scientists know of over 100,000 types of mold but guess that there are possibly over 300,000 types of mold.
Molds are typically categorized by one of three hazard classes based on associated health risks.
Hazard Class A – Toxic Molds
These are the molds that produce mycotoxins which in short are poisonous chemicals that are highly dangerous to humans and animals. Toxic molds intentionally harm other living things as a means of survival or when they feel threatened. Every parent should familiarize themselves with mycotoxins as they are what cause the majority of “mystery” health issues or
Hazard Class B – Allergenic Molds
These molds may affect people who have certain allergies or asthma. They possibly can cause an allergic reaction in individuals without allergies if exposed for a long period of time.
Hazard Class C – Pathogenic Molds
Typically, these molds only cause economic damage but they are capable of causing certain health problems. These opportunistic pathogens most commonly attack people with a suppressed immune system. Infants and the elderly are at the greatest risk.
The most well known and common types of mold are:
For a comprehensive list of both indoor and outdoor molds, please refer to Common Types Of Mold.
Mold Can Be Any Color
While most people think of mold as being black, white, brownish, or blue, mold truly spans the rainbow. Each species of mold can be different colors during different points in its growth cycle. So just because one type of mold is typically green doesn’t mean that it can’t be red or brown at some point. If you want to view some beautiful pictures of mold check out my article on the Colors Of Mold.
Mold Doesn’t Smell
Bet that caught you off guard! Mold spores are odorless. It is the byproducts of mold (like mycotoxins) that create a scent.
This means that “mold” can smell like a lot of things. It can be a typical musty odor. It can also smell like cat urine. My moldy house smelled like burnt oil. Totally weird right? This makes is very difficult to detect mold with your nose.
Just Because You Can’t See Mold, Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t There
I lived in a mold-infested home for 8 years. I NEVER saw one mold spore. It was actually my cat that discovered our mold problem. When the toxicologist came to our home, he alerted me to all the many signs of mold that I had missed (like water stains along our baseboards. I just thought our baseboards were a funny color).
Just because you don’t have visible mold doesn’t mean it is lurking behind your walls, under your floor, in your attic, in your basement, or in your crawlspace. Heck – it can even be invading your home through your HVAC system.
On the flip side, don’t assume that visible mold is your only issue. Mold roots deep. A little mold on a windowsill could very well mean a huge mold issue inside the wall below the window. We will get to what to do if you have or suspect mold but in short, make sure you know exactly how deep the mold runs because it is rarely a surface level issue.
What You Need To Know About Testing For Mold
If you have visible mold, it doesn’t matter what kind it is. You need to remove it properly. However, if think you might go into litigation with the homebuilder, landlord, HOA, or another entity then you will want to have mold testing performed by a certified mold inspector or environmental hygienist to “prove” the mold problem. Chain of Command is very important in these situations.
Are there times when you should still perform a mold test when you have visible mold? Yes. You might want to test for mold throughout your home to see how much contamination has occurred. Mold and mycotoxins don’t just stay in one spot. They fly around through the air and land on other things in other parts of your home. Your medical practitioner might be interested in learning more about the types of mold you were exposed to as he or she may have a specific treatment plan based on the types of mold in your home. In those two instances mold testing may be warranted.
But what if you don’t have visible mold? When should you test to see if your home does have a mold problem that is causing (or will cause) health issues for your family?
- When there have been leaks or water intrusions that were not noticed or dealt with immediately.
- When a water event was noticed within 24 hours and the accessible area dried immediately but water possibly went behind a wall or under flooring.
- When visible mold is not present, but an odd odor is.
- If you think you have visible mold but aren’t sure if it really is mold or some other fungal growth.
- When unusual stains appear on furniture or building materials.
- When you have health concerns or mystery health issues that doctors cannot pinpoint the cause of.
- When your gut tells you that there might be a mold problem.
What Is The Best Way To Test For Mold?
That is an entire series of articles. It depends on why you are testing, where you are testing, the type of information you are seeking, your budget, how quickly you need the results, and whether or not you want to do the mold testing yourself or hire a professional.
I humbly suggest you head over to my Mold Testing page where you can learn everything you need to know about how to test for mold.
I Have Mold. Now What?
Cleaning or removing surface mold doesn’t always get rid of the mold problem. 95% of the time if you have visible mold on the surface of something, you also have mold that has rooted inside that same something. This means that you need to discard the moldy item (like a moldy end table) or replace the moldy building materials (like a moldy under-sink cabinet or drywall). Surface mold is the tip of a very dangerous iceberg. It’s why killing mold is a myth. You can’t kill it. You always have to remove it.
In addition to that, if you have visible mold you most likely have air born mold spores floating around. So you need to “scrub the air” in your entire home using HEPA air purifiers. Your air ducts will need to be cleaned. Fogging with EC3 mold solution is also advised. The reason I recommend that specific product is that it is the only natural, safe, and independently lab tested product that not only eliminates mold spores but it also renders mycotoxins inactive. No other product (aside from ammonia) can do that.
Remember – you need remove mold at the source AND fix the leak or eliminate the water source.
