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Control household mold problems before they control you

A hot topic in housing today is mold. Molds long have been recognized as allergens, but media attention to some extensive mold problems has increased awareness and questions.

There are mold spores everywhere. They come into houses in many ways including on clothing and with air movement. There usually is food and adequate temperatures for them to grow in many parts of the home. Mold spores settle and grow in the presence of moisture.

Mold allergens can cause respiratory congestion, eye irritation, headaches and fatigue. Some molds can be triggers in people with asthma. However, it's important to realize molds haven't suddenly become more dangerous, and labeling specific molds as killer molds has lead to some misunderstanding. People often call local extension offices for information on having their homes tested for mold. If a homeowner sees a mold problem, he or she needs to find the moisture source, make needed changes to reduce or control the moisture and safely get rid of the mold. Knowing the mold genus or species is probably not necessary unless a medical professional has requested the information.

Testing for molds is expensive, not readily available in some areas and not always reliable. Before testing a home, know how the information would be used, why it's needed and whether knowing the genus type makes a difference in what will be done to get rid of the mold.

Basements smell musty when moisture on cold walls and floors meets warm air from outside that has cooled to the point at which the moisture in it condenses. Running a dehumidifier is one way to deal with this problem. Mold in bathrooms typically is a bigger problem in winter. Taking showers and bathing can put a lot of moisture into the air. If the walls or ceiling are cool, some of that moisture will condense on these surfaces. Wiping moisture off the shower walls and tub and drying towels elsewhere can help. Providing more ventilation to the exterior to get rid of the moisture before it can condense is the best way to reduce mold in the bathroom.

Cleaning up mold used to be as simple as wiping down surfaces with a diluted chlorine bleach solution. Now recommendations include physically removing as much of the mold as possible with a strong detergent followed by a rinse on hard surfaces. Contaminated porous materials that aren't easily cleaned should be thrown away. The bleach solution is reserved for use as a sanitizer after all evidence of mold is removed from areas that may have been exposed to dirty water, soil and bacteria.

Professionals can be hired to clean up molds. This is recommended especially if the mold covers more than 10 square feet and if someone in the household is sensitive to mold. This recommendation is intended to make sure the mold isn't spreading through the house during the ,removal process. People planning to do mold clean-up should take careful measures to protect themselves, including wearing goggles, gloves, clothing that covers the whole body and a mask.

At the minimum level, use a HEPA filter such as an N95 or N100 to filter the particles. Molds can give off toxins, so special filters are needed.

Spreading mold spores throughout a house can be reduced by carefully wrapping the moldy materials in plastic bags or tarps and sealing the plastic. Mold on surfaces that will be cut or pulled away can be held more stable by applying sheets of flypaper or contact adhesive paper to avoid spreading the spores. Larger plastic sheets also can be taped to surfaces such as wallboard before the wallboard is removed.

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