Mold: a dirty word?

October 13, 2010 · by pcriadmin · PCRI

Mold.  A dirty word?  Sure, it is a four-letter-word, but it doesn’t have to be a bad one.

Molds are part of the natural environment.  Outdoors, molds play a useful role in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees.  And beneficial molds–like penicillin–have been used ever since ancient Greeks discovered they could help cure infection.  Indoors, however, mold’s role in breaking down material can be destructive instead of helpful.  Fortunately, you can help minimize or eliminate most of the causes of mold growth inside your home.

Although molds have many beneficial uses, they can also be a source of less-positive reactions.  In particular, molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions).  While not everyone is sensitive to the allergens that different molds contain, mold can be an irritant to some people.  Remember the last time your doctor prescribed antibiotics and asked if you’re allergic?  Same thing.  If mold is not controlled, it can have destructive consequences for your home too.

Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores.  Although the individual spores are invisible to the naked eye, they are naturally present in the air.  While there are many types of mold, none of them will grow without water or moisture–and that’s the first key about how to defeat mold.  Here are a number of ways you can help keep mold, its allergens and other potential harms out of your house:

The simplest way to prevent mold is to make sure there is adequate ventilation in the bathrooms and kitchens.  Even if you don’t see steam, bathing, cooking and cleaning create moisture in the air that needs to be ventilated outside.  Especially when showering or cooking, if you have an exhaust fan, use it!  Make sure to run the fan for about 20 minutes after you are finished.  Most fans use about the same energy as a light bulb, so leaving it on for a little extra time won’t affect utility costs.  If you don’t have a fan, leave a nearby window open for a similar amount of time.

But mold isn’t only caused by steam from cooking or showering.  All types of moisture can be breeding grounds for mold, so it’s important to keep an eye out for other wet spots:

Check around the bathroom after showering or bathing.  If there is water outside of the shower or tub, mop it up–then put the mop or rag somewhere that it can dry out.  The same goes for sink areas: use a towel to wipe up extra moisture around the bathroom or kitchen sink, then hang up the towel so it can dry too.

If water outside the shower or tub is a consistent problem, take a look to see how the water is escaping.  Try adjusting the showerhead so water is not spraying towards the shower door or look into different options for shower curtains.  If a quick fix doesn’t work, PCRI Residents should report the issue to our maintenance department so we can look into more long-term solutions.

Leaky pipes–especially inside–are even more important to fix quickly.  The same goes for toilets.  Wasted water means higher bills, not to mention the damage caused by moisture.  PCRI Residents who spot a leaky pipe or toilet should let our maintenance crew know so we can take care of the problem.

Spills should be treated the same as leaks.  Wipe ’em up, then hang up the cleaning rag so it can dry out too.

Your home’s heating (and cooling system, if it has one) is also a good tool to combat mold.  The air circulation created by running your heating system can go a long way toward minimizing unwanted moisture.  Running the system for 10 minutes a day shouldn’t make a big difference in utility bills, but will help control mold.

Another great (and low cost!) way to improve your home’s air circulation is to open your home’s windows–even for a few minutes at a time.  Leaving them open all day long isn’t necessary–or even always a good idea as the weather cools down and gets wet, but opening windows and doors for just 10 minutes every couple days will keep moisture at bay.  It is also a great way to air out the chemicals from cleaning and other products.

Speaking of cleaning products, did you know that vinegar helps to kill mold?  There are many great ways to keep your home clean and mold-free that don’t involve buying expensive and toxic cleaners from the store.  Metro is a great resource for how to make your own more-healthy and less-expensive cleaners.

Oh, and tempting as it might be, don’t paint or caulk over moldy surfaces.   Not only will it not get rid of the mold (Surprise! It’s still there!), but paint and caulk applied over moldy surfaces is likely to peel.  If you’re a PCRI resident and do want to paint, we can help or provide tips to ensure the mold is properly cleaned first.  And don’t forget that little technicality in your lease: be sure get PCRI approval before you paint!

Finally,  with Portland’s rainy season coming up soon, make sure your gutters are cleaned and don’t leak.  Just as important, ensure your downspouts drain into storm sewers or away from the house.  If the “splash blocks” at the base of the gutter don’t work to route water away from your house, we can help with other solutions to keep water draining away from your home.

More information about mold can be found in the EPA’s Guide to Mold.

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