Fighting Mold in Your Home

Health, Home & Family
on November 12, 2000

If sinus infections or other respiratory problems persist in your family long after summer’s allergens have passed, perhaps the problem lies inside, rather than outside, your home.

Airtight, energy-efficient homes that trap humidity and other moisture inside may be creating mold and mildew, along with associated health problems. Mold contributes to nearly 100 percent of chronic sinus infections and is a leading cause of many respiratory problems, according to a 1999 Mayo Clinic study.

“A home with insufficient air exchange will cause the humidity to rise,” says Dr. James T. Li, a Mayo Clinic specialist in allergy, asthma, and immunology. “A humidifier can aggravate the problem, especially if it itself is moldy.”

Obvious spots are on the bathroom shower wall, or under the kitchen sink where pipes may leak, but mold can accumulate throughout the housein drain pans under the refrigerator or air conditioner, old flower pots, shower curtains, even inside walls. Basements may be particularly susceptible to fungi if drainage problems exist around the foundation. Grading, landscaping, and drains can help alleviate the problem.

Discoloration on the walls or ceiling could indicate trapped moisture, Li says. “If there is mold high up on the walls, check your roof for leaks,” Li advises. Carpeting on a slab foundation and bathroom floors can lead to fungi growth.

Steps easily can be taken to protect your family and control minor mold growth. A dehumidifier can help. Recommended comfort levels are between 30 and 40 percent.

“We like to see levels below 40 percent, but certainly below 50 percent,” says Dr. David Mamnino, a specialist in pulmonary medicine and a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. An air conditioner also lowers humidity levels as it cools.

Wipe patches of mold with a weak bleach solutiontwo ounces to a gallon of water. Before scraping dry mold, wet it to keep spores from flying through the air. Wash plastic shower curtains regularly in the washing machine, using soap, bleach, and an old towel to provide friction. Maintain the cleanliness of shower tile and grout.

Allow air to flow through the house, particularly around windows and doors, to evaporate moisture buildup. Keep furniture away from the walls to encourage flow into corners and along baseboards.

Finally, familiarize yourself with health symptoms caused by mold. Common symptoms include eye and nose itch, runny nose, fatigue, and congestion. Make note if your symptoms go away when you’re away from home for any length of time.