Any mold event larger than a 3X3 area should be handled by mold remediation professionals. I very rarely suggest that anyone try a DIY approach to remediating a medium to large scale mold problem. Even a 3X3 area can be tricky if you aren’t sure what you are doing. Remember – you have to always contain the area so you don’t spread mold when you remove the moldy material.
Let’s talk about the 5% of the time when you can just clean mold off of something. What falls into that category?
- Toilet mold
- Shower mold / bathtub mold (includes tile and grout)
- Washing machine mold
- Mold growth on plastic, glass, or metal furniture
Speaking Of Shower Mold…
Is shower mold the same as “other” indoor mold? The short answer is yes. However, there is a BUT.
Shower mold that consists of mold growing in grout, on caulking, or around the drain is usually (but not always) from the Cladosporium sp. group. This is considered an allergenic mold, not a toxic mold. If you did not yet read the shower mold article I linked to above, the reason this type of mold grows is simply because you are not wiping your shower dry after using it.
Now – it is possible for more serious molds to grow in your shower. Aspergillus, penicillium, and stachybotrys can all take up residence in your shower if they are growing elsewhere in your bathroom. If you see other bathroom mold, chances are your shower mold is something more sinister. Keep in mind that you may not actually see any mold in the bathroom if it is growing behind a wall or in the ceiling. If you keep your shower very clean and dry it after each use and still get mold growth, that is worth exploring further as it may signal a bigger issue.
I’ve Heard That If My House Is Really Contaminated That I Shouldn’t Try To Remediate Or Keep Anything In The House. Is This True?
Yes, it can be. My home was beyond saving. It needed to be torn down. Taking anything out of that house, trying to clean it, and then bringing it into a mold free environment was a slippery slope. It wasn’t worth dying over anything I owned. Even the sentimental stuff. Stuff is stuff as much as it hurts to walk away from it.
If your entire home is compromised, you need to consider walking away from it. But if you have a problem in one room or one area of your home AND the mold spore count in other rooms isn’t terribly high, you likely can remediate the affected area, remediate the rest of the house for cross contamination, and continue to live there.
Now – you can’t remediate a room and not deal with the mold spores and mycotoxins that are in the rest of your home. That won’t work. If you are having health issues you will stay sick. You have to get every last mold spore out of there.
The way you handle a mold issue in your home truly is such an individual decision. Every family’s needs, financial situation, support system, priorities, and abilities are different. My best suggestion is to consult with a certified mold inspector (many offer affordable phone or email consultations) if you are unsure what steps to take. An honest mold inspector will provide you with actionable advice without trying to sell you anything.
To learn more about removing mold, cleaning mold, killing mold, and remediation, please visit my page on all things Mold Removal.
What About The Family Pet?
Never fear! You can keep your pet. I had cats and a rabbit in my moldy house. Later
Mold Prevention Requires Diligence
While almost everyone faces a minor mold event at some point, many people are able to avoid major catastrophes with proper mold prevention.
There are daily, weekly, monthly, and semi-annual things you can do to prevent mold in every room in your home as well as mold that can get a little out of control outside your home.
The list of the best ways to prevent mold is
1) Inspect Your Home Monthly
Staying vigilant of any leaks around the house, especially in bathroom faucets, showers and toilets is key. Also, check your baseboards several times per year. If you see any discoloration, you know you have a water intrusion occurring.
Other signs of a water intrusion include general dampness (like on floors or around windows and doors), odd odors, discoloration, peeling paint, sudden onset of condensation, and compacted insulation
3) Immediately fix leaks.
4) Do not allow moisture to sit. Dry out wet areas immediately. This includes wiping down your shower or bathtub after use. This also means not leaving wet towels in a pile or tossing damp clothing into a corner. Allow it to dry outside if possible.
5) Monitor indoor humidity levels to prevent mold.
The EPA recommends keeping indoor humidity between 30 and 60 percent. The toxicologist I worked with suggested that lower is even better. You can measure humidity with a moisture meter or a humidity monitor. You’ll also be able to detect high humidity by simply paying attention to condensation formation.
6) Proper ventilation is a must. You need ventilation in all the right places and vents should be out and away from your home – not into an attic
7) Make sure that your irrigation is directed away from your home as are your downspouts. Why point water INTO your foundation where it can sneak in through a crack or pool in a crawlspace? Also, keep your gutters clean so water can flow down and out.
For 20 additional mold prevention tips, check out 27 Tips To Prevent Mold and Mildew In Your Home.
And Now The Scary Stuff…Mold And Your Family’s Health
I saved this for last because you simply can’t deal with the health ramifications of mold exposure if you are living with mold. Period. So now that you know more about how to handle indoor mold, let’s look at how it affects you and your children.
Mold-Related Health Issues
Mold illness, symptoms of mold exposure, and mold triggered illnesses are a very long and loaded topic. No two people with react exactly the same. Even two people in the same household can have very different reactions to mold. This is because our genetics come into play in a big way.
