The Facts and Myths of Mold

Dispelling mold myths
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Got mold? For Seattleites, the answer is likely yes. Mold craves moisture, and our spring climate fosters fungi better than most. “Completely eliminating all mold and mold spores from the indoor environment is not possible, particularly in a wet environment like the Pacific Northwest,” says Hilary Karasz, Ph.D., spokesperson for Public Health—Seattle & King County. Touching, inhaling or ingesting molds can spark everything from mild sniffles and itchy eyes to lung infections and respiratory distress. Here’s the lowdown on mold myths and facts:

Myth: What you see is what you’ve got.

Fact: Sometimes mold is visible—as green, brown or white specks on your walls, floors or windows—but experts estimate 70 percent of homes nationwide have mold behind the walls. A musty odor and indoor condensation, which fosters mold growth, are red flags that a cleanup is warranted.

Myth: Only black mold is toxic.

Fact: Nearly all molds are toxic at high doses; some are known pathogens, and many produce poisonous compounds, says the International Center for Toxicology and Medicine. It’s smart to wear goggles, gloves and a mask during cleanup.

Myth: Mold cleanup is a job for the pros.

Fact: If the moldy area is less than 10 square feet, the Environmental Protection Agency says you can tackle it yourself. Toss porous items, like carpet and pillows, and clean hard surfaces with borax and water (1 cup per gallon). For bigger jobs, use bleach (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 1 cup per gallon—and don’t mix borax and bleach).

Myth: Mold problems are inevitable in the Pacific Northwest.

Fact: Mold is part of life here, but mold problems don’t have to be. Control moisture to control mold, says Karasz, by quickly fixing leaks, drying condensation and keeping indoor humidity low—between 30 percent and 50 percent. Humidity can be measured with a hygrometer (about $20 at hardware stores). If levels are too high, run a dehumidifier or fans to keep mold-promoting moisture at bay—and breathe a little easier this spring.