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Controlling mold in the home

By Patricia Gerhardt

River Valley District Extension Agent

Molds are everywhere and can be detected both indoors and outdoors all year long. No one knows how many species of mold exist but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps 300,000 or more. While molds grow best in warm, damp and humid conditions, they can survive in drier environments also. Because mold is so prevalent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend routine testing for it.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor mold exposure to upper respiratory symptoms, coughs, and wheezing in otherwise healthy people. However, some people are particularly sensitive to mold and have more serious reactions including nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, and/or skin irritation. Persons with asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonia are especially susceptible.

The best way to detect if mold is present is by using your sense of smell. While we know breathing mold spores is not 'healthy', no standard has been set for what is a tolerable limit. Basically, if your nose detects a musty, "old" smell, chances are mold is present. Then, it's time to use your eyes to find it, remove it, and get rid of the source of moisture which is causing it.

Person particularly sensitive to mold should avoid areas where it is likely to be found. Outdoors, molds flourish in compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas. Specific recommendations to keep your home mold-free are posted on the CDC's website at www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm. These include:

--Keep the humidity level in the house between 40 percent and 60 percent.

--Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months.

--Be sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans. This is especially important in bathrooms and kitchens.

--Use paint that contains mold inhibitors.

--Clean bathrooms with mold killing products.

--Avoid carpeting bathrooms and basements.

If you've detected mold in your home, clean up the mold and fix the water problem. If you would like to use a vacuum cleaner to initially remove the surface mold spores, be sure to destroy the cleaner's bag when you are finished. (Otherwise you will release mold spores into the air the next time the vacuum is turned on.) Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Remember to avoid mixing bleach with ammonia or other cleaning products so that dangerous toxic fumes will not be released. To protect yourself, use a mask and wear gloves. Be sure to dry the area thoroughly when you are finished.

Date: 2/4/2013

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