Some of us have the dreaded “HLA” gene which makes us very resistant to detoxing mold out of our systems. Often times those with the HLA gene have the strongest response to mold exposure. It can also take these individuals the longest to recover.
Another reason some people may have more symptoms is due to the amount of time spent in the moldy environment as well as the proximity to the mold when in the home. Someone who works outside the home isn’t getting the same kind of mold hit as someone who spends 95% of their day in the moldy house.
Below are a list of symptoms to look for in your children as well as yourself. This is by no means an exhaustive list of mold related health issues. Basically any health issue can be attributed to mold. But these are the most common ones.
- Abdominal Pain
- Aches and Pains
- Allergies – environmental and food
- Anxiety – extreme and sudden onset of it
- Asthma Blurred Vision
- Autoimmune Diseases (sudden onset)
- Brain Fog
- Difficulty Sleeping
- Feeling “Drunk”
- Feeling Like You Are Going To Pass Out For No Reason
- Focus/Concentration Issues
- Fungal Infections
- Growths or Tumors Suddenly Developing
- Heart Palpitations/Irregular Heart Beat
- Increase or Decrease in Heart Rate
- Increased Sensitivity to Chemicals/Perfumes/Etc…
- Inflammation (chronic)
- Joint Pain
- Light Sensitivity
- Liver Issues
- Malabsorption Issues
- Memory Issues
- Mineral Deficiencies
- Mood Swings
- Muscle Cramps
- Neurological symptoms (that post goes into a lot of detail on how the brain is impacted by mold and mycotoxins)
- Nose Bleeds
- Rashes Red Eyes / Watery Eyes / Itchy Eyes / Dry Eyes
- Respiratory Distress
- Skin Sensitivity
- Weak Immune System
I mentioned before that this is NOT an exhaustive list of potential health issues related to mold exposure. You know your child. You know your self. Listen to your gut and don’t dismiss anything out of the ordinary or anything that has become ordinary when it comes to your health.
We Know We Have Mold, Our Child Is Experiencing Mold Related Symptoms, What Do We Do?
First, you get rid of your mold problem or relocated to mold-free housing. You cannot live in a moldy environment and get better. It just won’t happen.
Finding a trust practitioner to help you and your family recover from mold can be both daunting and tricky. The right practitioner for one person might be the totally wrong practitioner for another. It all depends on WHAT health issues you and your family are experiencing.
An environmental M.D. who specializes in mold-related illness is typically the gold-standard when it comes to mold recovery. These practitioners are basically your first stop towards detoxing from mold exposure. They can run all the necessary labs to see what is going on and put you on a protocol that will meet your recovery needs. This protocol may be 100% natural or it may be a hybrid of Western and alternative medicine. Many natural supplements that are used in a mold detox protocol have to be specially compounded and these doctors are able to order those for you and your family.
Most people who choose to work with an environmental M.D. have gone through a serious mold exposure and/or are very, very ill. Often times they have other previous health issues such as Lyme disease which battles fiercely with mold illness. Working with an environmental M.D. is typically a 1-3 year commitment and then your health care can often be handled by a functional medicine practitioner or naturopath who specializes in mold detox.
A functional medicine practitioner, naturopath, and other similar alternative healthcare provider may be your better bet right out of the gate. There are a LOT of practitioners who are experienced in mold related illness. One of the biggest drawbacks to using someone in these fields is that they may not be covered by insurance whereas an M.D. likely will be. Another drawback is that they may not have access to some of the same compounded supplements and labs might also be out of pocket. However, they can be just as knowledgeable about mold related illness as many of the environmental M.D.s who specialize in mold.
My daughter and I have seen many practitioners over the years (as well as worked with practitioners remotely) and each one of them took us further on our journey to healing. Sometimes you have to interview a few practitioners before you find the right fit. As you heal, you may need to move your care to a practitioner who is better suited to address your changing symptoms. There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to medical care after mold exposure. It is all about finding someone you trust and who has the experience you need to address your specific symptoms.
If you are curious how my daughter and I detoxed from mold exposure, click that link and check out the basics of what we did. If you are looking for a list of reputable mold practitioners, you can check out my list here.
No matter where you are in your mold journey there is ALWAYS help and hope. Finding mold, removing mold, and recovering from mold takes time, patience, and a lot of strength. Take each day as it comes and give yourself and your family a lot of grace as you navigate these murky and difficult waters.
Jennifer began her online blogging journey in 2011 when she created the natural health and wellness website Hybrid Rasta Mama. Little did she know that her wellness journey would take a turn due to toxic mold. After Jennifer’s cat accidentally discovered the very serious mold issue that almost killed her and her daughter, Jennifer began chronically her journey and recovery from toxic mold exposure on her website. You can read their full story here.
After leaving everything behind and fleeing to Arizona in 2015 to start fresh, Jennifer realized that you can never really flee from mold. This spurred her forward to become an advocate and educator for toxic mold awareness. Jennifer became a certified mold inspector and moisture intrusion specialist and offers several services to others embarking on their mold journey. In addition, her website Mold Help For You offers well researched, understandable articles on all things toxic mold from discovery to recovery.