BlackMold can be an insidious problem for homeowners, potentially leading to a costly removal process and even a host of health problems. But by learning how to get rid of black mold safely and effectively, you can protect the health of your family and the value of your home, without breaking the bank.
Mold Can Be Unhealthy and Dangerous
Removing black mold is a step-by-step process that requires patience, an investment in protective gear and black mold removal products, and, of course, the courage to brave dark, cramped spaces inhabited by toxic fungus.
First, you must remove the source of any moisture from the affected area. If any leaks or persistent condensation aren’t alleviated, the mold will likely reappear after removal.
Next, seal any doorways or other openings leading to other areas of the home, place heavy plastic over them, then seal the plastic in place with duct tape. If there are outdoor openings in the room, place an exhaust fan near them to help remove mold spores from the room.
Wear a respirator or a facemask rated for black mold spore protection, and cover arms, legs and hands to avoid contact with mold spores. Use soap and a sponge to remove visible mold. If the moldy area is dry, lightly spray with water, as this will reduce the incidence of airborne mold spores during cleaning. Next, use commercial black mold removal products, which can be found in most hardware or home repair stores, to disinfect the moldy areas, in addition to any adjacent areas. If you use bleach, make sure it won’t discolor the material or surface. Place all sponges, equipment and other materials used in cleaning in a heavy duty garbage bag, and if possible, remove the bag through an nearby exit as opposed to the main house, to avoid distributing mold spores.
Locating Spots for Mold Growth
Be on the lookout for signs of a water leak or condensation: water stains that get bigger over time, musty odors, continually damp carpet, or beads of water or puddles on hard surfaces. When you do have water damage, thoroughly clean and dry carpets and building materials within 24 hours if possible, and consider replacing waterlogged items to eliminate the risk of mold.
If you suspect a problem (or better yet, as preventive maintenance), hire professionals to inspect for damaged shingles and siding, poorly connected plumbing and leaky pipes, and other moisture problems, such as inadequate vapor barriers. Mitigate the issues as soon as possible.
The EPA considers bacteria, molds, mildew, viruses, animal dander, cat saliva, house dust, mites, cockroaches and pollen all biological contaminants. Excessive moisture creates breeding grounds for these contaminants, so ventilate adequately and keep relative humidity between 30 percent and 50 percent to prevent condensation on building materials.
Regular household cleaning and maintenance go a long way toward limiting exposure. Change filters and have heating and cooling equipment cleaned and checked regularly by a professional; these systems can become not only breeding grounds for mold and other biological contaminants but also superhighways for dispersing them throughout the home.
If these methods don’t suffice, an indoor air-cleaning device may help an affected area. However, avoid ozone generators that are sold as air cleaners. The EPA warns: “Whether in its pure form or mixed with other chemicals, ozone can be harmful to health.”
Basements can be a particular trouble zone. The EPA recommends you clean and disinfect basement drains regularly and that you not finish a basement unless all moisture issues are abated.
No one knows exactly how many homes have mold behind the walls, but the best current estimate is about 70 percent, according to Ronald E. Gots, M.D., Ph.D., of the International Center for Toxicology and Medicine. The EPA and World Health Organization state that some molds have the potential to cause health problems, particularly allergic reactions and asthma, in people who are susceptible.
To get rid of mold, scrub surfaces with detergent, preferably a water-based, VOC-free product like Microbloc dsinfx as opposed to bleach. Replace porous materials such as ceiling tile and carpet with non-porous or mold-resistant ones. If the mold damage covers more than 10 square feet, the EPA recommends hiring a professional.
Most important: Fix the underlying issue. “Mold is not the problem. It’s an indicator of a moisture problem,” says Kurt Salomon, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. “You can get rid of the mold but if you don’t address the leaky pipes, high humidity and water intrusion, the mold will come back.”
Dust and Respirable Particles
To cut down on household dust, declutter, reduce paper, eliminate smoking and regularly change or clean the furnace and air conditioner filters. Also, park your shoes at the door — two-thirds of all dust contaminants are tracked into the home from the outside.
To minimize the amount of dust kicked up during cleaning — especially if you are concerned about lead dust — wipe down floors with a damp mop, dust with a damp cloth and clean surfaces with a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
You probably don’t need to have your air ducts cleaned unless there is mold growing inside, they are infested with vermin or they are excessively clogged with debris. Duct cleaning costs between $400 and $1,000. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association cautions consumers against air duct cleaning companies that make sweeping claims about health benefits of their services and/or are not upfront about fees.
Toxic Chemical Compounds
Even when present in very low, hard-to-measure concentrations, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) pose serious health risks — organ and nervous system damage and cancer included.
SVOCs are hard to avoid, as they are ubiquitous in our homes. Phthalate esters are colorless, odorless and used to make plastics soft and flexible, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been widely used as flame retardants in furniture cushions, textiles, plastics, paints and electronic appliances. Naphthalene is the key ingredient in mothballs. Other man-made chemicals such as the dry-cleaning solvent known as PERC (perchloroethylene) and the blue, sweet-smelling liquid called TCE (trichloroethylene) that is found in spot removers and carpet-cleaning fluids are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and they are likely carcinogens.
You can minimize exposure in the home by using green cleaning methods. To protect woolens from pests, wash items and let them dry in the sun (which also helps get rid of mothball odor) before storing them with cedar chip sachets. Read labels before purchasing and avoid buying items that contain phthalates and PBDEs.