The media might hype it up a lot, but there can be danger in some species of black mould. So what do you need to look out for and should you panic when you see mould?
Mildew and mould are a naturally occurring plant. They are a fungus, like mushrooms. They spread by invisible spores that are floating around, which a nice damp spot to live. Excess moisture, a bit of undisturbed time, a wet winter or humid conditions, and you have the perfect recipe for mould.
Black ‘toxic’ mould; The science
The scary mould that you see reported in the media is called black mould. Stachybotrys chartarum is the Latin name.
It’s sensationally called ‘toxic’ mould, but the mould itself isn’t toxic—it’s the spores that are dangerous. These tiny airborne particles float around and can be inhaled, or they land on food and can be eaten by humans and animals. These spores are microbial volatile organic compounds (VOCm) – they produce that smell you typically associate with mouldy, damp homes. These may result in some worrying health problems for people who are allergic to these spores.
However, scientists have not linked mould directly to illnesses and health problems. Instead, it could be the dampness of the house rather than the mould. The mould is the symptom of the problem. So all wild claims about health problems from toxic black mould could in fact simply be a damp, cold home.
Health problems linked to black mould
In 1994, 10 children were exposed to black mould spores and developed bleeding in the lungs. One of the children died. Mould was never found to have directly caused the health problems, but there is a correlation. Also, the World Health Organisation estimates that a large proportion of the 300 million cases of childhood asthma are linked to mould and associated dampness inside the home.
Those VOCm compounds can cause health issues for those sensitive to the allergens. People exposed to these spores over a long period of time can develop a range of symptoms, including:
- Coughing, sneezing
- Red, itchy, runny eyes
- Rashes and skin irritation
- Throat irritation
- Can trigger asthma attacks
More specific to this ‘toxic’ mould, there are a range of more rare symptoms, which could include:
- Depression (which can increase the risk of asthma and other respiratory problems)
- Lowered immune system
The more time you’re exposed to the mould spores, the more likely you are to get sick. This means children and elderly people are more likely to fall ill. This is especially true for toddlers and babies, who are home a lot, and are more likely to do things that disturb the mould spores, like play in curtains, or crawling around on the floor.
I have mould! Should I panic?
Every home will have some mould. It’s a fact of life; humans breathe, which creates moisture. Humid, warm weather encourages mould growth, but cold weather also helps mould to grow as we tend to shut windows and stop air from circulating to try and keep warm. It’s impossible to completely remove all mould in your home.
You shouldn’t panic, but you should take action as soon as you can. It’s plant, and it will grow, and the more mould, the bigger the problem. While the causation of health problems is not proven, the mould will damage your furnishings and home, requiring extensive repairs.
First, you need to find the cause of the moisture. Make sure there are no leaks or flooding issues inside your home. You may need to contact a plumber or builder if there are problems—or, your landlord if you don’t own your home. This is a vital step; because without resolving the cause of the moisture, the mould will return very quickly.
If there are no overt problems, you need to work on removing the moisture in the home. This is achieved by ventilating the home better, either by opening windows, using a dehumidifier, or installing extractor fans.
How to remove mould
Removing mould is different on each surface. In general, bleach does not work to kill the mould and the spore, but it removes the visible signs of the growth. So don’t use bleach in the first instance, it should be a last resort.
For soft furnishings, you’ll need to wash with soap and water and dry thoroughly in the sun. If the mould remains visible, it’s at this point you could try bleach.
For carpets and furniture, if a thorough cleaning and drying does not solve the problem and kill the mould, you may need to consider replacing it with new. Also, consider contacting a commercial mould remediation service as they may be able to assist.
For hard surfaces, wash them down with soapy water. Wipe with white vinegar and leave to soak in—this kills the plant as well as the roots. The smell of the vinegar dissipates within a few hours.
When you should get a professional mould remediation service
If the mould is extensive, you should consider getting the professionals in. They should be able to:
- Advise on preventative measures to help resolve the dampness issues first. There is no point in cleaning up the mould if the problems remain. And remember, the health problems could be caused by the dampness, not the mould. Removing the source of the moisture is vital.
- Identifying how pervasive the mould is
- Advise on the level of remediation required to decontaminate the mould from the home:
- Air filtration
- Soft furnishings cleaning or disposal
- Wall lining cleaning or replacement
Contact us at TechClean if you need a free, no obligation quote on mould remediation and cleaning. If you’re in Christchurch, Wellington, Nelson or Marlborough, we can help to ensure your home is dry, clean, and mould-free.